Monday, November 22, 2010

Isn't every day Men's day?

Actually, no. Not anymore, anyway.

The gender story in North America has changed so drastically over a period of barely one generation. The wildly popular show Mad Men is an uncomfortably accurate portrayal of life between the sexes in the early 60s. My mom's response to the show was: "Why would I watch that? I don't want to remember being chased around a desk." My mom is not that old (seriously. You should see her doing yoga).

Shocking, right? And now things are different: women have a lot more power in the workplace and in family situations, women win most lawsuits related to sexual harassment and child custody, and more and more women are becoming primary breadwinners. Women are also shown to be better at handling mental illness because they have close friend groups and a willingness to seek professional help. So what's the problem? Of course women are still dealing with our issues, and though it's (very) tempting, I will not delve into my own challenges as a woman, especially in academia.

But things have certainly changed. The woman's movement was just that: a woman's movement. Women got together, discussed ideas, created organizations, fought for each other, and worked bloody hard to change the role of a woman in society so that now we have (at least officially) the same rights as men do. The birth control pill meant that women could decide if they wanted children, how many, and when. No one needs to depend on anyone else financially. Divorce is about as common as marriage, it seems, and women are far outperforming men in education, if not in the workplace.

So what have men been doing all this time? How exactly have men been negotiating this new world where women as a whole have become something different, and no one's been allowed to ask any questions?

For example, what is the appropriate way to approach a woman at a bar? Do women still want men to pay for dinner and hold doors open? Do women want rich men or educated men? Is it 'manly' to get pedicures and use hair products? Why is it assumed, at least in the judicial system, that women are better at childcare than men? Now that women want men to express their feelings more, how exactly are they supposed to do that?

And a plethora of other questions I can't begin to imagine because, of course, I am a woman. But I have my own questions.

Like why are there so many sexual scenes between women in popular media and so few of men? Why is it playful and sexy when women are doing it and so serious when it's between men? Why don't men talk about their feelings with their friends? Why are so many men dropping out of school? Why is bullying in schools so bad that little boys are actually committing suicide?

And how can I possibly explain to my boyfriend rationally that I want to be understood and a strong, intelligent woman and still want him to tell me I'm pretty? I can't. I can't explain that. We are all very much still in this thing, and it's still broken.

Last weekend, my colleague Charlie and I went to an event called "International Men's Day" to present our Broga: Yoga for Men workshop. We have created a style of yoga that focuses on opening men's common tight spots (shoulders, hips, hamstrings), healing areas of common pain (knees, lower back) and celebrating the poses that are actually a little easier for men to do (arm balances, inversions). Often when I mentioned this event to my students and whoever was around, I would be greeted with shock, surprise, sometimes expecting it to be a joke, and, a lot of the time, the question: "Isn't every day men's day?"

This is a question about which our organizer, David Hatfield, had a lot to say. David heads a weekly workshop called "Manology: 21st Century Masculinity" that is basically a group for men to get together and talk about the above and many other questions to do with men's health, wellbeing, gender roles, and yes, of course, feelings. One of the main issues men have to deal with today is the common assumption that men still feel totally in power and have no questions at all about their sexual identity, especially if they are heterosexual.

The world is still a very different experience for little boys and little girls growing up, and some of that stuff has gotten a lot better, and some of it has gotten more confusing than ever. Little girls are now told they can be whatever they want when they grow up, they can have children or not, they have the right to do anything a boy does and lots of other empowering stuff (though perhaps teen magazines [and extended families] tell a different story), and little boys are still being told that boys don't cry. The role of the 21st century father has become something pretty different than what most of us grew up with, and nobody seems to know exactly what these new roles are supposed to entail.

At some point in our history, women got up the courage to stand up and start questioning their roles in society and how they wanted things to change. It's time for men to start doing the same.

But if women don't support men in making the world a better place for everybody, then we've all failed. Anyone who thinks every day is already men's day needs to open their eyes, and if our kids are going to do any better than us, we are going to have to help each other out. Things will never get better for women or men unless we are on the same side.

To me, that's the meaning of satsanga: a community (sanga) dedicated to truth (sat). Truth is, we've all got work to do.

1 comment:

hibou said...

Great post, Julie. And I really agree that the road goes two ways; it can't be simply about clawing your way to as many freedoms as you can take. There's such a complicated interplay between sexes, and teasing out the actual differences from fabricated ones is tricky, if possible! It can feel like an uphill battle, not allowing my little boy to be shuffled into silly stereotypes, often by well-meaning loved ones.