If you’ve been following this blog, you know that in the last five posts we’ve covered the operating system and the hardware that leave men and women fighting like cats and dogs. Let’s talk now about the software that gets programmed into us—the “conditioning,” in the parlance of psychology—that can leave us clawing at each other, too.
When we think of conditioning, we mostly think of what we learn in our families of origin about how to think, what to believe, how to behave, etc., and all of this early training certainly does program us to see the world in the ways our parents conceive. As we develop into adulthood, we sometimes adopt these perspectives and sometimes discard them in favor of others that either resonate with us or that we deem to be somehow advantageous to us.
What we don’t often consider to be part of our software programming—the inputs that shape our perspectives—is the cultural messages that have been fashioned through the ages before us, and then get presented to us in packages as if they are new.
For example, few couples in 2016 realize that they fight as a result of some of the social developments brought on by the French Revolution in 1789-1799. Seriously. The modern era unfolded in the shadow of this revolution because of the social upheaval and change that it sparked world-wide. The toppling of the French monarchy sparked the decline of absolute monarchies globally, replacing them with republics and democracies. Its liberal and radical ideas, including the rights of all human beings, not just the aristocracy, led to the development and proliferation of modern political ideologies, including one of the broad categories of this blog post: feminism.
In 1792, Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Women, in which she argued that women only appear inferior to men because of their lack of education, and suggested that both men and women be treated as rational human beings in a society founded upon reason. We’re now seeing the social development of those ideas en masse, including unique developments in the battle of the sexes, 225 years later.
For example, our education systems have changed so radically that for every four women who graduate from college, only three men do. Consequently, more women are filling management and C-level positions than ever before, leading to marriages in which women are sometimes the primary bread-winners. Some call this “economically mixed” partnerships, although we’ve always had those, just not with women owning the economic part of the mixture.
And this just in the last 50 years. Until Betty Friedan’s research, published in The Feminine Mystique in 1963, women were primarily homemakers and men bread-winners. While that is still the most common configuration for couples, women are entering the public and professional sphere like never before. I’m grateful to the men and women who have fought to make equal opportunities available for people like me—a female from an impoverished, abusive home and religious community—to acquire several advanced degrees and certifications, so that I could not only support myself, but do so with meaningful and rewarding professional work.
However, these important and necessary social movements have had an unanticipated impact on relationships. With more women in the workplace, the opportunity for affairs to develop has increased exponentially. Additionally, the birth control pill (1960), no-fault divorce (1969+), and the legalization of abortion (1972), have contributed to relationship stressors that couples have never had to face before. In 1970, Alvin Toffler published Future Shock in which he describes the psychological state of individuals and entire societies when too much change occurs at too fast a pace for our psyches to keep up.
These shock waves include the blame game that has become especially hot in the feminist political sphere these days. Many Third and Fourth Wave Feminists blame men for the current nuances in the battle of the sexes. Many 21st Century men blame feminism for the social conflict that they believe contributes to the discontent of their female partners and the dissolution of their families.
And so men and women fight partly because of the cultural upheavals that began with the French Revolution, leading to important evolutionary shifts in Western culture and in the human species. Will these shifts lead to the emergence of a more humane existence for all human beings? I believe they can and they will over the next several centuries, but right now, we’re experiencing shock waves from which many relationships are suffering. (See my post: “Feminism: For Better or Worse.”)
Tomorrow, we’ll look more specifically at how these grand social movements can make for heated arguments in real time between couples.