Wednesday, November 29, 2017

On Ahabs and Snow-Whites

I don't know if this is a true story or an urban legend type thing, but my dad once told me that Gershwin asked to study composition with Ravel. Supposedly, Ravel replied, "If you study with me, I can only teach you to be a bad Ravel; you are already a great Gershwin."

I wonder about what is happening in the minds of modern men and women.

I used to have a problem, on an artistic level, with the way actresses played women in positions of power -- ships' captains on Star Trek, for instance; or senators or soldiers. It always felt to me as if the women were trying to play men; trying to be, if you will, "Ravel" when they should have remained "Gershwin" when both were equally different and equally great.

Women and men are equal in their validity as human beings, to me, so, I often wonder why some women seem, in their important quest for complete social equality, to want to take on the worst of stereotypically mannish qualities. (We'll get to men, in a minute -- they do something similar.)

For instance: war is awful. War has long been a failure of men. I wish women did not want to be warriors. It feels, to me, like children looking up to the playground bully. (I also wish men did not want to be warriors, but that is our millenia-established hole to crawl out of...)

Men have a ton of awful qualities and maybe equality does not require women sharing these awful characteristics.

I know I am on dangerous ground here, but, there is nothing more profound than a mother's gentle affection. I like the idea of women being labeled "the gentler sex." I also understand that many women consider that a damaging diminutive, but, in the purest form, gentleness is a good thing. But I do get the objection: those words out of the mouths of different man can carry different intentions and meanings.

If we could all just come center, toward each other, instead of wanting to jump into each other's (ill-fitting) shoes, that would be great. I don't want men to be simpering wimps and I don't want women to be arrogant hammers. I'd like  us all to look at what is best in our respective traditional characteristics and choose those items, a la carte. But I realize that takes thought. It is easier to create a cardboard cutout of one another and imitate that.

In our quest to redefine gender roles, it is no suprise to me that some modern men seem to be imitating the sexist stereotypes (like weakness and helplessness) they helped to create and that women seem to be putting on the masks of shallow agression that the worst of us dudes wear in our worst moments.

But being "manly" (strong and self-sufficient) is, again, in its purest form (the same way being "gentle" in its purest form is) a good thing. There is something noble in the role of the "protector" or in that of the "head of the family," as long as these things are not taken as positions of shallow, bullying dictatorship. I want, for instance, my family to look to me for leadership in tough times; for them to be confident in my abilities to be a stalwart captain. In that way, I want to be the leader. That does not feel the same to me as wanting to tell people what to do. Does that mean my wife can't fill that role whenever she wants to? Of course not. And there is my point: she can do it to, without turning into Captain Ahab.

The motivation for men to become the artificial stereotypes of weakness they have helped create for women is an obvious one: It's easier to be a victim than it is to be a hero. It's easy to shirk off the social demands of being strong, especially in a time when the idea off gender roles is being challenged (sometimes in good ways, but more often in foolish ways).

In short, if my wife doesn't need to be Ahab, I don't need to be Snow White. But, as I mentioned, I am not surprised that people of both sexes tend to slide into extremes.

Some balance in this world would be great.

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