*This MIGHT be a blast from the past. It was in my draft folders from 2012, but I can’t find it published either here or at Mad Genius Club. I suspect it might have been too hot to handle while still semi-in-the-political-closet. It is weirdly relevant. (I have about twenty of these in the drafts folder, from before I dared speak frankly. I see no reason you guys shouldn’t read them.)*
Gentlemen don’t hit those weaker than them. Gentlemen don’t get in fights in public. Gentlemen don’t brag. Gentlemen remain polite even when those around them don’t. Gentlemen protect the weak and root for the underdog. Gentlemen don’t complain about being hit or hurt. Gentlemen never admit they’re sick or weak. Gentlemen don’t tell tales. Gentlemen never – ever ever ever ever ever – hit a woman. Ever.
Did you grow up with those rules? I did. And if you’re going to ask why I didn’t grow up with rules for ladies… It’s because I never really wanted to be a lady. Being a lady involved dressing the part, not taking place in public life, and letting yourself be protected. I wasn’t any good at that. It wasn’t a feminist thing. I don’t think back when my image of things was being formed that I much cared one way or another for feminism. It was a Sarah thing.
I read mostly boy books, and of course, imagined myself going on adventures and doing daring things. This was way before sexual awareness set in, so I didn’t know women were subjected to other dangers than men – mostly through our being physically smaller and weaker on average. A lot of smaller men who aren’t bottle coveys (Pratchett reference – the sob who doesn’t know when he’s beat and will come after you with a broken bottle in a bar fight. The ur-bottle covey is of course Inigo Montoya) are in exactly the same risk as women. (I have a fondness for slim, small men who ARE bottle coveys. They try harder.)
Also, I wasn’t pretty enough to be a lady. I was pretty enough to be a girl, because I WAS a girl, but not to be a lady. Ladies have to be very beautiful so that guys will do everything for them. Also, I really wasn’t good at pretending to be dumber than the local boys. And er… I have a tendency to say what I mean. Holding your tongue is for ladies. I wasn’t a lady. And that was before we got into the hand-to-eye coordination that made my young years living hell particularly when it came to sewing, embroidery and other “ladylike” pursuits. I eventually came to enjoy crochet and embroidery, but not as a young kid. EVER. Back then I’d bring a book out during “crafts” lessons. Or write poetry.
So, because I read a lot of the books for boys, I internalized gentlemen’s rules and tried to live by them. The way each of us has an internal compass? Mine was formed by trying to be a gentleman.
It has some advantages. I have a lot of male friends, particularly those of British or old fashioned upbringing.
It has one huge disadvantage: I don’t get women. Most women are a complete puzzle to me. Yes, even though I am one. Yes, even though I spent a lifetime sitting in kitchens, listening to women talk. It took me till my ninth book – DST – to be able to write a woman convincingly. Even when my main character is a woman, my books still tend to have more men. No, it’s not on purpose, no, I’m not a self-hating woman (rolls eyes) – it’s just that I understand men’s “internal compass” better. Oh, I know where it’s different than mine, but I can take that into account.
As far as I can tell, I’ll define things this way: men are dogs. I mean, they’re disciplined, they follow rules. They’re pack oriented. Women are cats. They’re individual-advantage-seeking, rule bending and devious. They can be part of a group, sure, and they will viciously enforce the rules on others, but they don’t REALLY believe the rules apply to each of them. Not really.
Now keep in mind I like cats. Keep in mind too I admit to a lot of the characteristics of cats. Like, “I won’t be told.” But with the exception of my female friends (the finest bunch of females in the world, of course) most women are just baffling. It is not just that they don’t follow rules, it’s what they think it’s to their advantage doesn’t make any sense. This is particularly true of American women, because I think most of them haven’t been taught gentlemen’s rules at all and aren’t even aware gentlemen’s rules are the rules on the other side.
By my generation a lot of their mothers worked. They didn’t get the advantage of sitting in the kitchen, listening to mom and grandma and aunt. The stuff aimed directly at girls and women was aimed at “empowering” them and because it was – inevitably – written by the people who cared the most about what we’ll call “the war between men and women” (which is real to an extent, like the “war” for reproduction is real between birds and bees, each side always seeking an advantage) and who often cared most because they had scars and not-normal experiences, was achieved by putting men down.
