Thursday, February 14, 2008

Please Don't Kill Me

Although the title of this entry seems in keeping with my blog’s theme, it really is a departure as I venture into the explosive territory of male/female relationships. I picked the title to acknowledge that some of the readers will wish to kill me when they read the entry. However, if you are able to read to the end with objectivity, you will see the wisdom.

First, a little history. When I was a pre teen in the early 1970’s, the television set was awash with stories about the battle to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which first became qualified for ratification in 1972. The TV news had stories of women leading protests and rallies in support of the amendment. This is when we first heard the term “Women’s Lib” and Gloria Steinem came to the fore by co-founding the Women’s Action Alliance. Closer to home, I asked my older siblings what all the fuss was about. My older sister explained that these efforts would allow women to get paid equally for doing the same job as a man. I was naively shocked to find out they weren’t. She continued that women wanted to be able to use the courts to bring cases of sexual discrimination. I didn’t understand all the implications of that. But, she added, women were also looking for a societal equality where they would not be looked down upon for expressing themselves sexually or being sexually aggressive. She said that women wanted to be able to ask a man out on a date, to pay for dinner, and to initiate physical intimacy. With that, I pictured high school and college years that would approach a nirvana like level of satisfaction. I thought that it was a great time to be entering into my dating years, how wonderful. As we all know, this never came to fruition, and not because the ERA was never ratified by the requisite number of states. To this day, the relationships between men and women are largely the same as they were 100 or 300 years ago. And for as much bigoted energy that some men still put into keeping women as second class citizens, women have also not done themselves any favors by continuing to seek the status quo. To turn on the TV today, and tune into the “women’s shows” (Oprah, The View, etc) is to be “entertained” with seemingly harmless discussions about the relationships between men and women. But if you listen closely, the dialogue is very often tainted with an undercurrent that men are out of control and untrustworthy. Glance at the cover of a woman’s magazine (Glamour, Redbook, etc) and see the titles of the articles such as “How to Tell if He’s Cheating.” This title plants the suspicion that he could be cheating and gives instructions on how to catch him. These insinuations are part and parcel of a tiresomely old, skewed, and offensive status quo as we all know that the vast majority of men are able to function and thrive in completely monogamous relationships. However, it is only fair to acknowledge that some men still insist on embarrassing the whole sex by treating women as objects and having only a “scoring” mentality when it comes to intimacy. It is this group that needs addressing.

I am not interested in defending this group as much as explaining some of the real forces at work. I cannot defend this group because I am tired of needing to constantly earn women’s trust and part of women's resistance to trust is based on this group's highly publicized behaviors. On the other hand, it is only because I have been able to suppress my urges that I am able to stay monogamous. Do men want to have sex with any able bodied woman who is willing? The answer is yes. And here is where I rely on history and borrow heavily from anthropology to hopefully deflect any animosity.

Now, a lot of history. Humans, throughout their entire history of 2.7 million years, only began engaging in rituals such as marriage with the advent of religious awakenings. A liberal estimate would place any modern concept of a committed relationship at 10- 15,000 years ago. As such, this concept of monogamy is “new” to humans. Surely, even 20,000 years of striving for monogamy cannot compare to the millions of years when we didn’t. And why didn’t prehistoric man engage in monogamy, with no regard for familial or communal boundaries? In the time before modern weapons, when everyone’s weapons were basically the same, tribes survived based on how many men they could throw into defending their territory and food supply. If your tribe had 90 men with clubs and theirs had 70, you were in good shape. With that, it became a biological imperative to be able to produce as many children as possible. Without the luxury of having to decide whether sex was right or wrong, our prehistoric brothers simply tried to impregnate as many of the women as possible. Mathematically, a man could and can be responsible for dozens of pregnancies at any given time whereas a woman can only be responsible for one. So for millions of years, that math played itself out as tribes balanced the production of as many members as possible only with the ability to feed them. There were no moral or political considerations, which is a concept that most of us cannot fathom now. I suggest that men still harbor this innate urge to “populate” as much as possible. Two and a half million years of conditioning does not subside with 20,000 years of imposed rules. But this is not to say that these feelings cannot be suppressed. I, along with millions of men, suppress them for the sake of our relationships every day. My concern is that the focus of the popular media is on the behavior of a minority of men and that even those who cannot stay monogamous rarely do so specifically to hurt someone else. I think it’s time to balance the perception of men as reckless and unfeeling with a broader understanding of the primordial forces at play. Men do want to have sex as frequently as possible and with as many partners as possible. But even for those who believe that this is a conscious choice, I see it more as a deferral to a time when it meant survival.

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