Sunday, April 08, 2001

The Winners

There's an old saying that you can win the battle, but lose the war. It's applicable in many venues, from business to sports to actual warfare. And in a skirmish first given shape and substance by the likes of Simone de Beauvoir, Gloria Steinem, Kate Millet, Betty Friedan and Ti-Grace Atkinson, it applies to the battle of the sexes as well.

That's because while the first rounds would certainly seem to go to the men, there is considerable tightening in the spreads as the contest continues. Sure, there are lots of gender gaps still in evidence, in everything from pay to occupants of the executive suite to governmental responsibility. In bodies as diverse as the military to congress to the Fortune 500, men still rule. But all it takes is a little looking to see the erosion around the edges, the subtle shifts in the balance of power as women pull up equal. In fact, it's easy to make a case that you don't have to wait fifty or a hundred years to see the outcome of this particular race. That's because while males may have triumphed in a bunch of the skirmishes, the women will win the big kahuna.

After all, to be a woman at the dawn of this new century is to be blessed. OK, sure, there the yucky realities of childbirth and all its biological nitty gritty to deal with, but let's start at the beginning. Assuming your progeny is female, it's likely she'll sail through school, beating those stupid boys in every subject, from home ec to engineering. When she's unsure or worried, her friends and parents will listen: if not, then there's plenty of media support for her, from Oprah to Rosie and the like, all of whom will encourage her with their "go-get-'em-sista" attitudes. She'll have boy bands and girl bands clamoring for her attention, all grinding out positive songs about love and relationships. And she'll have positive role models to admire, from Cokie Roberts to Condoleezza Rice, from Carly Fiorina to the Williams sisters, from Diane Sawyer to Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

She'll know that Grrl Power is a right, and have access to higher education and job opportunities in everything from nursing to oil drilling, from investment banking to teaching. She can dream of being a lumberjack, mom, doctor, pop star, genocidal Latin American dictator... whatever it is, her parents will likely say "you go, girl." She'll be confident in the knowledge that if she's harassed at work, she'll sue the sexist dinosaur for all he's worth. She'll use her money as she pleases, on products made just for her: female-friendly cars, women-only gyms, holidays with the girls. And she'll be courted to buy books, films, homes, fashion and pensions designed specifically for today's assertive, independent women. She'll be in completely in control of her sexuality. Marriage? If she wants. Children? When she's ready. It's all up to her.

Emotionally speaking as well, she'll have brought the world around to her point of view... or least the half that's not female. Once upon a time, monogamy, fidelity and commitment were what women wanted, but men feared. Not any more, according to a new survey of young British males. A thousand British men between 18 and 36 were interviewed for an hour about contemporary relationships. And the results say that they aren't looking for good looks, great sex and a female-free Sunday afternoon with the telly, but rather fidelity, friendship and a good sense of humor. Of the three, fidelity easily emerges as the single most important factor: A whopping 46% claimed they had never been unfaithful; nearly half claimed they would not cheat on their girlfriends even if there was a 100% guarantee they would not be found out, while 54% said they would consider continuing a relationship if they found out their girlfriend had cheated on them. Of course, the cynical view is that the participants were lying en masse, just to pick up the interviewer....alas, always a possibility with guys.

Men, on the other hand, see our world crumbling around us, and are understandably perplexed. We've been educated... or shamed... into showing our sensitive side, watching our language, making sure to put the seat down when we're through. True, we've also learned that it is sometimes advisable to listen to people when they speak, and that collaboration can be more productive than mindless competition. But when asked to imagine the world as run by women, we got not an end to war and hunger, and fluffy bunny slippers on our feet, but Margaret Thatcher and Hillary Clinton. Is it any wonder we're confused?

The lessons start early. One woman with a small boy describes how if a girl of the same age pushes him, she is lauded as "feisty," while if he commits the same childish crime, he is lambasted for "being a boy." An elementary teacher says in explaining one child's actions and behaviors, "he's just a kid. And he's a boy. So what do you expect?" What do we expect, indeed.

If women are the victors and men the vanquished, both better be prepared for what they get. Confused and frightened men are no good to anyone. And yet, that's what is left. Sure, you can argue that men should learn and accept all the lessons that women have accepted for centuries. But we're slow on the uptake, and so it could be a while before things settle into a comfortable rut. Don't forget that men realize that the key to being happy with a woman is to love her a lot and understand her a little. But women need to recognize that the converse is also true: with men, it helps if you love them a little, but understand them a lot.


Marc Wollin of Bedford knows that half of those reading this agree with him, while the other half think he's a just stupid male. Guess which half is which. Other musings can be found regularly in The Record-Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.

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