Why Men and Women Fight, Part 6.1: Feminism 1.1

Yesterday, I promised to elaborate on how a grand social movement that began 250 years ago impacts relationships today. Let me share an example or two.

My boyfriend and I lead a discussion group for people who want to date intentionally and intelligently. Most of the folks who show up are mid-life divorcees with similar stories, desires, fears and anxieties. They want to find love, but they’ve been burnt, and they don’t want to repeat mistakes they’ve already made.

Consistently, we hear men say that women these days are not like the women of yesteryear. Men don’t have to pursue anymore, they say, because there’s no shortage of women who come onto them. This is flattering, of course, until that dynamic plays itself out in the relationship over time.

From the perspective of many men, today’s women turn out to be controlling and entitled, not warm and inviting like they were during the hormone high of the first six months. From the perspective of women, men are either passive and lacking in confidence, or emotionally distance and cocky.

From my perspective, men and women simply don’t understand themselves and each other anymore. Feminism, important and necessary though the movement has been (I have my opinions about the problematic and dramatic shift in the movement’s more recent focus on sexuality), has left both genders unsure of what’s essentially good about them, and what each has to offer the world. Men are presenting more like women used to (perhaps because they thought they’d better if they wanted to retain their connection to the regular sex they need), and women are presenting more like men used to (perhaps because men were the only models of the power they desired). Both sexes are in an identity crisis, and relationships are breaking apart in the upheaval.

I find it interesting that some of the men in our discussion group have expressed that they would never date a women whose on-line profile reveals her income to be greater than his. You can call this archaic and politically incorrect, but it’s still the reality for many, and I think it represents a practical example of how a grand social movement can manifest on much smaller scale.

Another way the feminist movement impacts relationships on a small scale involves divorce law. Until the Tender Years Doctrine, a development in England in the late 1800s, fathers were automatically awarded custody of the children post divorce. After feminist activist Carol Norton convinced British Parliament to protect mothers’ rights in 1839, the presumption of maternal custody eventually became the new norm. This is still the most common practice, even though legislation toward the end of the 20th Century refers to granting custody in the “best interests of the child.”

Many Western men tell stories of emotional and financial devastation when they lose regular contact with their children, and sometimes give up more of the financial pie than is equitable, out of a sense of nobility and honor to their former wives.

Of course there are still plenty of Western women who end up financially hamstrung post-divorce, as well, because many have fewer marketable skills and educational qualifications than their former husbands, coupled with a less flexible schedule to work and take classes, because of their responsibility as primary caretakers for the children. Many such women struggle to live into the empowerment afforded by feminism, still experiencing themselves as disadvantaged, oppressed and dependent.

This is the state of affairs 50 years after the Feminist Revolution in the United States began in earnest, and in my opinion, we have to both clean up (in more progressive sectors) and catch up (in less progressive ones), so that men and women can work together as a team to create a good life for themselves and their children.

If men and women can reinvent themselves in this new world, broadening their respective characters in such a way that men can be tender without having to sacrifice their strength, and women can be strong without having to sacrifice their tenderness, we will have achieved the original intents of the feminist movement. Equal opportunity and equal rights for all—human rights—allows men and women to retain inherent qualities of their sex, while developing the ability to be both independent from each other and interdependent on each other…simultaneously.

As a psychotherapist, I could share endless practical examples and stories of how the disruption of traditional power and social structures is impacting real relationship in the 21st Century, but I’m wondering if you’d like to share some of your own? (Please share respectfully.)

Tomorrow: why we fight about money.

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