Battle of sexes in age of confusion

 

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Category: Women Date: 14 Oct 99


Note to reader: please remember this is an opinion column not a study and therefore subject to generalisations.

 

“Do you have penis envy?” asked the angry man in the suit on our introduction. No matter how often girlish and womanly hearts bloom, break, hammer and thud over men, it left me with absolutely no doubt that men are angry with women. I rose to the bait and shot back, “actually, aesthetically speaking, they’re the ugliest things I’ve ever seen.” That was not the most honest or wittiest bon mot but, always to our annoyance, the best retort to barbs come in retrospect. I should have said, if I wanted to clash swords, “no, have you?” Or “no, but they have their uses”. It was a pointless exchange, and didn’t help matters in this age of confusion.

 

This rocky but intense relationship between the sexes has been through the ages of the caveman dragging the woman by the hair, of submission, of romance, of machismo and revolt, and, inevitably, confusion. At times, the ages have run concurrently in men and women around the globe. But I am talking about us: you and me in Trinidad and Tobago. Men and women in the New World. About a place where we meet as equals, match short pants for short pants at home and beach, g-strings for jockeys, where we pit our wits against one another in courtrooms, and are collaborators in medicine and business.

 

The problem with confusion is that it has given rise to the age of savagery. So confused are men that they are murdering women at a growing rate. Some say it’s because men are stronger on the outside, weaker on the inside; while women are physically weak, but the stronger sex. So instead of talking back, or developing their inner strength, men kill.

 

We are different. We don’t know how much of it is biological, how much has to do with our perpetuating stereotypes (girls play with dolls, boys play with guns), or how much has to do with men holding on to millenniums of inherited economic and social power. Like oil and water, we rarely blend together. But, we are expected to. We fight, we love; we fight, we love.

 

Despite our differences, we will always fall in love. Because of them, we battle. Love: those heart-hammering-against-the-ribs, cant-wait-to-see-you, the-world-is-greener-while-you’re-around, whoopee!, heart-sinking-to-the-toes-without-you feelings. What is it? Is it love, lust or animal biological programming to perpetuate our species? Is the romance just an illusionary, necessary stage of falling into lust and once that is sated, falling out of love? My own feeling on that is that lust is overrated.

 

When people say they fancy someone, or are falling in love with someone, what they are really looking for is a quick fix for other problems: a distraction from the real rot in your soul and life, an easy way to feel good about yourself, a genuine loneliness. If you are needy, you can fall in love with virtually anyone. Shakespeare knew it well. He demonstrated it in a Midsummer Night’s Dream: that the absurd potion of Cupid can make you fall in love, even with a jackass. Still, it works sometimes. It’s thrilling, and life would be a desert without it. It can be the basis of families and societies, and a lifetime friendship. But it does not conquer all. No one person can or should do that for you. You have to, even while being in love, follow your own destiny, your own life’s work. Then the heart-thumping becomes real: a commitment, a choice. More boring, perhaps, but enduring and in the end - heroic.

 

The Battle: on a day-to-day basis, it might simply manifest itself in irritation, lack of communication, a mutual sense of being misunderstood and taken advantage of or for granted, of continual bickering, of a vague and longing/wishful thinking (perpetuated by the age of romantics). Men may want a sex symbol that is presentable but not threatening, and women may want that ridiculous mythical knight in armour. When this happens, women retreat into the wombs we create: women friends (talking, crying, laughing, letting it out, being spiteful about the male’s incapacity to emote, a witches’ brew of bonding), the home, children, work, hobbies and family. And men do what they have always done: take refuge in all male activities where they can “bond” with their own sex without thinking: in sport and business, “undemanding women” (in other words, passive ones) and mechanical toys like cars and boats.

 

Both sexes, if they are married, may indulge in affairs. Affairs, like falling in love, are a symptom of a dying marriage, of unfulfilled needs, of low self-esteem, of boredom, of a wish to be SEEN anew, rather than a ridiculous notion of “there was only one man/woman for me and I’ve just found him/her”.

 

He or she is only for you because you don’t have him or her. It doesn’t matter how many times you marry, the honeymoon always ends. Ask Henry VIII or Elizabeth Taylor. Then it gets worse. And so we resort to sharp, below-the-belt, spiteful jibes, infidelity, and blows. We are at one another’s throats. Men kill physically. Women destroy emotionally.

 

Sometimes we live in an uncomfortable zone where we hover between the two. Mental abuse by the woman. Physical by the man. (The physical abuse, however, is far more base since it is not only a violation of basic human rights but it is also cowardly since the victim, usually a woman, is not of equal strength.)

 

If battle is inevitable then let’s be decent and use our wits, rather than take the animal way out and use our fists to maim or obliterate the enemy.

 

In a UN organised woman’s conference last week, I stood at the mike at question time and said surely we needed the men in on this. A delegate from St Vincent responded by saying she organised a domestic violence workshop to which hundreds of men were invited. Not one man came. Only the media showed up. But that’s only natural. Which man wants to go to a man-thumping workshop? I thought. How can we involve the men? Let’s defy the hard core feminists and bring them in with reconciliation. Let’s call it a sex-and-flirtation workshop, so we can get talking about what we mean to one another and how we can fulfil our potential as people together and, in the process, create the kind of world we want to bring up our children in.

 

I’m tired of women’s voices on “people” issues, so I’d like to end with a letter from a male friend that may shed some light on the current age of confusion:

“I suppose that, due to cultural inhibitions, men seldom show their feelings except in the ‘macho’ ways. To a degree, though, it is also the fault of the women. Consider that women want a man who is stable, a good provider, loving, ‘mature’, and good with kids. At the same time, they want a man who is roguish, exciting, impulsive, kind of dangerous, etc (the roguish buccaneer) while scorning the ‘wimpy’ men who surround them.

“This kind of mixed message is one reason why men tend to shy away from any discussion of emotion. It’s a no-win situation. If you are the former, then you are boring; if the latter, immature. That’s why I said that, in general, men only show their emotions to very few women and present a quite different facade to the rest of the world. I know that is the case for me at any rate and quite a few of my friends as well. We do talk about these things you know, we just don’t tell the women about it.

“I think that the male/female interaction is in a state of flux and has been for the past 20-30 years, as the roles each assumes have changed from our parents’ and their parents’ generations. It used to be clearly defined that men would act a certain way and the women would react according to a certain code. Nowadays women can take the initiative and make decisions based on what THEY want rather than what is/was EXPECTED of them.

“The role of the male in this has not yet been defined and, as such, they are unsure of where they stand. How do they react to the new reality?

“Mostly, they will erect a wall to protect themselves and balk at any ‘moments of truth’.

“Makes for an interesting topic but you would have a hard time discussing it because who wants to bare their soul? You ask about men having a deeper side to themselves? Yep, we all do but only show it to a select few. Remember no man is a hero to his butler.”

 

And I will use my woman’s prerogative to contradict everything I’ve written and say there’s nothing in the world like falling in love.

Perhaps that will save us after all.

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All Articles Copyright Ira Mathur