Friday, May 29, 2009

Ending the Power Struggle: Can't We All Just Get Along?

A friend sent me this interesting passage from a book called Chasing Daylight by Erwin Raphael McManus:

"For generations men have been given carte blanche to rule the home from the position of power and authority. Not only children, but wives have felt powerless to have a real role in shaping the texture of the family. Our society has often been deaf to the cries of women who feel powerless to shape their lives. At the same time, feminism has empowered women to pursue the same instruments of power that once held them oppressed. The solution to the sense of powerlessness, the solution to ending the unethical use of power by men, is to seize the same power and influence and use them the same way. Nothing has changed at the core. No genuine shift in value systems. It's just more crowded at the top with everyone pushing each other off as we lust for more power, more authority, more position. We have lost confidence in the power of influence and because of that, we have lost the beauty of its art. The problem with positional power is that while it may control the actions of another human being, its does not capture the heart. God is looking for women and men who will be characterized by this Jonathan Factor ( see 1 Samuel 14 for a more complete explanation), who understand, develop, and maximize their sphere of influence."

In essence, I whole-heartedly agree with this statement. I love what the second-wave feminists did for the movement (for those unfamiliar with the three waves, these were the 60’s “bra-burning” sexual revolution feminists) but in a lot of ways they also screwed the cause. They made women feel that to be powerful, we had to act like MEN to reclaim our worth instead of being taught that being a WOMAN is empowering. Women learned they could either be the hardcore, power-suit wearing, ball-busting executive or the raunchy, aggressive sexual predator whose power was dependent on male conquests. In both cases, being aggressive is apparently the secret ingredient.

Its no wonder the men are crapping their pants en mass. Women are already incredibly smart, now they feel powerful too? Scary combination indeed.

However, there is a big difference between being aggressive and being assertive. Men and women are different and, not to get too new-agey on you, we possess different masculine and feminine energy. David Deida has written many books that explore this concept, and even though his language can be flowery and simplistic at times the basic idea is a valid one. Feminine energy at its core is NOT aggressive…it is free-spirited, nurturing, empathetic, and creative. God made us that way and I don’t mess with God’s design.

Women can not claim power by acting more like men. It throws everything out of balance. We should be taught the inherent power and worth we possess as women is a beautiful thing and learn to translate that power in the home and in the workplace.

How does this apply to a woman’s role in the family structure? Well, I think gender roles in the family need to be flexible and not based on the long-standing tradition of the docile Stepford wife. If you are a woman and have not already read The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan step away from your computer this instant, go to the nearest bookstore and do not leave without this book. I am willing to let it go that for some reason you have not had a chance to read it up until this point, but if you continue to ignore it’s life-changing capacity after reading this then shame on you.

It explores how women are trapped into the role of “housewife” at an extremely early age and never break away from that role. This was a huge problem in the 50’s and 60’s, and even though we would like to think things have changed drastically we have recently been experiencing another wave of this behavior. Women are still being pressured to be a “wife” and “mother” before anything else. Just ask any woman who openly admits she doesn’t want to have children if you don’t believe me.

I wouldn’t be bothered by this imposed pressure if I felt like it was even close to an equal deal (“husband” and “father” before “occupation” etc.) but it isn’t. More importantly, I don’t like the implied physical responsibilities that are put on the role of wife vs. husband. Read doing all the housework, raising the children, etc. I have absolutely nothing against stay-at-home-moms if that is their choice; I know some women who were BORN to be moms. However, no woman should ever feel that this is a non-negotiable role based on her gender. Right now it is a rare household that can function on one income, so not only does the wife work all day but then she has to come home and face all the chores and childcare. I much prefer seeing marriages that are true partnerships; in other words, the husband and wife share the household/family responsibilities equally according to who inherently does what best. This seems like common sense but you rarely see it in real life. Simply put, women are not maids. We do possess more power than that and it should not be squandered.

Gender roles should never be about power, however women are still making up for lost time so give us some slack if we overcompensate a little. Eventually I think a balance will be struck where we aren’t “pushing each other at the top” but instead appreciating each other’s unique qualities and the inherent power we possess because of our masculine or feminine energy. At that point there won’t be a head of the household or gender role stereotypes because there won’t need to be.

Until that day, let’s not teach our daughters that their inherent feminine energy can only be expressed by playing with Barbie dolls and Easy Bake ovens. We would truly be selling them short.
Suggested Reading:
The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan

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