Of Myths and Realities

A while back, I wrote an essay in this space in which I shared some views on gender-related issues. God knows why anyone would ever willingly stray into that minefield, but this is my forum and I can say what I want.

So often, works devoted to this rather touchy subject devolve into one of two extremes, being either rants or marvels of polite circumlocution. I had hoped to avoid either of those fates. And after much effort and many rewrites the product that finally emerged was, I think it fair to say, well-reasoned, relevant, decently written, strongly supported by credible citations, and forceful without being pointlessly inflammatory.

The purpose in tackling this thorny subject was twofold. On the one hand, as a concerned American I felt it was important to weigh in against the plague of Political Correctness, which I believe has done real and lasting damage to our society. But at the same time I had also hoped to persuade certain specific individuals I knew who were, I felt, in the throes of unclear thinking. And if the piece managed to reach others as well, then great. The reaction to that extended rumination has been interesting and distinctly bimodal, with the feedback split about fifty-fifty between commendation and condemnation. The target audience remained largely unmoved, however, so into the breach once again.

Recently I was having a lighthearted conversation with a member of that target audience, a woman I know. As is customary, our conversation followed no particular script, and meandered agreeably across a varied topical terrain. At some point the subject of female boxers came up. The human kind, not the canine. If I recall correctly, this subject entered the conversation because Ronda Rousey, the female MMA champ, happened to be in the news that day for some reason or another. I allowed that I found the idea of women beating the crap out of each other rather disturbing. I happen to find equally disturbing the hordes of fans who find such ugly displays titillating, if not downright erotic, but that’s another matter. This woman–I’ll call her Shana–said by way of rebuttal that she thought it was “great.” Which surprised me more than a little because Shana is a child of the 80s and as liberated as they come.

Somewhat taken aback, I said something like, Well I’ll take it seriously when a woman climbs into the ring with Mike Tyson. To which she said, and here I quote exactly, including emphasis, “I could see that happening soon, because there are plenty of women out there who can kick any man’s ass.” After a moment of befuddled, incredulous silence, I asked Shana if she really, seriously believed that to be true, to which she replied, forcefully, “Yes,” wide eyes and firmly set jaw underscoring her sincerity.

This was such a bizarre thing to say, and so completely at odds with reality as I understood it, that I did not quite know how to respond.  It seemed right up there with “9/11 was an inside job,” or “the moon landings were faked.” In such situations good manners prevent you from saying what you really think, but neither can you just let a statement like that go. My mind churned as I considered how to respond.

In a manner of seconds, I felt my relationship with Shana change a little, perhaps irreversibly. I thought back to the time some years before when a woman I had been dating mentioned, quite casually and apropos of nothing, that she had been abducted by space aliens a few weeks previously. I thought at first that she was making some kind of droll joke, and so I played along. But within moments it became painfully clear that she was, in fact, completely serious. And in a split second our relationship simply dissolved. I lost all interest in her, and as quickly as was practical extricated myself from the situation and got the hell out of there. I never saw her again.

Now I do not in any way require friends or loved ones to share my opinions. For example, even though I am personally rather conservative politically, most of the people I know, and pretty much everyone I truly care about, are left of center–sometimes very left–and that’s OK. This is particularly true of the women in my life.

However, I do require that people I associate with not be flat-out delusional. That long-ago would-be girlfriend had said something that was so very Out There that it called her character, her stability, her very sanity into question, and I could not have anything to do with that. And here I was, facing a similar situation with Shana, someone I had known for years, and of whom I happened to be very fond. It was an awkward and uncomfortable spot to be in.

In my mind, this was a pretty serious breach, and it had to be dealt with one way or another. I played Shana’s statement over and over in my mind, trying to find an out that would save her from being downgraded to the “Take with grain of salt” category.

To be fair, I held out the possibility that she might have been exaggerating for the sake of argument. Yes, there certainly are some very fit women out there, some of whom could credibly challenge a fair number of men in a physical fight. This I could accept.

However, I also had to consider that Shana might have been stating a literally held conviction that some females could best any male physically, a truly reckless thing to say, which if extended to its logical end would inevitably mean that women were physically superior to men. Which would be a ridiculous, dangerously naive, completely nonsensical argument, supported by absolutely zero evidence. And by definition, anyone who actually believed this would have to be delusional. You see my problem.

But in talking to other people about this issue, it became clear that Shana was hardly alone in her thinking. Apparently her viewpoint is a fairly common one. This represents a pretty sharp shift in the zeitgeist, but if you think about it, you can kind of understand how it happened. After all, the mainstream media seethes with images of fit, toned, attractive women in full badass mode, strutting and preening for the adoring cameras, their to-die-for lats and ‘ceps on full display, while at the same time male counterparts are scarcely to be seen. And night after night, episode after episode, ultrafit, uber-sharp heroines with world-class fighting chops run rings around hapless male opponents in a host of popular television serials. This explosion of empowered womanhood has not gone unnoticed. It has seeped into the public consciousness and displaced the softer, more conventional image of women that once prevailed.

