Discover more from Other Feminisms
Asking for Better than Gender Parity
Your stories about when the male norm is bad for both sexes
Last week, I asked you where women are asked to “catch up” to a toxic male culture. When do we better than lowering the bar for both sexes and offer both women and men better options?
The delightfully named Dirichlet-to-Neumann said:
It strikes me how Christian virtues are often (traditionally associated with) women virtues. Humility, meekness and obedience—even fidelity—are definitely not considered virtues for men in our culture, and that may well be why it is toxic ! But imitating Jesus' virtues is supposed to be a goal for both men and women.
And Romola chimed in:
I've been told in personal and professional settings to apologize less because I'm a youngish-looking and "nice"-seeming woman, and I've always hated that advice.
I'm pretty careful not to take the blame for things that are not my fault, but I apologize when I've screwed up and when I realize my actions inconvenienced someone or made them uncomfortable. I'm proud to have the personal strength to do that, and I frankly *I wish that more men would do that too.* I have no intention to become more callous or unwilling to accept responsibility in order to look "strong," because that is a false strength that is actually weakness.
Men are definitely shortchanged when gentleness, humility, amends-making, etc. are viewed as women’s virtues. Everyone is called to these good things.
As a Catholic, I do hear examples of these virtues in men praised, though more often in priests or consecrated religious than in laymen. Two exceptions I can think of among the saints: St. Joseph, who is commended, alongside Mary, for his docility to the will of God. And St. Louis Martin, father of St. Therese of Liseux, who lived a gentle, quiet life as a good husband and father.
But if you are interested in stories of gentle, generous men, and you don’t mind it being monks, I’d recommend Of Gods and Men for Lenten viewing. It’s one of my favorite films, and it’s based on the true story of the French Trappists who refused to leave the community they served in Algeria, no matter the danger.
Claire offered one way that giving boys an out might help girls, too:
Rethinking early education (particularly with regard to movement and outdoor access) is one area where I hope moving to a more humane/developmentally appropriate approach for boys brings the girls along as well. It does seem, for whatever reason, that little girls on average seem to tolerate school structure at a younger age—but I’d still prefer that my little girl be out on the playground as well as my little boy.
I like the way she frames this—what is better tolerated by one sex is not necessarily good for them.
Elizabeth saw one reason to be optimistic about offering men a way out of a toxic culture, rather trying to help women succeed in the toxic culture.
The first thing that comes to mind is the normalization (in some spaces, at least) of taking paternity leave. Obviously we have a LONG way to go with maternity leave and support for new moms, but I love that we are beginning to create more space for early fatherhood as well.
I’d agree! The one caveat I’d give is that I think it’s a bad idea to have gender neutral “parental” leave, which can hide the particular burdens of pregnancy, labor, and nursing that women navigate.
My husband and I both should have time at home with our baby, but only one of us is navigating physical therapy and dealing with pain from delivery. We both have important but distinct needs.
Eva Feder Kittay has a more radical linguistic take on this in Love’s Labor: Essays on Women, Equality and Dependency.
I am convinced there is nothing inherently gendered about the work of care. Nonetheless, to ignore the fact that most of the care of children is done by mothers, and to call this work of caring for children parenting rather than mothering, is a distortion that serves women poorly. I therefore follow other feminists who have called the care of a child mothering, acknowledging that fathers, too, can be excellent "mothers."
I would not go that far! But I’m often torn about picking pronouns when I write about these topics. If the work of caregiving isn’t split 50-50, should I still be trying for a roughly even split in my examples, to help men picture themselves in these roles? Or does that, as Kittay argues, distort the reality that the work is primarily done by women?