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Men pride themselves on being handy.
So--we go out to find broken women so we can fix them.
Trouble is we're not equipped to fix anything beyond a leaky faucet.
During Saturday morning services at my synagogue, an engaged couple intheir early thirties came up to the bima (pulpit) to receive the rabbi'sblessing. The day before their wedding, it was a lovely and touching momentas they entered into a new level of relationship to each other and to thecommunity. On such a joyous occasion, the congregation customarily respondswith song, clapping, and the throwing of candies, representing the sweetnessof everyone's joy and the hope for sweetness in the happy, but embarrassedcouple's future. Well, somebody didn't buy target-friendly candies, becauseeven the rabbi cringed with pain as those hard projectiles thrown with suchenthusiasm pelted him. Without suggestion or request, seemingly by instinct,the prospective groom moved in front of his bride-to-be and shielded herbody with his; his back taking the brunt of the hits. When the folks ranout of candy, he moved back to his place beside her and she kissed his cheek,possibly just with joy, but probably also as reward for his thoughtful gallantry.
The rabbi joked good-naturedly about the incident and the man's chivalry,but I was deeply struck by the clarity of that moment: the male's protectionof the female is an important part of the biological (and psychological)dynamic between men and women.
The Biology of Chivalry
In the Weekly Standard, Chandler Burr describes an illuminating encounterDr. Laurence Frank, a zoologist at Berkeley, had with a coed after presentinga lecture onanimal endocrinology and the way hormones determine malenessand femaleness: "And a young woman came up afterwards and she was shocked,shocked, that I would say such a thing. In her view, 'maleness' is justmacho posturing 'socially constructed' by society, 'femaleness' a myth createdby the Neanderthal patriarchy.' But to biologists, gender is as real asoxygen." And maybe so is chivalry.
Chivalry is the combination of qualities expected of a medieval knight,including courage, generosity, and courtesy. More gender-role specifically,it is the male's obligation to be considerate, courteous, and gallant towardthe female, protecting her sensibilities, honor, and person. While biologistsdon't see much noninstinctive behavior in nonhuman animals which they canlabel as noble or altruistic, they do see a pattern of male aggression ensuringprotection of turf, nest, mate, family, and group--a biological divisionof labor with the females protecting and nurturing their young.
I was originally trained as a biologist, and I am convinced that the animalpart of our nature is the engine of our drives; our ability to reason, toembrace morality, to go beyond the biological imprint navigates the directionof those drives--which is why we can go so haywire! Being "animal"is easy, being an "ascendant human" requires manual override ofsome of our more animal (food consumption, random mating) as well as ourless worthy human attributes (laziness, self-centeredness, etc.). None ofthis is foolproof or easy; nor can we ignore the potential support or subversionof our important biological selves by societal pressures.
In each era we human beings experiment with gender role behaviors and expectations,and end up discovering more of our unique potential as humans. In doingso, we may sacrifice what is also essential to our well-being and abilityto relate as male and female. While both genders have new and incredibleopportunities for intellectual and mechanical expression, the way they relateto each other, and want to relate, doesn't seem to change at all! So itseems clear that the expectations, hopes, desires, and needs men and womenfundamentally have for each other haven't changed in spite of all the socialengineering. I think even Ms. magazine has admitted that.
When Chivalry's Just Plain Stupid
I'm convinced it is built into the male to be protective, to be chivalrous.What I worry about is the blind Stupid Chivalry which is messing up yourlives. According to Selden (a listener), such blind and stupid chivalrywould be indicated by the following:
* When a woman wants you to "give her a life," you try to do it.
* Try to get a woman to change.
* Stay in a lousy relationship out of a sense of pity (you don't want tohurt her feelings) or obligation (you started this thing, you guess youhave to finish it).
Now this is a great start, but there is one central idea you men seem tobe blind to: You buy the idea that a woman's situation in life, shaggy dogstory of terrible experiences, failures, or problems are accidents of fate,or bad luck, or incredible circumstances out of her control, or actionsof people or persons other than herself--meaning of course she could donothing other than what she's done considering what's happened to her. I'llgive you that traffic accidents, disease, childhood abuse, or adult assaultssadly happen. Yet, instead of observing how she handles these realitiesto learn about her strength, personality, and character, you determine tostep in and heroically take over that responsibility for her.
Worse still, you assume that if she's in distress, there must be a dragonto slay. Dragons are monsters outside the person. You need to look to see(1) how heavy a contributor and supporter she is to her own misery, and(2) how hard she works to survive and make things better. Of course, youwon't pay attention to these issues if you're off and running after thedragon!
And it's not as if you guys are totally blind to what's going on.
Ten Stupid Things Men Do to Mess Up Their Lives. Copyright © by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.