Thursday, October 14, 2010

War By Another Other Name

Still very much processing the words exchanged recently regarding the generational differences in Feminism, I submit this exercise in personal anecdote. While writing, I reflect upon the limitations of my gender on the topic, no matter how much of an atypical representative of it I may be. My hope is that I might foment some needed dialogue and begin the healing process.

A female friend and I had an interesting exchange a few days ago. Both of us are musicians and as a result frequent the same social circles. We also use the same music store to buy the things we need. I ran into her while on my way elsewhere, having purchased my latest pair of new guitar strings. She had been there a few minutes before me, as I gathered from reading the name across the front of the bag she carried with her.

Making conversation, I described two particular female employees of the shop as always pleasant and helpful to me. She, however, had a very different opinion altogether. Quite frustrated, she complained how rude and unhelpful they were to her. To be clear, my friend is not the sort of person to make unreasonable demands on anyone or to unnecessarily complicate anyone's job for any reason. When I worked in retail, those two exasperating bad habits from customers were the only ones capable of really setting me off. And while I do believe my friend, it seems incomprehensible that our experiences could be so diametrically opposite to each other.

There are lots of reasons for extremes such as these. Part of it is that we are more pleasant to any person to whom we find ourselves physically or intellectually attracted. That is the nature of the game. I myself have learned over the years that strategic flirtation can grease the wheels quite like nothing else. The positive response I received may have corresponded to the quality of customer service I received. Regarding my friend's experience, a lack of attraction might have explained such a frosty reception. Being made to feel attractive and wanted goes right to our core and validates that we are worthwhile. This is true for men, but I think it is more prevalent in women, since a large portion of a woman's self-worth is tied up in seeming appealing to the opposite sex. This has been frequently discussed in Feminist discourse and I return to it for the sake of emphasis.

Of course, in all of this I am speaking from the perspective of a man. Even so, through observation and listening I have been well-informed of precisely how callous, rude, and mean women can be to each other. The possibility for ceaseless competition and adolescent backbiting seems to lurk behind every corner, waiting to show itself at any time, for any reason. Whether it be for an promotion at work, a significant other, or the status of most involved and engaged parent, women are often far harsher towards each other than towards men. These are only a few examples. I'm sure there are many more. On several occasions prior it has been mentioned that women must stop fighting each other before they can ever achieve the kind of solidarity needed to break the choke hold of Patriarchy. The reasons for this historic division are important to understand, but introducing a culture of cooperation and mutual trust is the most pressing need of all.

Similarities are present between man and woman at face value, certainly, but in this situation, biology, societal conditioning, and personal bias muddy the waters considerably. It's tough to know where one begins and another ends, since they wrap themselves around each other so tightly. Until someone manages it, issues of translation will continue to be great challenges.

What worries me most are certain behaviors which I have observed in some female friends and acquaintances over the years. They fall under a desire to exact revenge inflicted upon them earlier in life by dominating, controlling, or inflicting pain on other women. This is the problem with violence of any sort. The people we damage to avenge our own damage are rarely the ones responsible for it. Men do much the same thing, of course. We call it war. The masculine approach produces the risk of death on the field of battle. The feminine equivalent seems to be a living hell of sorts that one can never escape by any means.

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