Saturday, May 21, 2011

Let's have truth-telling by men and women for a change

By Nancy Gibbs, Time, May 18, 2011
(T)he arrest of Strauss-Kahn in New York City for allegedly trying to rape a hotel maid has ignited a fierce debate over sex, law, power and privilege. And it is only just beginning. The night of Strauss-Kahn's arraignment, former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger admitted that the reason his wife Maria Shriver walked out earlier this year was the discovery that he had fathered a child more than a decade ago with a former member of the household staff. The two cases are far apart: only one man was hauled off to jail. But both suggest an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. And both involve men whose long-standing reputations for behaving badly toward women did not derail their rise to power. Which raises the question: How can it be, in this ostensibly enlightened age, when men and women live and work as peers and are schooled regularly in what conduct is acceptable and what is actionable, that anyone with so little judgment, so little honor, could rise to such heights?
Read more: http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,2072527,00.html#ixzz1MzL8Kz3D
Ms Gibbs was a guest of Tom Ashbook on NPR's On Point radio, yesterday. During the hour-long program, one woman called to express a view that is little heard, and even less "conventional" these days:
Women, especially younger women, have a great deal of power and attraction for older men; I know because when I was younger I actually experienced that, and we must stop making men the "perpetrator" in all cases, notwithstanding that physical and emotional abuse must never be tolerated.
One of the central themes to which Ms Gibbs referred is the "abuse of power" theme, for example, when someone in a position of power, influence and authority (often a male) takes advantage of a female whose career, life or education, for example, the male has the opportunity to influence significantly. As an example, she used a former employee of the IMF who allegedly was a victim of Strauss-Kahn's sexual advances and who felt trapped by him, in order to protect her professional career.
Juxtaposed with this view, the wife of that same Strauss-Kahn, Anne Sinclair, comments, "It's important," she said, "for a man in politics to be able to seduce." (From Time, May 18, 2011)
Clearly, the U.S. "puritan" approach, as Ashbrook labelled it, is far different from the European approach to this subject, especially when we note that 57% of French people believe that Strauss-Kahn has been "set-up" in this latest sex-charged drama emerging from the Sofitel Hotel in New York.
Over the last thirty or forty years, women have made a determined and quite deliberate issue of attaining equality with men; they have attained many of the top jobs in many of the public and private organizations, now occupy the coveted office of Secretary of State, three seats on the U.S. Supreme Court, the just vacated Auditor General post in Canada (to retirement), the CEO of Pepsico, for example. And, no doubt, to a fault, all of these women have both earned those positions and serve their various constituents exceptionally well, in many cases, better than the previous male holders of those offices.
And that "political" and "economic" equality is both healthy and long overdue, at least in North America.
However, it is the issue of the "power imbalance" that I wish to address, especially in respect to private relationships.
First, no man or woman has the right to impose him or herself onto another-physically, emotionally, financially, or any other way. To demand sexual favours as a "price" is nothing more than unconscionable. And neither is to "bride" sexual favours from another any less unconscionable.
Any element of force, including the element of "seduction" is both dangerous and, in such situations, virtually unavoidable. And both men and women have the power to seduce; and the degree to which this power is disproportionately available or deployed will vary in every situation.
However, with full equality comes full responsibility. And that means women, too, have to accept their fair share of responsibilty for both fostering and engendering relationships with men that are conducted on both the physical and the emotional planes.
I came from a home in which the political, economic and intellectual power was both vested in and maintained by a woman, my mother. My father was virtually "dumb" in the literal sense of that word; he either could not or would not utter a word of protest to anything she said. Was he afraid of her? I can only guess.
Without empirical evidence, I would venture to imagine that she controlled their sexual life as well.
In my personal experience, I have noticed that women have seemed to want both a relationhip and "no responsibilty" for the creation or existence of that relationship. And I have also noticed that the male, because he is the male, is loaded with the full responsibility for the relationship, even without a full knowledge of the mutual nature of that relationship. The myth of male testosterone has become the fact of male dominance in any and all male-female relationships, when, in fact, that is not the case in most.
Women, it seems, will participate in the relationship, without taking responsibility either for its beginning or for its termination, especially if there is another woman whose attraction and affection have become focused on the male. Even months after the termination of a relationship, some women still "cling" to the perception that it has not ended, but will often, perhaps predictably, seek revenge if their denial of its termination is complete.
Men and women, both, equally and maturely, must take responsibity for entering into relationship even if those relationships do not fit the conventional parameters. Men, it would seem, have for too long been silent in seeking equality and shared responsibility in both 'sparking' relationships, fostering and sustaining relationships and in terminating relationships. Women have too often been given a pass when it comes to sharing responsibility for 'sparking', fostering and terminating relationships...and that kind of inequality cannot continue, if women are to take their full and mature place of equality with men.
Women have no immunity to either public or self-deception, and their ownership of that immunity would go a long way to creating a level playing field.

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