Two rather contradictory stories have heightened my sense that a constructive dialogue about gender issues is being damaged by extreme perspectives. On one side there was an article by a clinical psychologist reporting that a number of his male patients are feeling shame for behaviors towards women that are a far cry from sexual abuse. According to the therapist, the men, in response to the Me Too phenomenon, are recalling sexual encounters where they might have persuaded women to have sex. We are not talking about overt actions such as getting a women drunk or ignoring a clear “no” but rather more subtle forms of seduction that appears to be reflective of the typical man advocating sexual acts and waiting for the women to say no when a guy went too far. Yes the man is being aggressive but it does not cross the line of ignoring a refusal. This type of interaction has been normative for countless generations and should not be experienced as shameful by men. I am fairly certain that norms have changed, especially for younger generations, but at the time these men in therapy behaved according to the norms of the time and they should absolve themselves of any guilt for what some might today be considered as mildly coercive sexual conduct.
The other extreme was a story about the National Coalition for Men which has brought countless lawsuits against bars and clubs that advertise lady’s nights offering free or reduced drinks and admission prices. Utilizing an anti-discrimination statute in California they have gotten settlements from a great number of commercial establishments. In my opinion there are far more important issues of gender discrimination that should be litigated rather than a bar sponsoring a girl’s night out. There are legitimate issues of discrimination against men that need to be challenged. Many men going through divorce proceedings have seen judges favor their spouses when it comes to alimony, child support and visitation arrangements. In many jurisdictions men who fall behind in child support payments, no matter the cause, lose their driver’s licenses often resulting in a loss of employment which ironically makes them even less able to pay child support. The National Coalition for Men should spend more resources to these issues rather than worrying about free drinks for women on a Thursday night.
What then is the middle ground for men to be sensitive and introspective about their behavior towards women while at the same time still embrace their masculinity? I believe that the vast majority of men and women would prefer to maintain gender identity as long as it does not impinge on opportunity and equality. A female CEO can still put on makeup and wear a dress to work without diminishing her power. Conversely, a man can still take pride in his masculinity even though he might be a stay at home Dad with a wife being the primary bread winner. We do not need to eliminate gender pronouns and ignore our biology in order to build a society that is not necessarily gender neutral to be gender equal.