The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Friday, June 12, 2009

"If you're not at the table, you're on the menu"

I just heard that line, relating to the importance of diversity in our legislative and judicial branches. Lovely.


In answer to yesterday's comments:

1) I think the presence of women in the police and fire departments is a damned fine idea for multiple reasons, including but not limited to women's capacity to de-escalate violence. I had a friend who stopped a fight between two huge men by sticking her finger down her throat and vomiting in front of them. Frickin' brilliant.
2)Dan asked me if the following described my position: "Women live longer than men; this is a result of choices they made, and therefore the deal whereby they are deprived of other choices is just part of the same deal. And long life isn't the only benefit to this deal, just the biggest one. Men don't have it better than women, and women don't have it worse than men. Right?"

Mostly right. You were the one who mentioned choices, and I agreed that choices were involved. But as Perry said, there are very real genetic reasons as well: after all, every woman is wired for about eight hours of labor. That's an endurance event, and would certainly be related to other forms of long-term survival itself. Our GENES made these choices, not us.

My point is that FROM INSIDE THE SYSTEM it just isn't possible to quantify whether men or women have it better. How in the hell are you going to apply "points" to life and death as opposed to 70% of income? I also refused to take a position on whether blacks or women have it worse in America (remember?), because anything I say would be warped by my own perspective, and probably self-serving. I did, however, suggest that we ask black women, who know both sides. Regarding the male-female thing: What are we gonna do here, ask transsexuals? Somehow, I don't think that's gonna work.

But the "voluntary" things men do aren't entirely voluntary. They are influenced by some of the same hormonal things that give women long life. Testosterone is an incredibly powerful drug--and the aggression to fight wolves or Huns also makes us poor bastards compete with each other in dangerous ways. And the dangerous jobs go more naturally to men, as the non-baby-carriers of the species. Find me a culture anywhere in the world that works that in reverse, and I'll show you a very marginal culture, probably living up in the mountains or on a tiny island somewhere--one that has never had to compete with other cultures with "better" ideas.


Considering that the WHO uses life expectancy, death by violence, incarceration rates and infant mortality rate as a measure of the relative health and wealth of a people is, to me, an incredibly useful tool. I know I'm not pushing a political agenda, because the first time I applied it was during an argument about the status of blacks in South Africa. While they measured worse than whites on most of these standards, they measured HIGHER than neighboring blacks. I had to inhale, sit down, and look at that...and admit that they weren't as bad off as I thought.

If I apply that same measure to blacks in America, do you know what racists (and some others) say? Well, it's behavioral. It's what they eat. They kill each other. Yes, but WHY? On one side, you get the implication that this is innate, inborn, just evidence of inferiority. "They like to live that way." And guess what the exact same reasoning applied to men sounds like to me?

Grasp something: for this boondoggle to work, men have to think it's normal and natural. We get complaints about violence toward women in film (which is appropriate) with no acknowledgement that we see a hundred times more violence toward men. Watching "Kingdom of Heaven" recently, it hit me that we saw...let's see...ONE woman die (Saladin's sister) and literally thousands of men. No one cares. Why? A culture that cared couldn't brutalize their little boys to make them inured to violence, conditioned to compete even at the cost of their own lives, closed to their own emotions.

And then what happens? Does that enlightened culture live happily ever after? No. It gets wiped out by the first culture that WILL brutalize their boy-children. Being peaceful isn't superior if you can't protect your kids.

And if women begged their men not to make money or expand their land holdings, I'd say you had a point. If the most cosmetically attractive women (remember--men are visual. We can't help it, we're just wired up that way) dated the captains of the chess club instead of the football team, I'd agree that men just "liked being violent." Men and women program and condition each other.

If I hadn't heard and seen so many white females screaming that women have it worse than blacks, or for that matter raving racist bullshit or enjoying a good Sunday afternoon lynching, or encouraging their boyfriends and husbands into fights or emasculating them for not making money...I'd buy that women are somehow superior.

But having been raised by my mom, as a boy I listened to women laughing about how their husbands were children, easily manipulated, and how they (if they were middle class or above) got tons of leisure time while their husbands worked nine-hour days. Tananarive and I have laughed over the same thing: the number of times when she is alone with women, they will make the exact same kinds of controlling, demeaning comments about men that men are notorious for making about women.

If two different racial or ethic groups have a differential in income or power, the disadvantaged group has the worst of it in life expectancy, incarceration rates, infant mortality, and death by violence. This just isn't true for women. By the time a culture has a high infant mortality rate and low life expectancies for women--that culture is dying.

