A few years (months?) ago, Wolf found out that I like Sherlock Holmes and recommended The Beekeeper’s Apprentice by Laurie R. King, about his adventures later in life—and the apprentice he takes on. 🙂 It look me a long time to get around to the book, mostly because I had to figure out that while I have little time for reading, I’m sure in the car an awful lot, and have plenty of time to listen to stuff. 🙂 So I finally picked up the audiobook of Beekeeper, read by Jenny Sterlin, and slammed through it. (Is it possible to listen faster???) And then I picked up the second book in the series, A Monstrous Regiment of Women, also read by Sterlin.
The book takes place in the UK in the 1920s and centers around a church/women’s rights activist center. Surrounding the mystery itself, there are wonderful world-building moments and discussions about the state of women’s rights during the time. It got me to thinking about how far we have come since then, legally and socially. But it also got me thinking about how far we still have to go.Women are now their own legal identities. We are allowed to inherit from our husbands, fathers, brothers, etc., instead of having the inheritance pass us directly to whichever man is responsible for us. We are allowed to bequeath our belongings to whom we choose when we die. We’re allowed to NOT have husbands (socially as well as legally), if we so choose, or even take a wife, if we so choose. We are allowed to take part in the process that creates the laws we are bound by—both in terms of voting AND in terms of being voted for. We are allowed to earn our own money (doing something more than prostitution, which really wasn’t allowed either), keep our own finances, and spend our money as we see fit without being required by law to ask our husbands or fathers for permission. We can have sex with whomever we choose, without the worry that we will have to tie ourselves to a man in order to protect / feed / clothe / educate the child that is inevitably coming (or face being a social pariah if we do not choose to have a man). We are allowed to request divorce from a man who abuses us.
NONE of this was true 100 years ago.
The system isn’t perfect today. We still have a LONG way to go. But on the other hand, we’re no longer slaves. That’s pretty far for the pendulum to swing. And now that we legally have our own identities, you start to realize that we have other tools that have always been allowed to us, that men do NOT have. We are allowed to discuss our emotions with our friends, in public. We are allowed to ask after the emotional wellbeing of another, outside of a time of great crisis. We are allowed to cry. (Whether we choose to or not is our own business, but we will not lose standing if we do choose to.) We are allowed to touch other people in public, i.e. to hold hands, hug, touch a shoulder. We are allowed to show affection for someone without hitting them. We are allowed to enjoy pleasures other than sexual. We’re also allowed to dress as colorfully or as drably as we choose—a form of self-expression.
ALL of these are required for healthy human communications, and NONE of them are socially allowed to men today. (When was the last time you saw a straight, non-performing man wearing fuchsia?)
The cycle of codependency set up in “traditional gender roles” is in the process of being unmade, but right now, while one party has finally said, “Yeah, this isn’t working for me,” and is leaving the cycle, the other party is still entrenched and shocked that there is no longer anyone there for them to be dependent on. That is a situation where change is being thrust upon them, rather than them choosing it. It is not a pleasant place to be either, and with all of the societal taboos still in place, men are going to have a really rough time until they figure out at a cultural level how to break free without breaking themselves.
I wonder whether you and I will be alive to see such a thing.
Image found here: http://static.oprah.com/images/o2/201203-orig-mysteries-monstrous-regiment-949×534.jpg
One thought on “On Men and Women”
As the wife of one man and the mother of another, I applaud your insight into the reality that the social system itself has to change for us all to be in a new country.
It sounds like you are really noticing that the institution of patriarchy is still functioning. As a yard stick, it has always told us that the guys at the top have the most power (and more money and more of the stuff) and the most say and they get to enforce their beliefs on us all. The women’s movement (starting in the time of your great grandmothers) has been more focused and organized that the men’s movement has. The ones at the bottom always fight the hardest and, consequently, many groups have made huge strides in the last many years.
In my generation, Robert Bly began the mythopoetic men’s movement. I don’t know where that has gone but his work was quite powerful for a time. (http://robertbly.com/). There were lots of men working on those ideas for quite a while.
The politics of change make for slow steps. However, every act of equality is a radical act. A person holding a door open for someone who is burdened with packages is a wonderful sight and it doesn’t matter the gender of either person; what matters is a need noticed and a hand extended. I agree with the Dali Lama ( a man who expresses his emotions in public) when he says that his religion is kindness. Equality begins with humanity and valuing of the other person.
Thanks for speaking up and I am glad you are liking Mary Russell!
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