Why Can’t a Man Be More Like a Woman? by Carol P. Christ (and Hannah Gadsby)


Women are loving, caring, and clever. Why do men say: “I will not be like that, never?”

In a recent article in Gentlemen’s Quarterly, my favorite comedian, Hannah Gadsby, said:

Hello, the men. My advice on modern masculinity would be to look at all those traits you believe are feminine and interrogate why you are so obsessed with being the opposite. Because this idea that to be a man you have to be the furthest away from being a woman that you possibly can is really weird.

A butch lesbian, Gadsby is not advocating traditional sex role stereotypes. She is questioning them. She continues:

Women are always being encouraged to stir masculine traits into their feminine recipe. We are told to “be bolder!” “Speak up in meetings.” “Exaggerate your skills.” All that Lean In sort of crap. So perhaps it’s time for you, the men, to be more ladylike.

Even as she recognizes that it is becoming OK for women to express so-called “masculine traits,” she understands that so-called masculinity is often based on a lie. It may be fine to “be bolder” (but not when you have nothing to say at the moment) and to “speak up” (but not to the exclusion of others), yet it should not be necessary to “exaggerate your skills” to make yourself look better than other people—and better than you are! No one should not have to be “the best” in order to be accepted or acceptable.

Gadsby feels for the men who are trying to live up to masculine stereotypes:

I can see how it is a tough spot. It is not your fault. You didn’t build this mess. You were born into it, like the rest of us. What I am saying is, I have empathy for you.

And then the comedian’s zinger:

And empathy, by the way, is one of the traits that women are most famous for. You might know it by its other name: “weakness.” But don’t be fooled—empathy is a superpower, and it’s the only one that any human has to offer.

*

Empathy is a superpower, and it’s the only one that any human has to offer.

*

All joking aside, this is a profound statement. Many feminists have been saying for a long time that qualities defined as “female” or “feminine” are in fact human qualities that should be embodied and emulated by all.

*

Gadsby takes this a step further. When she says that empathy is a super power and the only super power available to humans, she is saying that a quality often identified as “female” or “feminine” is in fact the highest value and the most important one for everyone, whether they identify as male, female, or something else, to express. This is a truly radical point of view and perhaps the only one that can save our species and our planet from destruction. Without empathy we and many other forms of life are doomed. And as long as empathy continues to be defined as the opposite of masculine strength, the men who rule the world will continue to turn against the only superpower that can save us.

*

In recent years I have been inspired by egalitarian matriarchal societies. What is most amazing to me about these cultures is not that women have power (though this is amazing) nor even that there is no rape (this too is amazing). What is most amazing to me is that these societies place values they associate with mothers and mothering at the center.

For the Minangkabau of Sumatra, nurturing the weak and the vulnerable is the highest value. Nurturing the weak and the vulnerable is what (good) mothers do. In Minankabau culture, not only women and girls, but also men and boys, are expected to nurture the weak and the vulnerable above all else. For men and boys, there is no shame in this. They are not considered weak or effeminate (a word that could not exist in their culture) for doing so. Rather they take pride in being able to express and embody the values that ensure the continuation of life.

In The Kingdom of Women, Choo WaiHong writes about an appointment she made to speak with an elder man about the egalitarian matriarchal Mosuo culture. She arrived on time, but before he could speak with her, he fed, bathed, and put a set of small twins to bed. For him, nurturing the weak and vulnerable came first. Speaking about his culture could wait, and so could his guest. In fact, he could not have chosen a better way to explain Mosuo values to the Han Chinese woman who waited while he, a respected elder man, cared for two little babies. In his culture, caring for the weak and the vulnerable is important. It is what people do. And it comes first!

*

When will we ever learn? Oh when will we ever learn?

*

Carol P. Christ is an internationally known feminist and ecofeminist writer, activist, and educator who will soon be moving permanently to Heraklion, Crete. Carol’s recent book written with Judith Plaskow, Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology, is on Amazon. A Serpentine Path: Mysteries of the Goddess is on sale for $9.99 on Amazon. Carol has been leading Goddess Pilgrimage to Crete for over twenty years: join her in Crete. Carol’s photo by Michael Honneger.

