Tuesday, August 28, 2007

I don't want a better half

Last Sunday, the Bishop spoke. He expressed gratitude to his wife and said that he truly married above himself. He went on to say that almost all men marry above themselves and went as far as to apologize to the women in the ward that they have to put up with the men in the ward.

Now, I know this is going against the status qua, but isn't that sexist? I thought men and women were created equal, not the wife being the "better half". Eve was not taken from the foot to be subdued by man, nor taken from the head to rule the man, but the side to coexist as equals. If we truly believed that doctrine, why is it okay for men to go up and refer to their wives as their better halves, while women go up and joke about their husbands being just another kid to take care of. Now don't get me wrong, I am all for men complimenting their wives. I just don't think you need to put yourself down in order to do it, and especially I don't think you need to put men down as whole. Can't the man stand up and say how wonderful his wife is without putting himself down?

One of the reasons that we do this is that women and femininity is under appreciated. Many men treat women as inferiors, and the world is full of women who have been battered both physically and emotionally from uncaring husbands. Especially in the church, there are so many women who never feel they measure up. They suffer from low self esteem and their sense of self worth receives way too little reinforcement from their husbands. This is a serious problem and we as a church should consider it our duty to reach out to those hands that hang down in sorrow and buoy them up. I just don't think we're doing it the right way.

I went to a Young Single Adult conference where the speaker basically said that the reason women have low self esteem is because men don't treat them right, and if them men would only treat women better the women would have better self esteem. I have two problems with this approach. First of all it makes women victims. What is a woman thinking hearing that? Her self esteem problems are men's fault and there is nothing to do until her boyfriend shapes up. I don't think that is helpful. Maybe they should tell the women to shape up and that their boyfriend will never learn to respect her until she first learns to respect herself. That would empower a women, instead of once again, making her dependent on men for her happiness.

Second, and my biggest gripe, is I don't think belittling men helps them very much. If you look at bullies, they usually aren't bullies because they have an overdeveloped self esteem, but an under developed one. Maybe it isn't a man with an over-sized head that belittles women, but one with poor self esteem who feels he has to put women down in order to make himself feel better.

What? Men can have low self-esteems? Yes, but instead of calling it self esteem, we call it ego. I've heard several women complain about their significant other's ego. "My husband refused to ask for directions because it would be a blow to his ego." I then heard her mock the male ego, and say how dumb it was that men were so protective of their egos.

Well, I would submit that it is just as important to men to have a healthy ego, or self esteem, than it is for a women. Men are to be providers for the family. They are the patriarch of the family, and are supposed to lead and guide their family in righteousness. That is a huge responsibility, and most men do not feel that they can live up to that challenge. How can I lead my family out of depths of Babylon across this treacherous terrain we call life into the Celestial Kingdom if I can't even get my family from my house to the Home Depot without having to stop and ask for directions.

Yet women don't seem to get that at all. I can say the exact same thing for men - that we don't understand women and don't appreciate her femininity, but right now I am talking about misconceptions about men. I think we both need to better understand and appreciate the differences. Women do not value men's recklessness, independence, or competitiveness. Many try to tame their husbands, and make them ask directions, be safe, and stop competing. They try to mother their husbands, going as far as saying they are just another child to take care of. I would never let my wife disrespect me like that, as I hope she never lets me disrespect her. We should help each learn to respect each other by first respecting ourselves.

Though the women's movement has helped us appreciate the feminine more, I think it has severely hurt our perception of men. Look how the father is treated in sitcoms. Dumb and lazy. The woman is always right, and a happy ending is when the man learns to bend to the ways of her wife. Gone are the days of "Father Knows Best" and it is replaced with a magnet found on the refrigerator of my home. "Rule No.1 Mother is always right. Rule No.2 if Mother is ever wrong, see rule number one." We completely skipped the equal partner stage. Can't sometimes the man be right and sometimes the woman be right? Can't it be a good thing when the husband is reckless, competitive or independent?

Yesterday, I was listening to a guy tell a story about a hike he went on. He hiked up past his family, but then some other guys passed him up. He was trying to keep up with them, but couldn't. Later he found out he was sick, and was glad to know it was the sickness that held him back, not his own incapability. He wondered that if he went back, and weren't sick, if he could pass the guys, or at least keep up with them.

A girl, who was listening to the story, and obviously non-appreciative of the masculine trait of competitiveness, quipped that maybe he would just enjoy the scenery (an equally valuable, yet feminine trait), which she implied should have been the purpose of the hike. Why was that okay in our society? If she were telling a story about enjoying a beautiful hike, I wouldn't even dream of insulting her and telling her she should have been more focused on not lagging behind and making us all late, yet she felt perfectly justified in demeaning masculinity. I doubt that was her intention. In fact, I doubt she had any malice whatsoever. I think she is an awesome woman, but the fact is that she did not understand or respect my friend's masculine ideals.

There is a reason men are different. We learn competitiveness in sports so that when we enter the work force, we can compete and provide for our families. We take risks so we can protect our family from danger. We are independent, so our wives can depend on us. It is the teenage boy who joy rides in the snow to see how far he can skid, who knows exactly what to do when ten years later, he is driving in a blizzard with his wife at his side and his daughter in the back asleep in the car seat, and his car begins to slid into oncoming traffic. It is the boy who teases cats, who catches lizards and goes hunting with his father who will chase away the mountain lion that trapped his family in their tent on their last camping trip. It is the boy who comes home covered with cuts and bruises and always forgets his helmet while riding his bicycle who without any weapons, will confront the armed robber trying to take advantage of his wife. It is the boy who knows no fear in jumping off tall cliffs into the icy lake, that will present his idea to the boss, the boy who pushes a little harder to beat his best friend in the race that applies for the promotion even though his coworker is more qualified. It is the boy who competes and risks that protects his family and puts food on their plate. And yet his whole life, he is beaten down, because he is not nice and safe, like his wife thinks he should be.

Celebrate manhood! Celebrate masculinity! It is a man who is comfortable in his masculinity, who knows he has what it takes to lead his family in righteousness, who treats women with respect. It is the man who is afraid, who doubts he can live up to the expectations that thrives off belittling women to puff up his fragile sense of manhood. Lift us up, don't put us down. Acknowledge our masculinity. Appreciate it. Praise it. Make us feel good when we've challenged ourselves, when we out-hiked, out-ran and out-played our friends, when we risked something and succeeded. Make a man feel good about his masculinity and he will learn to appreciate the feminine. He will take that extra second to comment on how stunning his wife looks on the way to a romantic evening instead of complaining of the several hours she took to look that way and once again, making everyone late.

So the secret is to put both up. Make a man feel like a man and a woman feel like a woman, and then maybe they will start acting like it. I don't want a "better half" - someone to constantly remind of why I fall short of a woman's expectation. I want someone who buoys me up as much as I do to her. I want a companion and a friend. I want an equal.

1 comment:

  1. This is awesome, Joshua. Totally great words to live by! I wish my priesthood leaders from BYU could read this entry.