In the wake of the military sex scandals and the resulting media frenzy, most of the military brass responded with hysteria and ignorance. "See," they babbled. "We told you this would happen. You just cannot put men and women together. It's the nature of the beast."
"Oh, it's O.K. for women to be in the military," they purred. "Just let them train separately from the men." As if no one had ever heard of how well "separate but equal" facilities have worked with former problems.
Much of this rhetoric, idiotic as it was and is, may be understandable. What these male military mavens want is to remove women from the field and thereby prevent the unthinkable -- that women might come to command men -- and do a damn good job of it.
However, in the midst of this panic, one clear voice came through and it is a voice and a message that women must listen to and learn from and emulate. "Nonsense," responded General John Shalikashvilli. Women and men in the military must train together. The problem, he went on to explain was not in the proximity of the genders, but in their societal training, i.e. their attitudes.
Sound familiar? A long time ago, Will Shakespeare wrote: "The fault ... lies not in our stars but in ourselves." General Shalikashvilli is urging us, both women and men to revise and retrain our thinking regarding gender interaction. It does not have to be "the way it has always been" or "the way god intended it" or "it can't be helped or changed because that's just the way women are or men are." It can be better, supportive and uplifting for both genders.
How is it now? Just how are we, women, and they, men trained? Most women are still conditioned, to regard the male, even in utero, as the superior gender -- a gender that she must appease. There is love here, but only lightly masking fear and she quickly learns that this love is conditional. She learns this from all the women around her, especially her mother. Her father, brothers, sisters and playmates reinforce it and her schools and the media teach it.
True, many may resent being thus intimidated and put down because of gender, but the lesson and the penalties are always there even though the "stick" of reprisal for rebellion is carefully covered by the "carrot" of rewards for compliance.
|xx||So the female child learns she must be cute, quiet, polite and protected. She is allowed to be silly, useless and vain. This is still true even though more and more role models are emerging to prove that this is not biological destiny. So most females grow into adulthood carefully covering "flaws" of appearance with makeup and "errors" of femaleness with conformity and apologetic self deprecation. Our culture has carefully nurtured her to expect that her worthiness comes first from father's approval and second from S.O's or husband. The stamp of validation comes not from herself or her work but from her male associates.|
|xy||The male baby, on the other hand, is continually encouraged to push all of the envelopes of his environment. No admonitions to stay cute and pretty are given him. It's his world and he knows it. He takes control -- he is taught to take what he wants. He is reinforced by father, mother, brothers, sisters friends and especially by teachers. And don't forget the importance our society gives to men's sports and how it had to be forced to give even a modicum of equality to women's.|
Oh, of course, you've all heard that it's genetic, that it's the testosterone that makes the male child outgoing and adventurous. Thing is that both male and female children produce testosterone (it is vital for bone growth and development, and the male doesn't produce it in great quantities until puberty.) In addition, as study after study shows, environment has just as much affect on children as genes.
We are beginning to see some changes in attitudes, and as the gender-defining curtain lifts with each generation, we are certain to see more. But, we can't afford to wait for the slow pace of cultural evolution to liberate women and men from the self imposed constraints that have come to us from past generations.
As women, we know what the problems are and we know how harmful they are; and as women, we must address them and solve them. We gendergapers must never forget how things were for us in the past. We must maintain our awareness of the ever growing, political/religious groups in our cities, our towns and our states that are determined to return us to that very past we are struggling to escape from.
Copyright 1997 Renee T. Louise and Ruth M. Sprague, Ph.D. These articles may be republished for noncommercial use only, provided that they are copied intact, and that this copyright notice is attached. Address all queries to: TWANDA@ConnRiver.net.
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