Hold the Door: why I support gender equality over men’s rights or feminism.
We’ve all been there. Walking up to a door with an awkward amount of space between us and the person behind us. Do we hold the door for an inordinate amount of time? Do we slow our pace to improve the timing? Do we quicken our pace and hope they don’t take offense? Holding the door is an institutionalized example of community kindness (and awkwardness). But it is not as benign as it may appear. It is also a tool of benevolent sexism, which is bad for everyone.
Where does it derive from? The idea that men are physically stronger than women and, therefore, should help women with heavy objects…like doors.
Now, from my undergrad studies in family sciences and child development, I seem to recall that there are five, and only five, studied and categorized differences between cisgender men and women, when you control for culture/nurture:
- Full-grown men have greater testosterone (and accompanying physical strength and sexual drive) on average than do full-grown women;
- Women and girls have better communication skills (defined mostly by vocabulary and expression) on average than do men and boys;
- Men and boys have a greater ability/tendency on average to rank other humans by overt skill than do women and girls (e.g. ranking friends from best basketball player to worst);
- Men and boys are more physically aggressive on average than are women and girls; and
- Women and girls are more verbally aggressive on average than are men and boys.
That’s it. Just those five. Oh, you’ll hear some variation of these depending on the source you go to. And you’ll see wide variations if you don’t control for culture/nurture. But the general idea is that the differences are far less extreme than we tend to think. And, in addition, there is a great amount of overlap in each category from gender to gender and from person to person; these are based only on overall gender averages.
When you look at the limited differences between men and women, you should quickly see that our institutionalized gender inequalities are by and far ridiculous.
The fact that many men can bench more weight (usually about 135 pounds) than can many women (usually at least 70 pounds), for example, has precisely zero application to opening a door, which generally requires a mere 8 pounds or less of force.
But we created a society where opening a door is now a dogmatized gender rule. It means chivalry. It means patronizing an entire gender. It means relegating. It means dividing. It means doling out duties. It means demanding pretended weakness. It means no longer knowing whether it is kind or crude. It means a lot of things.
How did we get here? More importantly, where should we go? Because many of the other dogmatized gender rules are far less benign. That women are for ogling and ranking, for instance, is a genderized proximity mine where fear ignites fury, with catastrophic results.
May I suggest one path forward, away from stupid gender rules?:
First, take a logical step back to remember the purpose for the rule in the first place. Why did we start the rule of men holding doors for women? Because women were supposedly weak. So the purpose was to help the weak.
Second, filter the issue by characteristic rather than by gender. So then…let’s hold doors for the weak (like, little children and anyone with low bone density, for instance. Or hell, let’s just hold the door for anyone walking closely behind us). In taking this second step, you might still end up with disproportionate genders in a given area. Then is the time to look at step three.
Third, correct illogical, systematized disadvantages (or mindsets) through advocacy and activism. In this example, if women on average were truly too weak to pull with 8 pounds of force, we know that would be from nurture and not nature. Then is the time to redistribute the dumbbells. It could also mean that our ideas of women as “weak” are grossly inaccurate. Then is the time to let them flex their muscles.
Here are some examples to further illustrate the process:
- Women can’t be President: (1) The reason is that women are supposedly overly-emotional, unintelligent beings incapable of leadership; (2) So then don’t vote for overly emotional, unintelligent people who are incapable of leadership, no matter the gender (ahem, 2016 election comes to mind…); (3) Consider whether emotion is even as negative as we think it is (new research indicates emotional aptitude is actually *necessary* to personalized logical reasoning). And consider whether women actually are “unintelligent.” If for some reason they actually were, on average, unintelligent, then it might be time for some restructuring of our education system. Interestingly, our men are the ones not doing well in the public education system, which is something worth looking at (and I wouldn’t stop at the gender disparity, since the system itself is not infallible).
- Young girls should only get birth control by prescription: (1) One reason is supposedly that over-the-counter birth control would promote early promiscuity. And we care because? Early promiscuity is *correlated with* (note I didn’t say ‘caused by’) teen depression, unwanted pregnancies, and criminal behavior; (2) So then focus on not providing things to young girls that actually cause depression (like baseless shaming for natural desires), unwanted pregnancies (like rules requiring prescriptions for birth control), and criminal behavior (like crappy parenting…which, again with the requiring prescriptions for birth control); (3) Take a close look at our female-based sexual shaming. Take a closer look at our male-based sexualizing. This is systematized disadvantage for everyone. This is the thing to fight against, for all genders.
- Women can’t play pro (or even amateur) football: (1) The reason is that women’s bodies aren’t built for it; (2) So then create a uniform set of physical qualifications *actually needed* for the game, then hold tryouts based on those qualifications rather than on gender; (3) Consider whether the revenues, opportunities, and attention of this game particularly favor one gender over another and, if so, whether that favor is causing any systematized disadvantages. If so, it might be time to fight for some changes in our reverence for the game.
This three-step process, to me, is the think tank of equality. Not of men’s rights. Not of feminism. Just equality. Logical, emotional, raw equality.
Now, frankly, the process will also focus on women and women’s issues in many instances, because patriarchal rules are still swarming around in society. And I guess that would be feminism. But it will also focus on some of the men’s issues, like male-only drafts for wars that have nothing to do with the average physique of a male human (especially given the increased use of non-front-line battle tactics), which I guess is men’s rights (in the original sense, not in the anti-feminist sense). But in the general sense, it’s just gender equality.
Importantly, what this process doesn’t do (I hope) is polarize, paralyze, or provoke an entire gender against another. That’s the reason I call it a gender equality process rather than men’s rights of feminism.
What I’m afraid of right now is entire groups of men who never wanted a patriarchy watching as groups of women swing the pendulum of gender issues straight back at their skulls. They don’t deserve it.
At the same time, many women continue to stay under the heel of a culture that leaves them under-privileged for no other reason than that their voices are underrepresented (and that their bodies have uteri), which leaves many of them in generations-old underprivileged situations.
I guess what I am saying is that this is clearly a problem, but polarization is not the answer. And the more we isolate an entire gender from a cause, no matter which gender, the more we invite misunderstanding, distrust, and the same exact mindsets that got us here in the first place. Unfortunately, that’s what I see both the men’s rights and feminist movements doing today (unwittingly or otherwise).
And maybe that’s just my fear talking. And maybe it isn’t the most logically-sound fear or the most time-tested. But anecdotally, I see the polarization of genders more and more each day. “How dare a field that attracts 90% men have 60% male speakers!” I hear them cry. “Boo hoo for the men who aren’t allowed to be parents,” they mock. That commentary is polarizating. And I see it creating the same anger and haughtiness (from both male and female cisgender groups) that has kept us in a patriarchal society since Neanderthals gave way to Homo Sapiens.
Times have changed such that either gender could stand up and take control now. We’re finally at a place where the war is one of wits instead of welts, such that women are no longer defenselessly subject to the wiles of male physical prowess. They might just end up on top. Even so, I rather wish it was just a war of wisdom. I rather wish that new leaders could be anyone. That is, I guess I just prefer that we stop fighting the war of genders at all and, instead, that we create opportunity for all then choose leaders based on characteristics rather than chromosomes.
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