Lately everywhere I look I see the t-shirt slogans “Fight Like A Girl” or “Woman Up.” I like the slogans, but each time I see one, it gives me food for thought. Exactly how does a girl fight, or what does it mean to “woman up”? The question is an important one, because it alludes to the changing ways that women and men relate to each other since the women’s movement took on new political power in the 1960’s and 1970’s.
But in general, we can complement each other in various ways because of the subtle differences that tend to accompany being male or female.
Although there are exceptions, usually in a purely physical altercation with a man a woman is at a clear disadvantage. The frequency with which women have been physically abused by the men in their lives throughout history, and even now, is in fact one of the main reasons that the women’s movement became so vocal. Over the centuries, women learned to fight in other ways, by using subtle psychological manipulation, verbal persuasion or by granting or withh0lding sex for power over the men in their lives. Is this what we mean by “fighting like a woman?” Or does the slogan allude to the fact that women have acquired more physical equality in the sports arenas and in the military, by being encouraged to engage in fitness training and in the use of weapons and sophisticated military technology?
Whatever the words imply, they suggest that life involves struggle, a fight to get one’s needs met, or for self-actualization to use the more sophisticated psychological term. The words on the t-shirts also imply that part of that struggle involves a grappling (pardon the pun) between the genders to understand and not exploit each other. We have been exploring new ways to do that for a number of decades, but changes in laws, political rhetoric and social conventions have thus far failed to accomplish what we hoped. The evidence that friction between the sexes still exists in spite of all the effort to change it is everywhere apparent. One can hardly turn on the daily news without hearing about instances of domestic abuse on the part of a man or retaliatory abuse on the part of a woman. In many other parts of the world the enmity between men and women, especially in regard to sexual relationships, is even worse than in the western world and is actually sanctioned by the religious or cultural norms.
Certainly education and legislation have an important role to play in promoting sexual fairness and equality. But in a visceral sense, sexual passion itself defies legislation. The very emotions and biological mandates that draw us toward each other in order to attain spiritual and physical fulfillment are very powerful. They are so powerful in fact that the fear of forfeiting such an important source of joy and pleasure is also very potent, and where great fear exists, the potential for rage is not far behind. Thus the very sexual attraction that promises us so much euphoria, carries with it the potential for despair and mayhem.
So what to do? Women are not the only victims here. Men’s testosterone equipped them for protecting us, and for supporting us and our offspring by slaying the wild beasts and bringing home the bacon, since the women who were our ancestors were usually incapacitated by childbirth and breastfeeding. Centuries of evolution and the accompanying cultural expectations prepared men for that. True that same testosterone has often fueled the abuse that an evolved human family should no longer tolerate. But along with the improved birth control and changed attitudes that have in many ways liberated both men and women has come an identity crisis for men. If we don’t need them to protect us and nurture us, then what role does their manliness play in our relationships with them?
Could it be that the solution lies in something so simple as the Golden Rule?
It seems obvious to me that we do still need them to protect and nurture us, from themselves and from each other. We also sometimes benefit from the balance of their different psyches to protect us from ourselves. For the factuality and groundedness of men is a good complement to the more relational and conceptual tendencies of women. I do not mean to exaggerate the differences here. Enough of that existed in the 1950’s and the years leading up to them. Plenty of women have a great grasp of facts, are very observant and mechanical, and are mathematically gifted. Also, men have traditionally done the visionary writing which is conceptual, and are artistic and full of human insight. But in general, we can complement each other in various ways because of the subtle differences that tend to accompany being male or female. After a couple of decades of pretending that no inherent gender differences exist, most of us are acknowledging that there are some approaches to life and thinking that are influenced by our hormones. Vive la difference! Those differences make our relationships more interesting.
So why are we fighting? We need each other, not only to procreate, but to partner in creative living. Could it be that the solution lies in something so simple as the Golden Rule? The same principles that govern all good, cooperative relationships should govern the relationships between men and women. Respect each other’s strengths; forgive each other’s weaknesses. Honor and affirm each other. Be kind to each other. Be honest with each other. Have the humility to apologize when you need to do that. Have fun together. Celebrate your sexuality and be as interested in meeting each other’s needs as you are your own. Argue when you must, but fight fairly and openly without violence or rudeness. Assert your own right to have your needs met, but look for ways to meet them without violating the other person’s needs.
Most of us still have to work at some of these things, but partners in the happiest marriages have always done these things without having them legislated. The best fathers have honored and encouraged their daughters’ gifts without being told to do that. The closest brothers and sisters have always respected and loved each other even when some teasing and affectionate bantering was a part of that love. In romantic partnerships like marriage, we should strive to be all of these things to each other. At times we parent each other or depend on each other’s strengths as though we were dependent children. At times we are best friends, like some brothers and sisters. And at times we are flirty, passionate lovers. For we who are parents, we share the joys and trials of caretaking. We especially need men to be good role models for our sons, and to role model what good husbands are like for our daughters. If we are going to fight like men and women, let’s fight the battles of life together, like a good wrestling tag team. Let us also extend that reciprocal respect into the workplace.