As I rode out the worst of a recent bout with strep throat, I somehow found myself watching the network “Slice” for many consecutive hours. In particular I immersed myself in a marathon of a particular program centered around a dating service for individuals with a net worth of a million dollars or more. What fascinated (and frustrated) me the most was the amazing contrast regarding how we describe certain personality traits of an individual, depending on their gender.
Here in Canada and the western world in general, we are essentially taught to filter our every thought and statement through a gauntlet of political correctness, insuring we do not offend anyone within earshot. Now make no mistake – I too wish to help create a society of total true equality, in which every human being is treated with the respect we would all wish for ourselves. But in certain respects, we seem to sometimes sacrifice our good sensibility for what appears to be an empowering tactic. Specifically, I am referring to some of the terminology we use regarding strength, assertiveness, and many other objectively positive characteristics of an individual, and the stark contrast that arises depending on the term’s application to a man or a woman.
While watching this program focusing on millionaires, many similar terms were used in relation to the female participants. As one would assume, the vast majority of the millionaires were entrepreneurs in some respect, with a great deal of control within their professional lives. The female participants were routinely described as “fiery/strong and independent/in-your-face/no-b.s./”… The list goes on. Once again, from a purely objective standpoint, the majority of these qualities are positive attributes of any person. Yet as the program went on, many of these same women showed themselves to be rude, indignant, self-inflated individuals that no normal person would want to associate with. The other half of this matter is that any man who would mimic this behavior would be criticized and called out on those same realities – rude, indignant and self inflated. And so the situation is this: the same qualities our society abhors in men are often celebrated in women. A man whose cutthroat actions allow him to climb the company ladder will be looked upon as sleazy and underhanded, while a woman who does the same will be exalted as the “strong and independent” example to young women everywhere.
The real problem at hand here actually has little to do with these minor, isolated inner-workings of equality in society or the manner in which we address negative behavior between genders. In fact, I propose that maybe this particular issue could see improvement by shifting our collective gaze away from the matter of gender at all. The trouble of “celebrating” the agreeably poor behavior and personality traits in women, while condemning them in men, stems for our obsession with gender in the first place. In the struggle to treat each and every different group in society as they see as “proper”, we often end up worsening the dissonance between one another and over exaggerating our differences. So what if rather than trudging through the complexities of our language use in regards to behavior among men and women, we simply worked on the behavior itself? What if instead of leveling the terminology between the genders, we all simply tried to be more decent human beings. Positively radical thinking, no?
In regards to the cruel, self-absorbed women featured on the program, I have no desire to see them called out for what they are – One would hope that they cease to be what they are (cruel, self-absorbed). And the same principle applies to men, of course. Mind you, our society seems to have no trouble depicting and labeling cruel, self-absorbed men as exactly what they are. Yes, the use of behavioral terminology between men and women is massively flawed, and worth making an effort towards remedying the issue. However, the more important effort is the one made towards eradicating these negative, alienating qualities in all of us in the first place. Any self-described “realist” worth their salt will understand that this is a complete fantasy; a world free of bad people. But the betterment of our culture does not require a full success in this respect, just the effort. So, men and women everywhere, give it a shot. Focus on general human decency, and I assure you, the smaller gender issues will begin to resolve themselves.