Women often lament the state of their modern identity. Every woman is expected to be Wonder Woman; the successful professional, harlot and homemaker for their husbands; the perfect mom, heroine to the children they bear. They are victims of dichotomous demands that pull them in different directions and that sometimes threaten to pull them apart.
It’s a sympathetic and unfortunate reality, and one that society imposed on women, despite their complaints, at the behest, indeed insistence, of women themselves. At least enough of them to effect sweeping change.
Modern feminism is the feminism of choices, is it not? And haven’t women by and large demanded compliance with that agenda? Women, most of them, understandably want the freedom to choose their path in life, whether that path is of financial pursuit or the path of family or some frequently complicated combination of both. And society, as it always does with women, accommodates these demands. But while we succeeded in opening doors, we cannot and never will be able to provide an out for the responsibilities and pressures that come with such a menu of options.
Indeed, the only way to reduce the pressure is to reduce the number of options themselves, and we aren’t going to squeeze that particular glob of toothpaste back into the tube.
The great writer/philosopher Kahlil Gibran wrote:
Much of your pain is self-chosen. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.
A hundred million other people put it even more succinctly.
Be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.
And so now women have gotten what they wanted, or claimed to want. And as in so many other areas it brings them a step closer to the world of men, but only in the abstract; only on the surface.
Men, too, are becoming like stressed rope in the tug-o-war of gender identity, though they never collectively asked for it. Today’s man is called on to be, as much as any woman, all things at once. He is expected to be the warrior standing in harms way, ready to kill and die for our protection and often for less noble causes. He’s also the empathetic counselor with the unending patience to listen and accept; the provider for a home but not it’s leader; the teacher of ideas and ideals, but only those that pass feminine muster.
He is the savior, the pin cushion, the straining back of labor and the sponge for our social scorn. He is the powerless servant reviled for having too much power; the identified problem and the secret solution. And he is always, alwaysthe one we induce to act when the Ultimate Sacrifice is required.
These splintered expectations of men were not a result of choices, but of obligations; not an escape from their gender role, but proof of men being inextricably chained to it.
And as laudable as are any efforts toward equalitarianism, the seemingly mirrored struggle of men and women with identity is not evidence of progress to that end, but an indicator that we are going in the wrong direction.
For in the final analysis, women are complaining about the stresses the come with freedom and men are remaining silent about the burdens that come with servitude and expectation.
Equality is an impossible yet noble objective. It is something we strive for knowing it can’t be accomplished. It would behoove us to pursue such unobtainable objectives with at least some measure of thoughtfulness. To date, we haven’t done so well in that department.
But we will come perhaps a small step closer to that unreachable finish line when men are routinely encouraged to voice their frustrations with the twisting, often clashing demands of social pressure.
Or, when women are routinely encouraged to stop.