What people forget, though, is that this new version–Woman 2.0–is a fiction, created to entertain us, just as the superheroes, steely-eyed cowboys, hotshot detectives, and perfect moms and dads of yesteryear’s popular entertainment were fictions. This updated image of womanhood is as approximately real as a comic-book superhero.

At this exact moment, on many fronts, change is occurring faster than at any time in human history, and so it is natural for us to assume that humans themselves are changing at a similar pace. But we are not. Though our society and our technology evolve rapidly, our biology does not. We are effectively indistinguishable from our ancestors of a thousand, five thousand, or ten thousand years past.

Let’s be clear: Human males and females are not physically equal. No way, no how. On her very best day, with the stars and planets all in alignment and the wind at her back, Ronda Rousey could not kick Mike Tyson’s ass. The young one OR the old one. She probably wouldn’t last half a round. And there isn’t a woman on the planet who would fare much better. And it’s not as though Mike Tyson was a freak of nature, either. Guys like him are all over the place. The reality of this large and enduring physical disparity between males and females seems so incredibly obvious that it shouldn’t even be up for discussion. Yet somehow it is, because we live in a very strange time, in which inconvenient realities may safely be ignored in favor of obviously fictional, clearly irrational, yet politically correct narratives. A simple, fact-based statement such as “Women are not as strong as men” cannot be uttered in public without generating a storm of synthetic outrage. By the unwritten rules that now govern our society, such a declaration is forbidden because, even though it may be objectively true, to say it out loud enables repression, enforces the Patriarchy (whatever that is,) and promotes the myth of second-class status for women. It is, in effect, hate speech.

We males and females differ, deeply, in ways too numerous to list, and anyone with sense recognizes this. Though there is certainly much behavioral, physical, attitudinal, aptitudinal overlap, our respective bell curves are actually pretty far apart. Yet we are forbidden to acknowledge this reality because it contradicts the official fantasy that, but for some minor plumbing issues, we are all exactly alike and wholly equal in every way.

Shana didn’t arrive at her opinion all by herself; she had lots of encouragement. Three decades of nonstop “girl power” propaganda have borne abundant fruit in the form of confident, assertive young women by the millions who are convinced that they can do no wrong, and who feel in their bones that it is their right to do anything they set their minds to. And who also feel just as certainly that they are not merely the equals of males, but their actual superiors. Hear and read slogans like “Girls rule, boys drool” and “The best man for the job is a woman” a few thousand times and you start to believe it.

Note that there is no equivalent movement stirring in the y-chromosome community. Which is probably a good thing because one can imagine the deafening howls of outrage that would ensue, from sea to shining sea, were any males ever so impudent as to assert their supremacy. Imagine the strained vocal chords, the epidemic of apoplexy, the barrels of ink spilled in anger, that would follow such effrontery. The hypocrisy is staggering.

There’s no denying that women have made significant strides in carving out a larger role in American society. This is right and reasonable, and a natural evolution congruent with our changing times. America has shifted from a manufacturing economy, which favors physical strengths and skills–a male domain–to a service economy, which favors people skills–a female forte. At the same time, it has become fashionable among a certain class of women, mostly young and ambitious, to mimic certain traditionally male behaviors strongly associated with what we call “success.”

However, you could credibly argue that this expansion of female roles  has occurred largely because our peaceful, prosperous, society, freed of serious existential threats by the sustained labors of many anonymous men over many generations, has the luxury of allowing it.

In some ways this is a zero-sum game. We cannot all be winners. To a certain extent, the ascendance of women has come at the expense of men. Females are being lifted up as males are being held down. It starts early. In their formative years, boys are given over to a feminized education system that really doesn’t like them all that much. This system, owned and managed almost entirely by women, regards boys’ natural boisterousness as a form of deviance, and represses their instinctive competitiveness in favor of feel-good, everybody-wins pablum. At this system’s behest, unruly (i.e. normal) boys are routinely pacified with powerful psychotropic drugs to make them more like their compliant female cohorts.

Males of all ages are the principal targets of a regressive and puritanical code of conduct that criminalizes normal behavior. Hard-working men at every stage of their careers are demonized by zealots in perpetual pursuit of a chimerical “equity,” who have sacralized the pernicious myth of the woman-hostile workplace. The entire male gender is marginalized by a shallow, gossipy, gynocentric, popular culture that trivializes the enormous contributions and challenges of males as it grossly exaggerates and glamorizes those of the other, pampered, gender.

A common complaint you hear from men is that they feel unappreciated. They have a point. The idea seems to have taken hold among many of the female gender that males are somehow obsolete, like an archaic form of human whose remains you might find in a Pleistocene cave. We don’t need you any more, is the message many men are getting.

And this is a problem. The thing so many people fail to understand is this: Males require a sense of purpose. They want to provide and to protect; they want to be respected and respectable. They need to be needed. But without a purpose there is simply no point. And so one by one they drift over to the dark side.

