The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Clarifying Yang and Yin stuff

Some took offence at my suggestion that the civil rights movement was “feminine” in nature. I don’t say this lightly, and I mean no offense to the courageous men and women who took part in it. I am referring to the fact that they really had no choice but to take the high road. Direct action, direct violence in response to the violence offered their marchers, vote registrars, sit-ins, etc, would have led to extermination. The beautiful and brilliant answer was to remind America of her higher nature, Christian values, and to shame the U.S. on the world stage through provoking unmeasured response. There was no other way to work it.

But…my wife’s family was seriously involved in the Civil Rights movement, and I’ve heard many, many stories that don’t get talked about on the nightly news. And of course, some that did. On fact was that women and even children were placed front and center during marches, because men would have drawn too much fire. They literally would have been taken away and lynched. Men had to repress their urge to strike back, to retaliate. No one who could not repress this urge was allowed to march. And decades later, I’ve seen the result: men who still hunch their shoulders, can’t stand up straight, repressed rage eating away the core of marriages and lives,

NOTE: I’m not saying “women must behave X, men must behave Y.” But one of the problems I perceive in typical Liberals and Conservatives is that Liberals tend toward believing that there are no intrinsic roles or differentiation, and Conservatives tend to think that roles are graven in stone. I don’t know how much of this stuff is genetic—although it is inarguable that testosterone increases aggression. And I don’t know how much is social: after all, most female animals can defend themselves and their young just fine. But I do know that in human societies, I know of no documented instances where the females do the protecting and the males stay home with the kids.

If a man CHOOSES to be gentle and nurturing, avoiding violence and conflict, good for him. I have friends like this, and they are good people. But there is a real difference between choosing this for moral reasons, and choosing it because they are afraid of confrontation, afraid that they CANNOT cope with violence. My highest respect goes for the men and women who are capable of both sides of the equation.

You know what? I’d bet that if you did a study of blacks who fought in the Civil War, you’d find their descendants were healthier and better adjusted than the average descendant of slaves who were never free until the war ended.

Look at this comparison of “Male” and “Female” as “Yang” and “Yin” if you want. Fine. I’m just using the words to point out a phenomenon. It’s a wave, not a particle. I’m not talking about some immutable thing. But when you listen to Rap music and hear the hyper-male posturing, this is, in my mind, the result of 400 years of having to keep their heads down. When, in “In The Heat Of The Night” in 1967, Sidney Poitier struck a white man who slapped him, it sent shock-waves through America. I had never, in 15 years of watching movies and television, seen a black man stand up for himself in such a fashion. Black male audiences cheered. Isn’t that pitiful? You bet. But it is completely predictable, given human social evolution. And also as predictable that what any slave master must do is destroy the crazy chaotic male energy that says: “Live Free or Die.”

You cannot have it. So any blacks who exhibited such characteristics were broken, or killed. And post-slavery, the entire weight of social convention in the South struggled to keep blacks in their place—more killing of men and raping of women. And then during the 20th Century, when the walls started breaking down, these images of helplessness were reinforced in the media. To this day, you can see traces of it in shows like “The Unit” (one of my favorites) where, while Dennis Haysbert is the star, and quite virile, he and his wife are the only overweight folks on the show, while all the whites are lean and sexy. You still can’t quite get the full package past the guard-dogs.
So…I understand that my attitudes aren’t politically correct. But neither do they limit male or female behaviors. And I consider those who can operate within both modes: direct and indirect action—to be the most balanced human beings. But when you deny women the OPTION of being nurturing, or men the OPTION of direct confrontation and protecting their families with force…I think you have taken something precious. There is a reason why so many male hero figures are warriors, throughout all of history. And a warrior isn’t just someone willing to die—that is a corruption of the term. A warrior is also willing and able to kill. A warrior says: “I’m willing to die, and I’m willing to take you with me.”

A person who says only “I’m willing to die” is a martyr. Don’t confuse the terms.

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