Yep, women earn about 70 cents on the dollar. On the other hand, they control more inherited wealth. To this day, I don't know a man who "just" stays home and takes care of the kids while the wife goes to work. I knew a few cases where it was tried, and the woman got sick of it pretty quick. (I know that such cases exist. They would have to. But I just don't know any of em personally. Guys temporarily out of work? Sure. Guys running businesses out of the house? Sure. Teachers off for summer vacation? Sure. But "just" staying home while the wives work? I just don't know of one. I'm sure we'll see more of them in the future, however, and I wish them well)

Some of the most frantic feminist rhetoric I've heard has actually been from women whose husbands support them. I mean women who have no real interests outside their homes, a totally spotty job history even BEFORE they were married. I think about the number of men who would love someone else to go out there and earn for them, compete for them. And they can't do it, can't rest, or else they will be considered as undesirable (at least) as women who are considered "too competitive."

And that's what it comes down to for me: the system is set up to reward men and women who play "the game" --the game being whatever produces the maximum number of children who themselves reproduce. We are finally at a period in our development as human beings--post-industrial--where we can actually examine and change the rules.

All my life I've heard whites explain why whites are superior. Blacks explain why blacks are superior. Men explain why they are superior. And women explain why they are superior. Great. Just natural. But you have to grasp that each of these groups finds it advantageous to keep the other side off balance. "White guilt" is a very real phenomenon. I'm quite sure it got me laid at least once or twice. And "male guilt" is real as well.

How could we determine whether women have been, historically, in a worse position than men? Well...we'd need to have an objective measurement of what is "good" and "bad" in life, and to what degree. A year of life is equal to how much money at your job? The average person would trade six years of life for how much power?

I personally look at the statements made at the end of life as reflective of real wisdom, understanding, and genuine human values. What is more important: power or family? Money or friendship? Intimacy or control? I do NOT hear stories of people on their death-beds, men or women, saying that the most important things in life are the things that men have more of.

They wish they'd taken time to watch more sunsets. They wish they had had more close friends. They wish they'd spent more time with their families. They wish they had found more spiritual peace.

Money? Power? Casual sex? Don't hear it. So for me, this stuff all factors in. The truth of what we are, what we want, as opposed to the lies told by our societies to control us (I'm not talking about what our "leaders" say--they're caught in the system, too). If I believe in the basic (but not universal) truth of Maslow's Heirarchy or the Chakras, or Core Transformation, what seems to be true is that what we want, all of us, is peace and love. That violence is a reaction to fear. The need for control relates to fear of loss. That when you remove fear, what remains is love--the thing we all genuinely crave.

I think that the cars, power, fame, money and most privilege dangled in front of us like carrots in front of a mule, or metal rabbits in front of a racing dog, are simply fool's gold. Unless they directly influence life span, the health of our children, the amount of love in our lives or our basic sense of peace at the end of our lives, it's bullshit.


The fight between men and women is like a boxing match in which one boxer has more power, while the other one has more endurance. You make the mistake of thinking power is everything, and you get MURDERED in the late rounds. The referee is God, or biology, or whatever you want to call it.

The WHO standard applied to health care gets a really clear result: Americans pay more for less. According to the Harvard Medical School's study of the Canadian health care system, the AVERAGE Canadian has health care on a level with the average INSURED American. That means that once you factor in the poor, there is no comparison. So people who disagree with universal health care always discount those statistics. Other things are more important.

And I've actually heard "America is great if you just don't measure the negative statistical effects of minority community misery." They blame the victims, they really do. Or I'd put it this way: they don't really care. They think they do, but they don't.

And I've watched enough horror movies with audiences all over the country, to know a truth: men and women don't care as much about the death of a man. Butcher a man onscreen, and the audience is as likely to laugh as anything else. Men and women both. Put a woman of child-bearing age at risk, and they scream "help her." Risk a child? Oh my god, you can't even GO there without traumatizing the audience. And you will almost never see a pregnant woman put at risk. Hell, even Predators don't kill pregnant women!

So my points:

1) We can't know who, overall, has it worse between men and women throughout history because there is no universally accepted measure of how important the differing factors are.

2) Whenever I have this discussion of relative suckage, WHENEVER, the factor of men's deaths is ignored or discounted. Men are blamed because "they start the wars." Unless there is a queen, of course...and even then, it's still the men who die. I see this as precisely equivalent to men not caring about women's dreams and hopes.

