"The only thing one can do is follow himself . . . dig in, discover what he is, and who he is, and reveal himself." – Henry Miller

Battle of the sexes

I’m on the job hunt these days, and a friend of mine just quit the one she’s had for two years. This piqued my interest because hers was the sort of role that I always found interesting and even coveted. But she insists that I’d be a fool to go for it. “I quit this job to go into the job market, as tough as it is. Doesn’t that tell you anything?”

She has a point. Right now, even the rats in London are claiming benefits. I tried to explain to her my own situation and why I wanted – needed – to move on. She wouldn’t have it. She said the job was demeaning and demoralising and degrading and any other progressive adjective with the de- prefix, save for maybe detoxifying. It will break your spirit, she said. It’s a bunch of delusional balding men trying to hang on to their waning libidos, she said. You’ll hate it there just as much.

Then she paused. “Well… you’re a guy. It might be easier for you.”

I knew immediately what she meant, but I can’t figure out whether or not to agree with her. I know what she was trying to get across: that it was a work environment that perhaps isn’t as accommodating to women as it is to men (which I think is classified as “illegal,” but hey, never you mind). And I wasn’t sure if I should be insulted by the implication. Would I be complicit, a willing party, if I benefited from an environment that excludes women? (And seriously, boys, the Mad Men days are over. You can’t even smoke in the office anymore.)

These are all fascinating questions, really – they are, honest – but, me being me, her comment got me thinking about myself, and myself only. It affected me less on the Should-I-Take-This-Job-If-Offered front and more on the Wait… I’m-A-Guy? front.

The concept that there is some fundamental difference between the sexes, something deep down, ingrained, either through nature or nurture, a little pink or blue dot in the middle of our brains that determines how we see the world, is one that has always frustrated me.

It’s always been my belief – and feel free to mock here, because everybody does – that men and women are essentially the same. We all just want happiness, and peace, and comfort. We might go about it differently on occasion, but shit, we’re all on the same team here. But no one ever agrees with me.

I missed the blokes’ handbook they evidently handed out in primary school, along with the What’s Happening to My Body? book. I don’t think of myself as some member of an enormous fraternity, a man before I’m a human. I mean, I can barely grow a decent mat of chest hair, I really love Meryl Streep and I often talk to little babies and small, furry animals using words like “cute yiddle puddy wuddy.” If I’m supposed to be a representative of some guy culture by my very existence, I think I’m doing a very poor job. Shit, sometimes, get this, I even talk about my feelings.

But the rest of the world doesn’t seem to see it that way. And I wonder if I have a choice. I will admit, there are most certainly benefits I have received only because I am a guy, most of which I’ve never noticed and likely never will. But I didn’t sign up for this. I’m just a person, like everybody else.

I fail the Bloke Test in almost every way. Sure I talk meaningless shit about girls with the guys – and sometimes to the girls, which usually gets me in trouble. But that’s all it is to me – meaningless shit. I’ve never been in a real fight. I own no weaponry. If pressed, I’ll confess I prefer cricket, and maybe even tennis, to football. Wrestling and Formula One confuse me. I don’t spit in public. I worry about my weight. I’m not sensitive about my penis size (OK, maybe a little).

These are all stereotypes, urban legends, myths passed down through the generations. (When did they become hard, real ways to live our lives?) But I’ll never be able to live them down.

Put it this way: I was out with some friends the other evening, and one of them, a post-grad student, mentioned that she was working on a paper. She asked everyone she knew a question: If you found out your partner had developed a deep emotional attachment to someone of the opposite sex, would it bother you more than if he/she had meaningless sex with someone he/she hardly knew?

The student claimed that of the 50-something-odd people she asked, every single woman said she would be more bothered by the deep emotional connection, and every single man said he would be more bothered by the sex. She revealed this after she’d polled us, and, lo and behold, her postulate proved accurate. The four women didn’t care so much about the sex, and the two guys (myself included) did, quite so. The student was quite pleased with herself, convinced she’d stumbled across a universal truth.

I dissented, strongly. Listen, I calmly explicated, the reason I give that answer is not that I’m a guy. Don’t we, as humans, have the right, no, the duty, to develop as many “deep emotional connections” with as many people as possible? If I recognise someone as some sort of kindred spirit, male or female, why is it wrong for me to pursue a relationship – and by “relationship,” I mean an exploration of another person’s mind and thought processes, not anything sexual – with them? Isn’t it inherently flawed thinking to limit ourselves to enjoying the company of only one person, female or male? Would a girlfriend of mine object to me making a new male friend? Isn’t the real betrayal sex, and cheating, and lying?

For not the first time, the group of women laughed at me. “Guy,” they said. “You’re just a guy, and you’re full of shit, and you know it.”

See what I’m up against here?

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3 responses

  1. Liz

    Hi David,

    What an interesting post. Nice to see a guy ask himself a question such as “Would I be complicit, a willing party, if I benefited from an environment that excludes women?”

    I am undecided on the question of whether there is a fundamental difference between men & women. If there is one, I think it is massively over-exaggerated. The media (I’m talking to you, Daily Fail) hypes up any hint of a suggestion that science shows how we’re inevitably different because cavemen hunted mammoths and cavewomen gathered berries, but I think this is more to do with trying to justify their own worldview rather than reporting scientific findings properly.

    However, there are undeniably huge gender chasms in our society – see my post on International Women’s Day (http://webofliz.wordpress.com/tag/feminism/) for some stats on domestic violence, eating disorders, representation in FTSE100 boardrooms & the Government, for example. So it follows that if I am sceptical about innate male / female differences, then socialisation / the cultural setup must account for these differences. Something is at work that means men benefit more than women in a whole range of areas.

    “there are most certainly benefits I have received only because I am a guy, most of which I’ve never noticed and likely never will.” Exactly. This is what feminists mean when they talk about “male privilege” (or any other sort of privilege); the kudos and often hard to spot benefits that arise just from being born the way you are. Small example; my other half was shocked by the fact that I was quizzed & given (unwanted) advice on my childbearing & marital status by someone who I met at a craft workshop and who had known me less than a day. As a childfree woman approaching 30, though, it’s fairly run of the mill for me.

    The sex / relationship cheating question is interesting, too. It’s my belief that this is to do with what we’re taught about relationships. Women get the message that if they’re doing it right, a guy will not need care / love / nurture from anyone else. Men get the message that if they’re doing it right, a woman will not need physical satisfaction from anyone else. This is all baloney, of course, and it is foolish to expect any one person to “complete” us. However, it would explain your friend’s findings – the thing that hits hardest at our self-esteem is our partner going elsewhere for whatever we are taught we should be able to provide well enough to keep them with us and us alone.

    Cheating & lying is definitely betrayal. But not necessarily sex – let’s not forget that many folks make open & poly relationships work very happily.

    November 19, 2012 at 22:39

    • Thanks Liz!

      November 25, 2012 at 21:55

      • Liz

        No worries! It’s a topic of great interest to me, if you couldn’t tell! Lol 🙂

        November 25, 2012 at 22:09

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