The truth of his sex

Zach Wiita

“Women create and nurture life. Men destroy it.”

It’s a pretty bold statement, isn’t it? It’s a sentiment I’ve run into periodically on the Internet over the years. It is, perhaps, a startling reminder of the huge communications gap between men and women – and of the huge power gap between them, too.

As anyone who paid attention to Hillary Clinton’s campaign knows, sexism is alive and well in the United States. Case in point: The hecklers at a Clinton rally who showed up to demand that the senator from New York iron their shirts. I knew several young ladies last year who put “No Penis, No Presidency” on their Facebook profiles without any irony. It’s sadly obvious that many men – and women – in this country believe in biological determinism and sexual hierarchy. To these people, having or not having certain reproductive organs determines what kind of opportunities a person should have in life and what kinds of relationships they may enter.

I was raised by a single mother in a thoroughly matriarchal family, so that kind of sexism always seems alien to me. The idea that men ought to be in charge or are naturally dominant was never evident to me growing up – my mother and my aunt would scare the heck out of any of us misbehaving little boys, and when the extended family was faced with a decision, everyone from my grandfather to my uncle deferred to my grandmother, the family matriarch. On top of that, I never had a male teacher until the fifth grade. Female authority seems as natural to me as male authority.

It’s en vogue right now to talk about a “post-feminist” world. I’m never quite sure what people are talking about when they say that. The term “feminist” may not be popular. But last I checked, the basic principles of feminism – that men and women ought to be equal and have equal opportunities, that women should be valued and respected, that sexual violence is unacceptable, that women are not men’s property and women ought to have the right to vote – are fairly universally respected. Those women may write “No Penis, No Presidency” on their Facebook, but I doubt that any of them honestly want to return to an age where they couldn’t vote or when their husbands could legally rape them.

Unfortunately, while most of the basic principles of feminism pervade society, so do many sexist ideas, perhaps most infamously the objectification of women for male sexual gratification. We’ve all heard the lectures about the evils of objectification; I won’t repeat them. Suffice it to say, the tendency to view women’s worth in terms of their sexual value to straight men is alive and well. And many women internalize that view – consider the women who make fun of politically active feminists by remarking, “Not everyone can be beautiful” or the girls who aspire to become part of Hugh Hefner’s harem. I’ve certainly never understood this kind of objectification. If all I wanted was a warm body, I’d just buy a sex doll. Give me an actual woman any day of the week.

Naturally, the result of that kind of superficiality can result in more sexism targeted against men. The opening quote is a prime example: Faced with the destructive power of patriarchy, some women adopt some pretty disgusting views, too. “Women create life, and men destroy it” is no more accurate than, “Men are in charge, and women submit.” Anyone who’s ever looked at history knows that the world is full of destructive, warmongering women and creative, peaceful men. And “Women create life?” A woman doesn’t get pregnant by her lonesome.

But, then, the anger experienced by both sides of the sexual wars can be understandable. After all, the question of sexual equality is one that most of us can never shut out of our lives. We can run away from people of different races, religions, or nationalities. We can shut our doors and pretend that no one important belongs to another political party. But we all came into this world because of the efforts of a man and a woman. Most of us have family members of both sexes. And for many of us, the relationship between men and women speaks to the most intimate relationships we ever establish in our lives. The idea of losing power for either side must seem terribly scary.

But it’s essential that our society keep working its way through this issue. In spite of the sexism, patriarchal and matriarchal, that still exists, we have come a long way. After all, as Michelle Obama put it, Hillary Clinton poked 18 million holes in the national glass ceiling. Where women succeed, men benefit. But more to the point, we need to expunge sexism from our society for a more intimate reason.

Playwright David Henry Hwang put it best. Hwang was writing about his play “M. Butterfly,” about a Frenchman who fell in love with a Chinese actress who was actually a man in disguise, and talked about the work of moving past gender roles. Hwang said, “Those who prefer to bypass the work involved will remain in a world of surfaces, misperceptions running rampant. This is, to me, the convenient world in which the French diplomat and the Chinese spy lived. This is why, after twenty years, he had learned nothing at all about his lover, not even the truth of his sex.”

Do you want to love a gender role, a concept, an object? Or do you want to know and to love an actual person?

Zach Wiita is a senior political science and theater studies major and a columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected].