A Long Slog Through The Gender Jungle

Feb 1, 2011

One autumn night in Ashland, half a dozen people rent the Community Center and hold a forum where anyone can take the mic and talk about that old question: What Do Women Want?  And What Do Men Want?  

I purposely don’t take notes -  I just want to recall this as a finger painting of emotions, longings, anger, tears, hope, blame, even one young lady jumping up and down with frantic joy, exuding that we have to get in touch with the nature spirits and doing a cartwheel at the end.  Not to make fun of her; I got it.  That was as good an answer as any.  Been there.  I think.

So, with no agenda or limits — just a caution about being responsible and sticking with the personal “I” (not sociological abstractions), we speak our piece to 50 people, saying that Ashland is a unique place in the world, full of the ferment between the genders and we’re fortunate to be here, even if way too many of us have been through way too much love over too many decades and are still trying to find it and define it.  

It starts with a survey in which we hear that both women and men think a woman’s satisfaction in the sack is more important — yet women think men think their (men’s) satisfaction is more important.  Does that not define the battle of the sexes?  So, a guy gets up and announces, hey, just wanna clue you in women that the truth about men is we can hang out and work with it as long as anyone wants and ours only takes a minute, so enough with demonizing guys

in bed.

That’s right, damn tootin, the males mutter and harrumph, with big smiles and bravado.  Now the word is out.  We’re tired of being picked on for stereotypes that just ain’t true!  We value the feminine big time — and are ready to do what it takes.

In the survey, both men and women said they want the same things from each other: honesty, intimacy, strength, great sex. So much for the gender gap.

Then comes What Women Want: sensitive and sweet or a manly leader?  Or all of the above?  One woman says life is like a dance and it works when the man leads and is confident and knows where he is going.  The women hoot a lusty, fond agreement, noting that, while the Marlboro Man is stupid, men have gotten “too into their feminine side.”  

Within living memory, of course, all we heard was men were too into their guy side and needed to learn the femme skills of listening, taking time for pleasure, changing diapers, cooking and speaking his true feelings, if he has any.

But enough of all these clichés about what women want.  What do men want?  Besides sex, that is.  That’s the stereotype men have to live with and it inspires a dialog as to whether the other gender also wants it.  Turns out they do.  But, for men to activate that, it takes the full range of potentials, from positive, confident leader to sweet, sensitive listener and back again.  

Then there’s the dark message of how women don’t feel safe out on the street or bike path, even in Ashland.  Another woman stands up and counters: you get back what you put out, so take responsibility.

In the days after, there’s a lot of conversation about the forum. At Noble Coffee, I have an amazing talk with Joy, a couples coach I had said hello to for years but never talked to.  She was at the forum.  She says, hey, things are changing. Men have been learning their feminine and women have been learning their masculine sides for decades and guess what?  It worked.  We’ve got it down now.  Women run police departments and the State Department and men don’t have to be on top — and have changed 6 trillion diapers.  Now, she says, we’re all coming back to the center and can relax and like and see each other.  

It’s happening slowly and there are big gaps, but it is happening.  From single women I hear they want True Love and a good relationship.  That didn’t used to be too cool to say.  Men too.  It’s been a long slog thru the gender jungle.  We’ve also learned not just to live traditional roles of the other gender but to love ourselves and put that first, not submerging it in marriage.  Who we are as individuals is vital and can’t be sacrificed; it doesn’t help marriage to do that.  

How to be free and strong, though in partnership with another person?  That seems a major new question.  Women have made more gains in that area and are doing a lot more “inner work,” rails one woman at the forum, adding that she’s been looking for a man who does inner work and clears out all the old, dysfunctional programs, but she isn’t finding it.  She’s right: consciousness-raising workshops seem to always be about 80 percent female.  Why?  Get busy, men, or get left behind by the rising tide of powerful women who are going to be running the world in another decade.  

Good, I say.  Although women speak of men who are intimidated now that they have money and power, their focus, as they take more power, is likely going to be more on the life-sustaining work of society around education, environment and health care — not just profit and GDP.  

I study a lot of prehistory and have learned that, before urban life, we all belonged to the group, the whole — and everything we did was dedicated to the good, not just of me, but the entire web of life, from tribe to planet, so there was no idea of gender, except that both men and women are beautiful parts of the same circle.  

If the earth is to survive, it was suggested by more than one person, we will return to that balance and love of each other.