3) The system wasn't created by anyone. It was originally biological/reproductive, and societies that tried to go against this...died out.

4) Each side uses every tool it can to dominate the conversation: guilt, threats, pain, whatever.

5) For the first time in our history on this planet, I think we can actually move beyond this system. We have to forgive ourselves, and each other, and get past this "he said, she said" before you can see the puppet strings.

6) If you talk about this stuff, the first thing you will be accused of is being a crypto-sexist. Some people will be sincere about this, just afraid of your hidden intent. Nobody can guilt trip me about this stuff because I've put my ass on the line too many times for my sisters, daughters, and mothers. Anyone is welcome to talk to any woman I've ever known about how I've treated them. I may be an asshole--but I'm probably more of an asshole to men than I've ever been to women.


I say that saying men are worse than women is exactly the same as saying women are worse than men--just more politically correct at THIS point in our history. I care little for political correctness, and quite a lot for the future well-being of my children. For that, we need honest discourse, and not fear and blame and guilt.


Daniel Keys Moran said...

Lord knows you're eloquent. I don't think we're going to come to agreement on this one, but I do understand why you think the way you do. Certainly black women do think being black is harder than being female: I asked.

And, as always, you've given me stuff to think about.

Daniel Keys Moran said...

Oh, and for the record, if you got "sexist" from anything I wrote, not my intent. I disagree with you on this one, but I think your opinions come out of a good place.

suzanne said...

"every woman is wired for about eight hours of labor."

where did you come up with this one!!!!

forget the fact
that I intensely dislike talk of
"hard wiring"
we are omnivorous mammals

neither of my labors was 8 hours
(nor painful)
and the three labors of my daughter-in-laws
were all over 20 hurs
two of which resulted in C-sections

I don't understand why you keep
returning to this
"who has it worst" - men or women

there are up and down sides to both;
(and/but frankly
I'd much rather be a woman
than a man. I'll take my klarger corpus callosum
and multiple orgasms over the other option
any old day, despite
how difficult men-in-power have tried to make things
for women, historically speaking)

Daniel Keys Moran said...


I think Steve keeps returning to it mostly because I've kept returning to it. I'll back up.

Anonymous said...

Dan said: Certainly black women do think being black is harder than being female: I asked.

Generally speaking, they do. This hasn't been true for me.

As a black woman, I'd say that I have experienced an extraordinary amount of persistent sexism within the "black community" and intermittent racism in predominantly white environments.

That said, assuming women generally means white woman and blacks generally means black men, I have no idea which group has it harder. My guess is neither.

Nancy Lebovitz said...

Tentative theory about women's longevity: Women happen to have a better cholesterol-handling system than men (cholesterol is needed for pregnancy), and these days, heart attacks are a major killer.

Is it important to decide on whether men or women have it better, and who's fault it is? How far should the deal that the small minority of high status people get be figured into the deal? In re women and inherited wealth: I've heard that typically, when it's the big bucks, men get control of the money and women get it tied up in trust funds. Does this matter, and if so, which way?

Probably of interest: Self-Made Man. A lesbian separatist disguises herself as a man, spends time in various all-male venues, and reports on what she found.

In re South Africa: I use immigration/emigration as a rough measure for which societies are better places to live. There's always a cost to moving to another culture, and it's sometimes amplified by high legal barriers. And South Africa has an immigration problem.

I know two stable marriages where the man is the house-husband. In the second one, the man has no significant disabilities and there are no kids. The things he was doing for fun eventually pulled together into something that could be a career, but there was no reason to expect that to happen when they got married. The wife is one of the prettiest women I know.

I don't know what it is-- I don't know many people who gloat about their group superiority. This is because fans are slans. :-) Actually, I did used to know a guy who thought opera was the highest human art and tenors had the best sort of voice. Guess what he did.
Second thought: there's been somewhat about the inferiority of Islam. It's still mild compared with the amount you've heard.

I have no idea whether a really gender-neutral efficiency oriented culture would be defeated by a "men should be violent" culture. I suspect that, other things being relatively equal, the former would *not* be a pushover. I think this is at least as interesting as a society which supports reversing the violence level for men and women.

Robin James Burchett said...

I was a house-husband for a year - almost destroyed the marriage, despite both of us being all modern and enlightened. Ha!

Some friends of ours managed it for many years. He eventually ran for city counsel here in Spokane. He won, but the opponent made quite a pubic fuss about him being 'unemployed' and 'dependent on his wife.'

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