Thursday, April 16, 2009

Planes, Trains, and Patriarchy

Before I lay out this idea, I would like to clearly establish that I do not hate men. I’m definitely a feminist, but I’m a feminist in the way where I think it’s wrong to discriminate against anybody for the conditions of their birth, including men. I’m a feminist in the way bell hooks is a feminist, and if you haven’t read anything by her, go do so, immediately. I think patriarchal society hurts men just as much as it hurts women, but I don’t even think that we need to abolish patriarchy, I just think we need to take care to compensate for its negative effects.

But I definitely don’t hate men.

In fact, I really, really like them.

I like the hardness in their faces and the lines of their bodies, and their constant desire to be useful. I like their strength and their willingness to bear burdens, and I like the way they can express great depth of emotion with only a few words and maybe a picture diagram. I like the way they channel their desires into action, and their sense of responsibility and duty, and the way they discard all that is extraneous in an effort to do what is right. I like the delighted children they become when we bring something pretty into their lives. I like the poignancy of their very rare tears, and I like the necessity of their very frequent jibes. I like men a lot, even when they are shooting bottle rockets at each other. Especially then. It's pretty funny.

But there is one thing about them I really, really do not like.

I don’t like their my-way-or-the-highway attitude. This is something I’ve noticed for as long as I’ve been dating men, which is going on nine years now. (I suppose I should clarify, and say, “Western men,” or, “Men who were raised in patriarchal society,” but I’m sure you get the idea, and I highly doubt there are any Iroquois men or Sherpas reading this post.) I don’t like how they always seem to say, “Well, I’m going this way, and you can come if you want.” They are trains, on a predetermined track, and you are welcome to be a passenger but only if you’re going that way. Men seem to announce, “This is my life plan; feel free to join me.”

And all I can think is, “Well, that’s lovely. What about where I’m going?”

See, women are a lot more like airplanes. We have a destination in mind, but it doesn’t matter which way we take to get there, and also we feel the ride is a lot less boring if we have a copilot. We’re perfectly willing to compromise our flight path, if not our destination, in order to include you. But we're not about to get on a goddamn train, with no showers, and way too many people, that's not even going where we want to go in the first place.

And maybe women are the ones who have it all wrong; but all I can see is that if both people are willing to be more flexible about their plans, harmony ensues, whereas if both people are absolutely rigid about what they want to do and how they're going to do it, nobody is getting to Bermuda anytime soon. So simply because of that I think men are wrong. But worse than that, what usually ends up happening is that one person (usually the woman, but again, this is general) is willing to compromise, and the other person remains rigid, so we end up in Las Vegas instead of Bermuda, and fifteen years later when we're still in Las Vegas men wonder why we're having crying jags in the kitchen.

I’ve had to adopt more of a my-way-or-the-highway attitude, lately, just to compensate for all the compromising I've done, and in some ways its been good for me; but deep down I don’t want to get where I’m going so badly that I want to do it alone. That’s not really my style. Because you get there, and while you don’t have to fight anybody for dibs on the bathroom, you also have no one to talk to, or to take pictures of you as the sun is setting. When you take your own pictures your arm is always right smack dab down the line of sight.

I think I probably just took that metaphor too far.

But really, why is it that men (in general) are so much less willing to compromise the basics of their lives than women are? Why are they less willing to move somewhere, to switch jobs or schools, to do laundry more regularly—or, God forbid, to do someone else’s laundry occasionally—or to generally disrupt their daily routine in order to share their lives with someone? Are individualism and achievement of one's personal goals the very best values one can have, or is community what counts?

Are they onto something important, or are they bloody stubborn idiots who shoot bottle rockets at each other and then seem surprised when they get third-degree burns?


  1. Time to update your "About Me:"
    Dislikes: rock flute, utilitarianism, socks on carpet
    Likes: pussy cats, unsafe firework displays, and the skin flute

    On a serious note, I agree with this analogy between vehicles and humans, up until one of the last observations. I can name two guys in my life who have moved across the county "for love," (quotes because they're idiots, a feeling that maybe reinforces your point) and yet zero women.

  2. You write: ("I suppose I should clarify, and say, “Western men,” or, “Men who were raised in patriarchal society,” but I’m sure you get the idea, and I highly doubt there are any Iroquois men or Sherpas reading this post.")

    I think you should actually clarify that you are basing these stereotypes on men you tend to pull into your life. So "men who Hilary is drawn to" are who you are basing these generalizations on.

    I disagree with you on most of the generalizations you list in this post :) I'm smiling because I feel like we've had this discussion before...and I can't wait to talk to you more about it! :)

  3. The funny thing is, I was going to specifically use Justin as an example of a man who does not think like this, but I didn't want it to come off like I was hitting on your husband.

  4. Cara----

    Just to clarify, "men that Hilary is attracted to" often also fall into the category, "men Megan is attracted to." This creates a category which amounts to like a sufficiently numerical number. Like, if all the men were EARTH, this category would be water. So let the quote stand, woman.