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Martin LeFevre: The Politics of Gender

Meditations - From Martin LeFevre in California

The Politics of Gender

“Women are the culture bearers” used to be a common saying in anthropology. Though the expression now seems quaint, it still contains a lot of truth.

A female friend and I have been talking a lot lately about what is going on with women and men in America. My observation is that women, being the stronger sex emotionally, have continued standing, while most men have quit and literally lied down, and become couch potatoes.

Sometimes I’ll ask women I know: Why are women keeping this dead culture going? Most express incredulity at the question, though not denial or defensiveness, evincing surprise that a man should know a secret that they thought only women knew.

Today my friend told me of encountering five or six women while in public for a few hours who looked like they had just been crying. All had red-rimmed eyes, and she said it was very strange, and sad. When I asked if perhaps they were just tired, she said no, that a woman could tell.

My friend said that she herself had been upset earlier in the day about a family matter that goes back to her childhood, and so was more sensitive than usual to people around her. “One woman and I looked at each other with mutual understanding,” she said, “and the woman blurted out, ‘Well, I guess things aren’t really that bad.’”

With presence and acuity my friend replied, “Things seem to be very bad if we’re just coming from our own perspective.” Later, she reported, the woman waved to her from across the store.

Why is there a breakdown between the sexes, with men quitting and women baling like hell to keep the sinking ship afloat? And how is it playing out politically?

“There’s an attitude among many women,” my friend said tonight, “that it’s our turn, without looking at who the candidate is. Too many women are voting for Hillary because she is striking some chord of self-pity and payback, and not questioning her potential as a leader.”

As a point of reference in thinking about the history and continuing fact of male domination in many parts of the world, I recall the blatant sexism I witnessed in Russia a year before the fall of the Soviet Union. At times my jaw literally fell open in seeing the brutality with which men often treated women.

The women I got to know must have seen how appalled I was, because though I was the guest of powerful men in business, politics, and the media, it was a half dozen women who invited me to dinner my last night in Moscow on a bitterly cold day in January 1990.

We talked openly about gender differences, as well as the differences between societal attitudes regarding women in America and Russia. We agreed on a premise that many feminists in the West now reject--that the essential sameness of women and men far outweighs gender and cultural differences.

At that time, as the Cold War was ending, there was still a real hope that a half century of superpower nuclear confrontation could be transformed into cooperation. There was also the intent, with my female and male partners in the US at least, that men and women could work together as equals, without domination by one sex over the other.

Since then, domination, like greed, militarism, and selfishness, has come to be seen as a given of human nature, and women have come to psychologically dominate men, at least in the West.

Relations between the sexes lately are as confused as the Clinton partnership, with Hillary now running the show and Bill, a former president, playing bad cop, attacking Obama in the name of defending his wife.

At a pivotal point in the conversation, one of the women that night in Moscow told me a Russian proverb: “Men go first, and if it works, women come after.” That saying usually receives opprobrium from women in America, but there is a deep truth in it that has nothing to do with domination.

Things are certainly not working. Men and women would do well to think on these things in a society where, in the words of that cultural icon, the pop novelist Stephen King, “Sixty’s the new 50, and dead is the new alive.”


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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