Monday, January 12, 2015

What Do Women Want?

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'

Sigmund Freud

My boyhood was mostly conventional. I learned almost immediately to separate women's ways from men's ways, to see myself as diametrically opposite in every conceivable aspect. Little boys start fires and play out in the woods. Little girls are prim and play with Barbie dolls. There were always a few tomboy rebels out there like my sister who annoyingly tagged along at my heels, but they were always easy enough to brush aside.

These gender roles of which I note were further reinforced in my own consciousness by older male role models. Once I came home from school in seventh grade, having made a girl my own age a friend. I noted in conversation with my father that there wasn't much difference between men and women.

My father swiftly and emphatically corrected me.

"Maybe at your age there isn't much difference. But when you get a little older, you'll see."

This was years before I learned to assign labels to myself like bisexual and genderqueer. I always perceived of myself as a different sort of male, but knew that I wasn't female, either. Since then, I've learned the hard way that socialization is crucial to self-esteem, and so are past experiences with love, desire, and sex. We either charge ahead fearlessly or place strict limits upon affection and to whom we grant it, insisting upon a set of hurdles to be jumped before full confidence is granted.

It wasn't until I began to read feminist discourse in my early twenties that the scales fell from my eyes. The gender essentialism I had always taken as truth was now called into question. In a world without assigned gender roles, what would we be? This philosophy I embraced with the vigor I devote to any cause that demands my interest. And even today, I wouldn't put so much work into self-improvement if I didn't think that a Utopian dream might one day be reached for everyone.

And yet, like Freud, I must confess that I often do not know what women want. They may not even know themselves, further complicating the problem. My greatest consternation in life has been a particularly feminine predilection to throw up walls and retreat when direct communication might be better served. Years ago, I recall chancing across a very flirtatious woman at a party. Her interest in me was clear and in times past, such conduct usually ended up with an exchange of phone numbers and a first date.

When I made tentative inquiries, she immediately pulled back, claiming her social life was full and had no room for me. This was curious, and no less infuriating. I don't lump all women in with her, but I've consistently seen the kinds of fears and learned neuroses women often possess around romance. Vulnerability must be part of our own social contract. One of the reasons I try to be an effective male ally is that I want to ensure that men and woman can communicate effectively without first needing to apply the brake, or having to play games.

One of the things as a man I cannot understand is the fear of pregnancy. I know I never will and have accepted that long ago. What simply does not exist for me is a very justified anxiety in the minds of many women. The closest nagging worry in my own life is a lingering paranoia of contracting venereal disease, or worse yet, HIV. There were times in past life where I was extremely incautious, but I am gratefully clean and not inclined to take those sorts of risks again.

I don't want to sound cavalier. This is a difficult topic to resolve, especially because we've been taught to segregate ourselves by gender. Many men who are perfectly content in their own masculinity and have few female friends do not possess the firsthand knowledge I do. I am a self-taught feminist. I took no women's studies or gender studies classes in college. Instead, I possess a kind of anecdotal evidence of the opposite sex that shows my own natural curiosity to know the other side. Every person who doesn't feel entirely of one gender or the other bases his or her own private studies based upon repeated inquiry.  

Men and women both are highly sensitive beings, and I wish we'd enshrine this notion in granite. We express our sensitivity in very different ways, but nothing stings as much as callous rejection or psychological harm. The more we experience either, the worse it becomes for everyone. It's easy to hold a grudge and it's equally easy to hold fast to the memory of past pain. Let's learn how to live and to love.

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