Monday, July 30, 2007

Being a Woman in Western Society

There are so many reasons why it is great to be a woman. For many years I was blind to the value of being female and feminine because of a presumption in our society that women are disadvantaged biologically compared to men and are therefore inherently predisposed to losing physical and social battles with men. Thus, the assumption by many a coarse person that women are losers, wimps, or “pussies” as the phrase goes.

This perspective places way too much importance on the material world and appearances of power based on material measurements. An example of this presumption is the idea that “bigger is better”, when referring to the amount of space an individual takes up, or the size of a car, or the size of a house. Obviously, none of these examples support this theory as it is probably more evident now than ever that material conservation in car size and house size is better for all of us environmentally, not to mention the discovery of most people that the bigger their house is, the more cleaning they wind up having to do. Similarly, body mass has its disadvantages.

Most importantly, biological evolution and human social evolution demonstrate that people and living things adapt to the limitations of their environment by finding other means and methods for achieving their original goals.

This is the case with women, as being female requires women to rely on ways of protecting themselves and getting what they want other than physical confrontation. Women often have to develop psychological strengths and rely on the mental skills of secrecy, planning, and cunning, as well as keen observation of other people, to protect themselves from others’ injustices and bullying. They often use political maneuvers, using their perception of social dynamics and motivations of people, to win what they want despite the blocking of their social opportunities by male favoritism.

Women are expert communicators with the ability to put their feelings into words, listen to others, and interpret nuances in what is being said. This is due to the fact that most women in this culture are encouraged from youth to channel their energies into communicating with others and other activities that seem physically non-aggressive.

Also, because of the encouraged practice among women to take false responsibility for other people’s happiness and pacification, women develop powers of observation to perceive what others think and feel. With practice, they acquire methods of psychological manipulation to charm people with flattery of their ego to appease them or indirectly influence the wills of those who dominate their life to get what they want.

These are formidable skills, giving women power that often overrides the physical aggression of dominating men and male favoritism in society’s judgments. Examples of this include the political cunning and success of Elizabeth I, Queen of England, considered one of the most, or the most, powerful and shrewd monarch in history; the amazing success and “luck” of Grace O’Malley, who I wrote about earlier in the month; the many women who successfully posed as men to join the American Civil War; and the successful career of Dr. James Barry, medical surgeon and soldier for the British army who rose to the rank of medical superintendent-general and wasn’t discovered to be a woman until his/her autopsy (Holland, 2001).

Women’s social training also gives them the extra awareness of others that enables them to be considerate, empathetic, and nurturing. Practicing these abilities creates a sense of intimacy with others that makes personal sacrifices and altruism worthwhile.

The regular practice of interpersonal skills also gives women additional confidence in their ability to identify and feel emotions without being overwhelmed by them. This often leads to a high degree of emotional and mental adaptability, making them adept at changing in and out of emotions without losing the ability to make practical decisions. For example, many women stay in unhappy marriages for a while for the practical reason of ensuring their children’s safety and material provision, as well as their own safety. Nevertheless, they can express and release their discontent and pain verbally and with physical expression to those who are trustworthy without compromising their decision.

Women's emotional adaptability also enables them to move on from a relationship with a man who no longer contributes to their practical concerns for safety and happiness. They are able to quickly change loyalties, if necessary, and switch their emotional ties with people to ensure their physical and emotional safety and comfort. Despite their emotional swings, women are extremely practical in their allegiances. This fact indicates that their emotional changes are not a sign of weakness but of confidence in handling emotions, and also that women’s emotional expressiveness serves the practical purpose of giving them the mental flexibility and resilience to deal with changes in their life situation. A minor example of this would be how women can easily switch their perception of a male “friend” to seeing him as a potential lover, or how they can demote a “lover” to the status of a male “friend”. These changes in perspective on relationships seem to come a lot harder and take a lot more time for men.

One of the benefits of being seen by others as “weak” and “vulnerable” compared to men is not having people be surprised when we cry. And crying releases tension, grief, and stress for women, most likely accounting for the fact that women have a longer lifespan than men. I have actually heard men lament their inability to cry, including a man who was mourning a family-member’s death and said he wanted and needed to cry but couldn’t get that emotional and psychological release because he had been so conditioned by others to not let himself cry or express emotion.

In fact, the benefit in being part of a people group that has been regularly under-estimated and discriminated against is the opportunity to perceive the wrongness of the behaviors that hurt you early enough in life to prevent doing them yourself. Those wrongs are mistakes that other people made, and will one day regret, so that you don’t have to. Freedom from the guilt and embarrassment of having been unjust to others is a beautiful thing and lasts a lifetime.

That is one of the reasons that I try to identify any hatred of women in myself, any predisposition towards over-scrutinizing and criticizing women, or attitude of over-crediting and making allowances for men, and deliberately change my way of thinking to reflect my convictions. Those convictions come from having been wounded, over and over again, by men’s critical attitude towards women, disregard for women’s feelings, lack of appreciation for women’s sacrifices and achievements, and double-standard judgment in favor of men. If I hate those attitudes and behaviors in other people because of how they short-changed me, then the gift in having been stung by them is to not be guilty of that foolishness myself. However, this requires me to heed what those experiences with men have taught me and to not be afraid to change myself.

Physically, women are powerful to the same degree as men, or more so, through their inherent sensual beauty compared to men. Women’s sensual allure has a more pervasive influence on people than male physical aggression does, because it evokes men’s pleasure and instinctive allegiance towards the woman they encounter, simply by sight. It hypnotizes them, basically. It is a more subtle form of power than violence, and encourages social and political pacifism. The subtlety of women’s physical power makes it all the more powerful for lack of anticipation by others, and carries a lot less guilt than intimidation.

So being a woman is an enviable social position that puts women in a position to be role models for men. The benefits of being female in our society are all around us, and only need to be acknowledged to be appreciated. Being a woman in the context of Western society produces the power to evoke desire and allegiance from others, the opportunity to avoid the moral mistakes of others, the enhanced abilities to perceive people’s attitudes and vulnerabilities to protect oneself or help others, the self-defense skills of cunning and outsmarting bullies, relief from unnecessary emotional tensions on a regular basis, an extra long lifespan, the ability to adapt to new social situations and roles for maximizing practicality, and the ability to understand and relate to other people and feel a sense of emotional intimacy from that. These advantages and forms of power enable women to win what they really want and circumvent other people’s resistance to it.

Barbara Holland,2001. They Went Whistling: Women Wayfarers, Warrior, Runaways, and Renegades