I know in the seventies as I was coming of age, I was completely baffled by the endless – ENDLESS – books about the cruel father, the cruel uncles, the cruel brothers. I found it mind boggling that in all this there was never a cruel mother, a cruel step mother, cruel sisters or cruel classmates.
Look, I know at this point those older women among you are rolling your eyes and going “you’re one of the young ones. Second generation feminism. You don’t know the true oppression.”
You forgot I grew up in Portugal. The first time I heard the WORD feminism was in the seventies. Guys, suffragettes were a relevant movement in Portugal in the sixties. Women needed their husband’s permission to work. A woman couldn’t get a passport if the man in charge of her didn’t sign off on it.
Do I approve of those restrictions? Well, no. So what was my plan if others, older than I hadn’t removed them? Why, to subvert them at every turn of course. And get away with murder. It’s my most feminine characteristic.
BUT even so the books coming out of the states in the seventies – particularly those written by female authors – drove me nuts. I had a perfectly good relationship with my grandfathers (both of them) my father and my brother. The only relationship better than with the males in the family was with my paternal grandmother, and my relationship with my own mother (partly because we’re too much alike) came somewhere below the one with my brother. The idea that mom and I were somehow oppressed for being women was laughable. Both mom and my paternal grandmother couldn’t be oppressed. They weren’t about to give anyone the time to oppress them. In fact, I’d have paid to see someone try. I’d have sold tickets and popcorn and soda.
All these sweet helpless female victims and all these male villains stuck in my craw. Particularly when you then combined them with “woman with the sword” plotting. You know what I mean. Give a girl a sword and she immediately becomes a war leader and better at it than all the guys.
The problem is that a lot of the women growing up in the US with two working parents were getting their ideas not from extended family, but from books. And books were being written in a very biased way.
Which is how we arrive at where we are today. And it’s ugly.
Humans are creatures of culture and story. We believe stories even when we made them up. (Seriously. It explains the collapse of most dictatorships and how shocked the dictators were because by then they’d convinced themselves they were the good guys. Same, btw, with the way trad. publishing is going.) Women who read ALL stories about evil males believe the most stupid crap. My favorite is the “mother goddess” primeval paradise where everyone was happy, even the guys, and which was subverted by… lasers! Cheese! Or rather because men were evil, moustache twirling villains and would destroy paradise so they could enslave and oppress women because … lasers! Cheese!
There is no reputable evidence for this. NONE. There are a few deranged “feminist narrative” historians who push it. BUT I bet you a majority of American women believe it without even realizing it, at the back of their minds. Part of it is because it’s a survival from the story of Eden, of course, but part of it is because they read so many stories with male villains this rings true to them.
Then there’s the women who think ALL men are in a conspiracy to keep women down. Most will reject it if you tell it to them like that, but they act as though it were true. Hence all the whining about more male bestsellers, or how boys MUST be exposed to female heroes, but girls shouldn’t have to read male heroes, or…
Egads, it’s dumb. For one, it assumes males are females. No. Listen to me. We really are different, and it isn’t just the way we’re brought up. Gender is not a social construct. HOW YOU EXPRESS IT is. (The same as far as I’m concerned goes for orientation. And that’s about it.) But men are wired differently from women in a few ways – a few of which are clearly evolution oriented. Now, as always, when I talk about males and females, I’m not talking about individuals. Some individuals will be closer to the other gender. This is a continuum. But on average we know a few things about men: they’re more visual. They’re more cohesive and less improvisational. They have better eye-hand coordination. They are better spatial thinkers. They are brawnier, stronger and more competitive in the male-butts-heads-with-other-males way. (This is not an exhaustive list.)
Women, OTOH, are better at verbal, multi-processing, noticing detail, innovative solutions while in a group (In certain circumstances and absent peer pressure to integrate) They’re also usually better at following social cues and enforcing social conformity. They are competitive but in an underhanded, back stabbing kind of way and will compete against both males and females for status and safety.
Let me lay it on the line for you, okay? I’m a woman but I really GET men. Most men are gentlemen. Some have a slightly more tarnished coat of arms, but most are more bound by rules than we are. They obey what they view as “group rules.” A few of them are pirates. They will break all rules, come in from the underside, do and say what they have to do to win. Those few are the only ones who would even consider competing with a woman or cutting a woman out. Most men instinctively, at a level that’s pre-verbal, protect women. All women. Even an ugly one. Even their mortal enemy. They can’t help it. It’s built in.
