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Monday, July 31, 2006

The Measure of Man, the Weight of Woman

I am not a believer in gender equality. In this regard my liberal background has been in constant tension with my tutelage as a gentleman. Should women be treated the same as men, or not? The answer for me is “not.”

About this idea - of inequitable treatment - I am quite a chauvinist, in fact. And I mean “chauvinist” in the historical sense of the Bonapartists - I am rabidly loyal to this concept. Simply put: women are different, so I'm going to treat them that way.

Not only is the difference ecstatically obvious during certain physical activities, it is also visually obvious. In fact, it's so obvious that it passes the proverbial “even a blind man can tell” test, being obvious to all five senses. And if that's not enough evidence, a recent paper in Genome Research notes that gene expression differences between the sexes (in mice) range from 15% to 72% different depending on the tissue type (data here, and a layman description here.)

True, we are not mice, but should I feel guilty that I enjoy opening a door, paying for a meal, buying a gift, or hogging the remote control? Look, I enjoy my mate to be sometimes girlish and sometimes sexy. I like it if she puts on stockings, wears La Perla, likes her hair long, and wants me to protect her. Anything else is to deny beauty and to turn a blind eye to some of the greatest art and emotion this world can offer. Thank god we can once again embrace femininity and masculinity; attraction and power; ying and yang.

And on top of this all, I really like the role that this puts me into, as a provider, a planner, a protector, and, yes, even a picker of television shows. It makes me enjoy buying her a sexy ten-grand Roberto Cavalli outfit, or taking her on a runabout to a private island in the Maldives, or dressing her up in outrageous clubwear. I even enjoy my work more because she adds more context and meaning to it, and I love how she loves the way I work.

Some men don't think it's a good idea on principle. The theory goes that if you spoil a woman too much, it's a one way street and she will take nothing less. My view on that is: yes, isn't that the point? I suppose in theory it is possible that a women will feel entitled to good treatment and start treating her mate less well, but isn't it also possible that she will feel like treating her mate better?

Now I do not want to confuse this with the legal issue of equality. I am a supporter of women having equal rights under law. Not because it is completely rational or fair, but because any alternative leads to exploitation of certain natures in us all that diminish opportunities for people to reach their potential. And protecting us against those tendencies is one of the values of social law.

Yet I do measure men and women in my life differently. I find that I judge women by their potential and men by their accomplishment. I do not do this deliberately nor with any malice, and there are important exceptions, but generally I see this behavior in myself, and many of the women with whom I consort. Is this fair? Not by several liberal measures, but the world isn’t fair. I love developing potential of all kinds, in people and in companies. This is my business. But I have found even greater joy in developing potential in women because it affects me in a masculine way.

Alas, this could be a temptation that leads men astray or into the arms of younger women. So this desire to be a provider and protector is yet another tendency that deserves my vigilance, with the assistance of my life partner. Yet another scenario to add to the Nightmares. In fact, Jenny has been coaching me a lot on the appropriate behaviors with regards to situations that might involve other women.

Perhaps the fact that I measure a man by his accomplishments and a woman by her potential is really a matter of looking forward versus looking backwards. I’m the sort of person who always likes to look forward and seldom dwells in the past. I judge the future of men by their past, and the future of women by their future. For men, they help me create the future with their accomplishments; for women I build the future around them. In the context of a relationship, this allows me to enjoy a partner who will be part of my predilection toward the future, while also being able to enjoy the successes of my past reflected in her eyes.

This attitude may be the reason why I have been taken advantage of in past relationships. Perhaps this is one of the many reasons why men and their Y chromosome are doomed — in about 125,000 years according to Bryan Sykes (others think it’s a few million years away, but most think the whole idea is sensationalist crap, see the figure to the right. But then remember the Angels and the obsolescence of men!)

Or maybe I think of women like developing nations because socially their rights are still relatively new. Or because I want to try a land grab while the grabbing is good. Or, hell, just because the risk adjusted returns appear higher in a developing nation!

But whatever the reason, I recognize this is the way I am, and this is the way that many women like me. And I am optimistic that with my well-matched partner, my antiquated and Victorian attitude can be a wonderful asset to building a better future.

Vive la Différence!

P.S. Clandestine Call Girl made a comment that stimulated another thought: Although there are many things that are negative about the role of women in Asia, there is a certain comfort in knowing that there are roles that help define the relationship. It removes frictions. Since I was uncomfortable with taking the entire package of social roles from the East, I instead advocated being explicit about the roles that Jenny and I wanted. So far this has worked. And we have defined many, though not all, roles along stereotypical gender lines, probably because our tendencies evolved that way.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a woman living in modern times I can only wish that there would be more men like yourself. I feel that we live in a society where women are "encouraged" to "turn" into men and men into women. What a shame. Yes we are different, and we should celebrate this difference rather than bicker about it!

8/01/2006 8:10 AM  
Anonymous Von said...

I like your point that the social rights of women are relatively new (at least at for your generation), and investment into female endeavors is will pay higher returns in the future.

It also makes me wonder if the gender roles will be adjusted with each generation. I'm not sure now, but isn't the younger generation of asians (especially the Japanese culture) more accepting of Westernized versions of gender equality? What will this mean for the traditional Japanese hierarchy? Will the glass ceiling still exist for females?

In the current generation (West and East), females are turning their potential into accomplishments, especially in traditionally male-dominated areas, and are slowly being recognized for them. Many are doing it on their own with out investors. However, it saddens me that many of those successful females give up fighting for female representation in those areas, and end up in "the world's oldest profession[s]" (e.g. your Jenny, and high end courtesans and escorts who have graduate degrees or were successful in business, etc.)

I can understand why they would turn to a "provider" position that seems more financially stable and they probably receive more respect from males. As an academic in a moderately funded field which is still traditionally an old boys club, I have half a mind to choose the "provider" route. However, it is financially unsound for me, as I could only cater to the poor liberal scientists working with government funded salaries.

8/25/2006 11:17 AM  

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