Wednesday, 29 September 2010

The Contingency of Gender Roles

We do not have the luxury of living only for ourselves. We must make a priority of our self-development, but the role of man is a kind of service in society. He provides his freedom to move, his forthright energies. Each man must in some way go out into a trial of nature. He must climb trees for honey, he must hunt beast in the heat for eight hours with the prospect of failure and death. He must fish, hunt and kill. He must go out into the wilderness.
That is not to say women cannot do this. The distinction between genders, and modern society makes this all too clear, is not logical or necessary. Where the men fail, or cannot do the job, women are completely capable of hunting, fishing and fighting as well as rearing the young. Women are multitaskers. What a man brings however, is freedom and strength. He brings time and energy that a woman simply does not have if she is to mother the young.
Now, we can screw around with these distinctions until our hearts are content. We can break down artificial boundaries grounded in these contingent gender distinctions. Because they are contingent. They are not set in stone. But they are most convenient according to the needs of nature.
The more women are pressured to be both mother and hunter, the more pressure exist on society as a whole. It is far too much for any human being to be both man and woman. It is not impossible. Plenty of men are more than capable of being mothers. But if there is to be a healthy balance, a healthy function of the family unit and the society itself, then we need to start being smart about what our roles are in the life process. There is no restriction here. It is just what works.
A woman’s obligation to life, the role of mother, is one of service. As is the role of father. It is a role of duty, love and commitment. And you can rail against this all you want. Come up with counterarguments all you want. But I bet you that there is no better feeling you can describe than that of feeling useful to a woman. Or feeling respected and needed by a younger man who looks up to you.
Just to repeat – NONE OF THIS IS NECESSARILY TRUE in the philosophic sense. There is no absolute. Nature evolves and breaks down social roles - it is a matter of evolution. But when it comes to the facts of life, to sex, to rearing young, and to building a life worth living, this balance of masculine and feminine energies is essential.
And it is not an easy balance to strike. It is something that takes time. That’s why all tribal cultures have some kind of rite of passage for the men. The woman’s life is one long series of rituals – from her first period all the way to menopause and through to death. But for men, our development is psychological, and it is the duty of society to prepare men for whatever task that culture requires of them. Whether it is hunter or prime minister, teacher or poet, he must be ready to take on this task. He must be emotionally prepared.
And none of us are. None of us are emotionally ready, simply because we don’t know what we are supposed to be ready for. We don’t know where our place is in society. We have lost any sense of having anything to offer a woman that she can’t provide for herself.
But the fact is, there is nothing a woman can offer you that you couldn’t at some level give to yourself. Again, this is not about necessary or logical truths about male-female roles. It is about looking at the contingencies of a society and evaluating what works.
The role of a father, changes according to the culture. It is never set in stone. As is the role of the mother. From our basic biological identities, we can become whatever we want to be. This is the freedom of the human being. AS I have said before, existence always precedes essence.
But it’s a question of what works. It is a question of taking responsibility for our own happiness and survival. Given the challenges of our time, of our cultural and natural environments, what can a man do to best rear healthy young? What can he do for the mothers of these young? What can he do for the society while these children are being provided for? The answer to this question always changes, and we can never afford to rely completely on what our own fathers demonstrated to us (especially in this day and age).
I think the best we can do, is to instil a core ideal of service and love into our sons. We must instil in them a sense of their own existential freedom to exercise this role as they see fit. We can’t rely on preconditioned social roles, because these always end up being dysfunctional. In the same way, a woman’s identity should never be completely associated with the role of a mother. However, we must incorporate our biological identities into our wider identities as people, as living souls.
As men, I would argue, we must demonstrate this freedom of choice. In that way, we teach our sons and daughters to live efficient and adaptive lives. We also teach them that they are inherently valuable.

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