You’d think that the gender responsible for creating science, technology, mathematics, literature, art, philosophy, medicine, music, finance, and a host of other disciplines too numerous to mention would get a little more respect. Instead, so many females seem to think that this society of ours–highly evolved, technologically advanced, safe, comfortable, interconnected–just kind of sprang into being. But the reality is that almost everything of importance in this world was conceived, designed, built, and maintained by men. And without males, your cushy little world would implode faster than you can say “woman needs man like fish needs bicycle.” I think Camille Paglia, leading intellectual and lifelong feminist, says it best: “If women ran the world we would still be living in grass huts.”

Certainly there are negatives to male behavior, and we all know what they are. But the better angels of male nature make the world go around. Intellectual curiosity, love of competition, an appreciation for rigor, inventiveness, persistence, adventurousness–these are profoundly male traits. They scarcely exist in the average female. You may say, oh pish posh, what a load of crap, but history tells a different tale.

But females embody much of what is beneficent about humanity. Empathy, nurturing, inclusiveness, caring, cooperativeness; these are, overwhelmingly, female traits. Females allow the perpetuation of our species. Why do so many women rush to disown these critical, life-affirming attributes, as though they were an embarrassment? Why do so many women strive to emulate the very worst traits of men and think that this is, somehow, an improvement? Why are so many blind to the reality that yin without yang is a world completely out of balance?

Years ago, when I was young and idealistic and still thought I could make a difference, I wanted to be a teacher. So off I went to graduate school with the goal of becoming certified in Science and Math instruction. The final phase of that process is a year of student-teaching, which I performed at a suburban middle school.

As a semester project my 8th-grade earth-science class was assigned the task of creating and videotaping a “weather broadcast.” It was a different, simpler, era, and the teachers had the odd idea that the kids ought to be able to figure it out on their own. And so students were given some rough guidelines and then left to their own devices. No caring adults hovered, minutely monitoring their progress. The large class was also allowed to self-select into working groups, something else that would never be allowed now, and as a result every single group was either entirely female or entirely male. Remember, this was middle school.

The difference in output between the girls and the boys was striking. The girls produced, without exception, solid and workmanlike results, but with few surprises and only occasional hints of cleverness. Sober and colorless yet perfectly adequate. By sharp contrast, the boys’ work was all over the place. A couple of projects righteously stunk, and a couple others were so-so, but for the most part they were really good: clever, daring, inventive, funny, and smart, even a little risque, if somewhat rough around the edges. In competing with each other, the boys had pushed themselves to excel. Right then and there I learned a powerful lesson about the basic, enduring differences between the sexes, a lesson I have never forgotten. The girls played it safe, the boys went for broke, and it wasn’t even close.

For centuries it has been understood that young males require the companionship and tutelage of other males in order to reach full maturity. But in recent years this entirely wholesome and sensible arrangement has been upended by the juggernaut of Political Correctness. The few refuges boys once had where they could gather with others of their kind in friendly, constructive settings–the YMCA, the Boys Club, the Boy Scouts to name a few–are either under assault or have been harassed out of existence by the gender-equity warriors. As clueless as they are vindictive, consumed with unreasoning holy zeal, the gender jihadis destroy that which they do not understand. And like Vandals beholding the wreckage of Rome, they gaze upon their work, uncomprehending of the damage they have wrought, and feel only the warm glow of victory.

In my hometown of Austin, Texas, there are two public girls-only schools, with a third almost completed. They have upbeat names like “Ann Richards School for Young Women Leaders,” which sounds so very inspiring that you really want to hang an exclamation point on the end. Yet there is no boys-only academy. There was a plan for one, sort of, but it languished, as afterthoughts usually do, and faded slowly away until eventually it was forgotten. So the gender that really, really could use a little help right now is getting none. And nobody even pretends to care. Perhaps George Orwell was right: We are all equal, only some are more equal than others.

As long as there have been humans, there have been myths. Every culture has them, and they serve a multitude of useful purposes. A myth can center you in time and space, provide an appealing backstory, project an uplifting and heroic ideal, conceal a checkered past, mask a drab reality. Many of us even have our own personal myths.

Most of the time, at the conscious level we understand that our myths are just that. But sometimes, in endlessly retelling a favorite story we come to confuse it with reality. And so we begin to lose our way. We make a decision based on a faulty premise, and then we make another and then another. By slow degrees we create an alternate reality divorced from any solid factual foundation. And we continue in this fashion for a time until, eventually, the realization dawns that something is terribly off here. But by then we’re in too deep, the vested interests have gotten their hooks in, and it’s too late to fix the thing.

In the end, I decided to cut Shana a little slack. She is an excellent person who means well, and it is for very good reasons that I am fond of her. Like millions of others, she has been taken in by a myth. But who can blame her? The myth is shiny and audacious and captivating. It makes you stand a little straighter, puts a spring in your step. By comparison stodgy old reality is so very boring, so commonplace, so yesterday. And who needs that?

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