When I was about 19, I remember a man who I was attracted to talking about another woman. David said, “Yeah, she sure knows how to make you feel like a man.” He said it to another man, and I overheard it. I was meant to overhear it; it was a message for me, an underscoring of a complaint that this man had made to me already. I, apparently, didn’t know quite as well how to make him feel like a man.
At the time, I remember being disdainful of his attempt to scorn me into more womanly behavior. My thinking at the time was along the lines of “Buddy, if you don’t know how to feel like a man, how is any woman supposed to fix that for you?”
I was annoyed that David wanted me to be kinder, softer, and gentler so that he could feel stronger, more in charge, more able. He wanted me to need him more. This has been a theme for me with men. Men like strong women…they are turned on by their charge. But the actual dealings with strong women can leave some men feeling like they’re not quite sure where they fit, what they’re needed for.
Looking back on this situation twenty-five years later, I can see David’s point better. I still think that men and women have to feel their own inherent strength and value first and foremost. But I can also see the ways that we can bolster one another and value what is different about being a man from being a woman.
We’ve spent so much time and energy working to give women equal standing, equal value in the world. We surely have a ways to go in this good work. But equal doesn’t mean the same. We are—men and women—pretty distinctly different creatures.
It may be that I’ve just become kinder, softer, and gentler. I’m rather exuberant about what I like about men. That’s okay with me. Because today, the way I see it is that while we are different creatures, we all just need to know that we’re loved and respected.
This conversation got me thinking about how, after years and decades of gender battles, conversations, and ponderings, men and women still fall pretty neatly into their classic categories.
Not all men. Not all women. I know it gets messy and that there is a grand spectrum. But in general, women tend more toward the feeling, caring for others, scene-setting, and socially collaborative end of the spectrum and men tend toward the individualist, analytical, get-it-done, and fix-it-up end of the spectrum.
And we all need to feel affirmed and accepted for wherever we happen to fall along the spectrum. I think back to David and that’s really what he was asking for: he wanted me to honor him, to respect him, to delight in his “man-ness.” Why shouldn’t he want that? And why shouldn’t I give him what he wants if it doesn’t hurt me?
When we are living in the physical world, the divide between men and women can seem more obvious. Forgive me for all the ways this isn’t true, I know there’s nuance that I’m glossing over.
But even after all the years of women’s liberation, and the fact that the both genders have become more adept at what has been traditionally “women’s work” or “a man’s job,” we still break down by gender in so many ways.
The other day, my car needed a jump. I didn’t even consider calling any of my women friends, although they certainly would have been perfectly capable of jumping my car. Is this because I think women are less capable? Hardly.
Men may do more housework and child rearing than ever before (thank you!), but women are still the primary caregivers predominantly. And most women like it that way. Sure there are women who like to work on cars and build buildings, but this is still, mostly, men’s work. And most men like it that way.
Men carry pocketknives; women carry wet-wipes.
But what about doctoring? Don’t we need both pocketknives and wet-wipes? What about engineering and management and leadership? Don’t we need both sets of skills?
When we get in an office environment, the required skills for success don’t break down as seemingly naturally (naturedly?) as they do in physical work. The other day, I was talking to a CEO about all the women he has in his upper management. It’s a great team. One of their enterprises is deep-sea drilling. The CEO told me that while a couple women have gone through the training, all of them have dropped out before taking a job in the harsh, physical conditions that the job requires.
I’m happy for the woman who wants to try to do such a thing that she is able. And I’m not at all surprised that it’s men—big, burly men—who do that work.
There was, for a time, an argument that men and women are fundamentally the same and that our differences arise from our nurturing. I would invite anyone who is still under this delusion to raise one of each and see what happens. Okay, individual anecdotes aren’t compelling data. But just be around mothers raising babies for a couple decades. It’s abundantly clear that boys and girls are drawn to different projects, excited by different activities, comfortable in particular clothing, and landing—for the most part—firmly on their gender’s expected side of the spectrum.
We can be uncomfortable about this reality, or we can simply accept it and do our best to equally recognize, compensate, and respect what a man is, what a woman is.
Go ahead, baby, make me feel like a woman.