Listen to Carol’s a-mazing interview with Mary Hynes on CBC’s Tapestry recorded in conjunction with her keynote address to the Parliament of World’s Religions.



Categories: Egalitarian Matriarchy, Feminism, Feminism and Religion, General, Men and Feminism

Tags: , , , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. This is wonderful! Thank you, Carol. It does give one hope to know there are men like this.

    I’m not sure why, but somehow the two sons we brought up have become hands-on fathers with regard to feeding, bathing, and otherwise caring for their children. Both sons are good cooks, too–in fact, our younger son was a sushi chef in California for years. Elder Son does all the menu planning, shopping, and cooking in his household. Both spend time reading stories or telling them to their children at bedtime.

    Long live the modern men who defy patriarchy’s tenets!

    Liked by 5 people

  2. There is hope. The words of President Obama at the funeral of Representative Cummings: “I would want my daughters to know how much I love them, but I would also want them to know that being a strong man includes being kind. That there is nothing weak about kindness and compassion. There is nothing weak about looking out for others.”

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Feminism is still a dirty word among certain groups of American women. No doubt because they don’t understand the term. Equally important is to call on men to announce that they are feminist. Just as some sport stars “came out” as vegans making it more acceptable to men, this might do the same. I’ve never asked my husband if he would state that he’s a feminist to friends (and foe); today is the day.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Thank you for this essay, Carol. I have long known that Empathy is my super power.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Brava! Empathy and kindness…….I like to read books about history. Where in any historical kingdom or monarchy and empire do I read about empathy or kindness? Sometimes these qualities appear in the queens (but not often), sometimes in spiritual women, but never ever ever in the “great” kings and warriors and conquerors. All over the world. We have a long way to go to become fully human, that is, we have a long way to go before we realize that empathy and kindness are indeed superpowers.

    Liked by 4 people

  6. Oh, you nailed it – “Without empathy we and many other forms of life are doomed. And as long as empathy continues to be defined as the opposite of masculine strength, the men who rule the world will continue to turn against the only superpower there that can save us.” The older I get the more I see that lack of empathy is the “root” of personal and cultural breakdown. What I don’t see is a way through… what remains bizarre to me is that empathy can somehow be confused with weakness… I can’t wrap my mind around this one.

    Liked by 4 people

  7. Oh great teachers just jump out at me from the box this beautiful morning in New Mexico! Yes yes yes please continue to gently open up this shut-down gender that is mine. Using Hannah(my favorite truth-teller) and shining the light of ancient wisdom and just making sense, for goddess’ sake!Namaste from one seeking to let the goddess enlighten me, using the words of your heart.

    Like

  8. Great post! I am hearing someone–maybe you, maybe Hannah–singing the question like Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady, only in reverse, as in your title!

    Like

  9. I attended a seminar about empathy and kindness as tools for combating racism a few hours before reading this. This post is an excellent companion to that discussion. Thank you, Carol, for sharing these insights. Well said!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Female homosexuality is a very different phenomenon from male homosexuality and from heterosexuality in a patriarchy. We, who chose women as our intimates, do have a unique insight into the dominate culture. Lesbian voices are valued assets in comprehending our situation as a group of people trying to live together. We are doing our part to recreate a female-centered world.

      The aggressive, self-centered traits assigned to those who practice masculinity serve no one–even the dominator, who lives in isolation. Dismissing empathy and compassion as “weakness” is one of the “reversals” Mary Daly spoke about as essential to patriarchy.

      Every woman and man who values nurturing, kindness and support in our own lives knows these are the true riches of being alive.

      Liked by 1 person

  10. I enjoyed reading your thoughts and descriptions. I remember learning in feminist geopolitics, the idea that power imbalance destroys community. That idea has stuck with me through the years, and I think it is the lack of power imbalance – including cultural power – that allows these societies you describe to thrive in mutuality. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.

    Like

    • Yes and from what I gather from clues the women understood that it was very important for the men not to feel that they were less important than the women and took positive steps to ensure that. Barbara Alice Mann describes Iroquois women giving the drum to men so that they would have something approximating the synchronized heartbeats of mother and child.

      Like

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