In the last piece in this space, we opened, again, the book on misandry, and misogyny, from the perspective of Young and Nathanson, both of whom were conscious, from their own experience that a double standard operates ensnaring both men and women in an “us” versus “them” culture. Let’s try to unpack some of the occasions in which our language and our cultural norms perpetuate this, in an attempt to untie the gordion knot of gender inequality.
If we are going to unpack, and even remediate against misandry, there is a century of work to do. Television is filled to overflowing with ads ridiculing, attacking, and satirizing men, both overtly and more covertly, as if the predominant cultural meme is that women are in charge. And it is clear that, in this culture, men have a significant opportunity to speak up, without taking offence, and counter the tidal wave of what amounts to gender undermining.
And when women lie, or dissemble, or ‘gush’ over some guy, only to turn on him for whatever reason, the dynamic exposes a behaviour as well as an underlying attitude that women can do this with impunity. And, it is obvious that the impunity applauded by other women, is also permitted through the default of many men. (Let’s not deny that some men are reprehensible in their attitudes to some women, considering them and treating them as ‘trophies,’ or a sex-objects, or as “an underclass” or as in the inverse, “uppity” and insufferably arrogant, and presumptuous, whether those words are uttered or not.)
Policies in the workplace, for example, have been constructed around the notion that male supervisors of women are forbidden from having a personal relationship with those women, even if the relationship originates from the overtures of the woman. Similarly, female supervisors are prohibited from ‘crossing that line’ into a personal relationship with a male supervisee. And the impact of these hardline rules, in effect operating on a zero-tolerance base, is to effectively declare both parties “weak” and insubordinate, dismissable and thereby effectively eradicated (politically and morally assassinated) from the community. The human impulse to relate to another, naturally finds more than adequate and available opportunity to take root in workplaces of many kinds. Attempting, for purposes of social hygiene, as well as restraining budget expenditures, not only allows for but actually fosters an “us” versus “them” mentality, that pervades the culture. It is this “us” versus “them” dichotomy, regardless of which gender represents which pronoun, that Young and Nathanson are protesting.
And so is this space dedicated to the proposition that men and women cannot be reduced to stereotypical enemies, unequal emotional, intellectual or political forces, in any situation. And to fall into this trap, as many institutions, including the church, have done is to slide into the hierarchical mind-set, that defrauds the culture. If there is ever to be a reckoning of the distortion that men are automatically more powerful than women, and therefore the going-in assumption in any conflict is that the man has to be the oppressor, and the woman the victim, the culture, both inside and outside organizations and families, has to reverse the premise that the woman is either incapable of or unable to have an equal voice in the assessment of the “relationship”. And, if the assumption is that the man “oppresses” then the woman can only be considered the victim.
Growing up in a family in which the inverse was true, that the woman was completely dominating of the man (mother over father), and then watching and experiencing directly the “polite” and demur and deferential and even honourable and knightly masculine responses to situations that required both formal and informal address, I know too well the dangers in this deference, if that is really what it is.
A father who does not confront his spouse about her abuse of the children has failed himself and his children. A male principal who does not confront a female teacher who has abused a student fails himself, the student and the teacher. When a female teacher disregarded a “show-and-tell” bird book brought by a grade two girl, and the parent complained to the principal, the principal’s response was a damning, “Whenever I attempt to discipline her, she accuses me of anti-semitism! There are far too many men, in positions of power and responsibility, who fall into the category of that principal, while the specific circumstances may differ.
Protesting, whether by deploying a false defence, manipulating the facts or manipulating the people and the facts, by women, to escape notice, escape responsibility and to deepen the roots of the “us” versus “them” double standard. It is not only the protesting that that teacher got away with, through the self-emasculation of the principal, the child still has no idea why her book was never used in her grade two classroom.
Another cut on this diamond of female manipulation (and let’s not start accusing this scribe of misogyny here!), arises from a situation in which jealousy has its grip on the woman’s psyche, and when that jealousy explodes into revenge, additional manipulation and betrayal, such betrayal has to be confronted. And such confrontation has to be premised on a kind of investigation into the situation that most men would prefer not to have to enter. Just as law enforcement never want to enter a situation where domestic abuse is occurring, so too, most men in positions of leadership and responsibility, would rather reduce a conflict inside the organization to terms replicating or duplicating or imitating the legal code of human behaviour.
And it is precisely the reduction of human discourse, interaction and relationships to a legal baseline that has been permitted to overtake the lens through which human relationships are perceived, conceptualized, and if need be, investigated. The law is no substitute for common decency, for common sense, or for common expectations of human encounters. If we have to deploy the law, deferring to its definitions, as well as its sanctions, in order to monitor, measure and evaluate human relationships, we have lost our compass bearings.
This week an attorney formerly accused of mis-handling trust funds from a client was acquitted. Only a superficial reading of the news report of the case indicates that the client, a female, had plied the lawyer with gifts, and developed a relationship with the lawyer that extended past the formal lawyer-client guidelines. The public perception is that the lawyer should never have permitted himself to have been “involved” with a client in this way. And there is some limited justification for that view. However, the reporting goes on to declare that the client was an “unreliable witness” given that there were holes in her story, and that she had “performed” a similar treatment (gifts and gushing followed by betrayal) on another professional male.
It is the phrase “unreliable witness” that men must parse, critically, early and often if we are to be able to discern the authenticity of a woman’s advances from advances that are designed and executed to “bring down” the male. And it is a phrase that does not readily come to a man’s mind, upon meeting a woman and finding her interesting and attractive. A woman who had been denied an appointment to which she believed she was entitled, for example, will not stop at seeking and finding opportunity to “get her own back” on the male who denied the appointment for legitimate reasons. A woman whose congregation called the honorary assistant “a leader and you’re not” is going to and has gone out of her way to eliminate such a threat from her circle, even though the assistant neither knew about, nor lobbied for her position. A woman who throws herself at a man, especially an innocent and somewhat under siege man, and then finds that the man has learned more about the potential relationship that would ensue, if continued, and terminates the relationship, can count on retaliation, of a kind rarely if ever to be investigated and named for what it is, especially if men are in power. Even women, when confronted with unassailable evidence of child or spousal abuse by another woman, have been afraid to bring such evidence to light, fearing reprisals from the offending woman.
Of course, all of these examples, while unnerving and unsettling, are nevertheless, rumbling through the clay, the sandstone, the granite and the underground water table throughout North America. Men are, generally, self-gagged from confronting such situations in our own lives, simply for the reason that we do not know how to confront them without triggering even more turbulence. Keeping the peace, as my father owned in declaring my upbringing at what he called the hands of Hitler and Chamberlain (his voice), cannot satisfy either appropriate parenting, nor especially responsive married partnering.
Similarly, bishops who defer (“I have never seen that!”) when told explicitly, “She (a female clergy in his charge) hates men!” following even a brief review of dismissals of men by such a woman, caught in the web of her own ambivalence, gushing over some attractive male(s) while undercutting others, with impunity, not only fails his office, he also fails to confront the insidious unconscious Shadow that haunts the faith community.
Frankly, in an argument about shifting the conversation away from “us” versus “them” when the combatants are “women” and “men” respectively, it is significant to note that it is not only a degradation of both genders that is at risk; it is also a degradation of the kind of leadership, mentorship, and especially moral and spiritual example that is missing from our contemporary (as well as historic) mainline clergy. And it is those clergy who share a unique position as prophets and teachers and potential healers, who have the opportunity to both discern and then to articulate a new and fair and potentially more equal and more liberating attitude, belief and even theology.