That whole idea of men subverting paradise to torture and oppress women? Bullsh*t. The majority of men couldn’t allow it.
Now, can this be subverted by culture. Oh, sure it can. See the Arab world. But the Arab world has its roots in “pirate culture” – in a desert culture of raiding tribes. Under it, men’s protective instinct became perverted into keeping the women prisoner. That’s because at the heart of the culture they view women as about like sheep. They need to be penned up for their own good.
There are instances, of course, in western society, of the same issue. And the further back you go, the more you see that. Because we’re smaller and weaker, it’s easier for men to overprotect us to the point of penning us in and intimidating us. And some pirates actually become heads of families. Things get ugly then, because they do not follow rules. And they’re still bigger and stronger than us.
Throughout history there’s been an unspoken pact. Women are smaller, weaker, but have what most men will die for. (If you don’t get, you don’t get it.) They use that to get men to protect it. Does it turn poisonous? Oh, sure. At times. And also, civilization is a millennial project. I wouldn’t care to live in the Middle Ages as a woman. That said, even then in most cases, it wasn’t as wretched as in the female-victimhood books of the seventies.
Even I, who was raised watching women in action in traditional roles was shocked, recently, in watching an older friend wrap my husband around her finger. It wasn’t a sexual thing. He has no interest in her. And it wasn’t conscious on her part. But she needed help, and she gave off signals that had him working for her to the detriment of his own work. I could see it, I could watch her do it, I could recognize stuff I’d read, and I was in awe. This, ladies, is a birth right we’ve lost. Yes, part of it is admitting we’re weak, which frankly, even I can’t do. But it totally got men doing what she wanted when she wanted it. I have read enough to tell you women have done this throughout history. Men could have the power, but women had the other power.
So, what is this all about? I want us to go back to women having no civil rights? Are you kidding me? Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are individual and I don’t care what the sex of the individual is.
I think by and large equality before the law is important. Not equality of outcomes – which is already in our law and I don’t like – but equality before the law. Going forward, it gives both sexes the right and duty to behave like civilized people.
BUT what I’m seeing is more than equality for women – mandated equality of outcomes under the law; mandated superiority – of testimony, etc – before the law (divorce cases, paternity cases, harassment cases. In all of them the woman’s word counts for more than the man’s) and… paranoia about evil men. And horrible clawing unhappiness at not being able to find “a good man.”
What I’m seeing are women coming onto the public arena, ignoring all rules, while men are bound by “gentlemen’s rules” which are the equivalent of fighting with their foot in a bucket of cement.
What I’m seeing are women winning – sometimes with the help of the law, sometimes for other reasons – in family law and many professions – writing for instance – and yet screaming they’re victims.
They remind me of my cat Miranda, who chases the boy cats around, beats them, and screams as if she were hurt.
Yes, I think a great part of the fault lies in the stories they grew up with. BUT those stories are just stories. They’re wrong. Reality always wins… and victory can be terrible.
One thing I noticed is how many young women fall for the pirates, mistaking that for status and strength – then complain they’re mistreated. The pirates mistreated EVERYONE dearies. If he has no internal compass, he won’t have one for you.
And if you want to complain in business or politics? You have to learn to be a gentleman. You can win for a while otherwise. The law gives you advantages. But in the end, the long game?
You’re making pirates out of every gentleman. If they can’t survive and thrive as gentlemen they’ll hoist the jolly roger. When they do, they won’t be bound to treat you nicely. And they won’t. And they’re stronger. And bigger. Yes, it still counts for something, even in the civilized world.
Do you really want to keep telling yourself pretty stories and thinking all men are villains and all women victims? Come on, stop and think rationally. You know better. If you make it impossible for them to be gentlemen they WILL be pirates.
Take advantage of civilization, but behave in a civilized manner. Stop imagining you’re a lady while trying to compete in gentlemen’s business. Civilization is a thing of rules. While in their world, play by their rules. When you get home be your lady-like best.
Out in public? Stop crying when you hit. Stop coming out swinging, then crying you’re not treated “like a lady.” You want to compete with men? Well, then, you’re playing with the big boys now. Give as good as you take and play fair.
Keep on this way and you won’t like the result. Just don’t come crying to me. Gentlemen don’t tell tales, and I have no inner chivalry. I’m a woman. I learned the rules, but I’m not wired as they are. When they hit back and it hurts, I’ll be in the corner. With popcorn and a beer.