The following is a dialogue between Maraya Loza Koxahn and David Shakleton – editor of Everyman Magazine.
Maraya: As a leader in the men’s movement, David, you’ve been an advocate for gender equality for several years. To me, the word ‘equality’ implies ‘same’. Men and women are not the same and never will be. I don’t want ‘equality’, I want justice in the courts, fairness in the workplace and harmony in the home – taking into consideration our similarities and our differences. I think it would mean putting an end to the competition and maintaining a dance of respect and curiosity.
David: The social equality I want between men and women is not ‘identically equal’. It is only ‘the same’ in a few basic areas like inherent moral status, and access to basic rights, freedoms and opportunities. In other areas, I agree with you that gender differences are significant and influence outcomes greatly. So, equality becomes, as you suggest, a dance of respect for difference.
Underneath the complex trade-offs of what we want – equality and respect for our differences – lies a whole other complexity of less conscious gender role expectations that come from our cultural and social conditioning and our deep biological imprint (i.e. boys don’t cry, women are more nurturing, etc.).
Maraya: Operating from that complexity with complete consciousness is challenging. The other night my boyfriend and I were going to see a play. As we approached the theatre I said that I would pay my own way. Teasingly he asked, “does that mean I don’t get sex tonight?” Keeping with the spirit of fun I replied, “of course not honey, in fact it is I who should probably be paying you for sex.” He was chuffed.
We can laugh, but for many people the traditional dating ritual still has the undercurrent of these expectations. The assumption is that men want sex (which implies that women don’t) and that they have to pay the way to get it. Conversely, women want to be taken care of, treated special and eventually have to ‘put out’ in return. That’s an outdated notion.
First of all, I believe any healthy woman wants sexual pleasure/physical intimacy as much as a man does. Secondly, most women where we live are capable and desirous of looking after themselves financially. My vision is that we strike a balance where sex is a mutually desired and satisfying experience in itself and dates are traded for dates, each according to their ability/means. There should be a clear understanding and agreement about what the exchange is and no one should feel compelled to keep score.
David: I share the same vision. Consciousness and agreed upon transactions are the way to healthy, fulfilled relationships. It’s difficult though because the old codependent patterns are often imprinted into our unconscious. So, for instance, I, as your date, might not feel entitled to sex unless I’ve paid for dinner. I might think it was unfair that I had to pay but part of me would still think that if you had sex with me without my paying then you must be ‘cheap’. My resentment might show up in how I started treating you. Those kinds of usually unacknowledged and unarticulated thoughts run our lives from beneath our conscious awareness and make relationships confusing.
At present, relationships between men and women are in a strange situation, because the success of the women’s movement means that almost everybody is aware of the ways that men have power over women (i.e. financially, physical and sexual violence), but the relative social invisibility of the men’s movement means that almost no one understands the complementary ways that women have power over men (i.e. shaming, emotional abandonment, manipulative use of beauty or sexual power). We have concluded, as a society, that women don’t have much real power, so their form of power tends to be overlooked and considered less valid than the way men express power over women.
Maraya: I think that men do know, on some level, the power that women have and they’re terrified of it. They don’t want to meet it and don’t feel capable of defending themselves in the face of it. I find that men prefer to avoid it, dismiss it, acquiesce, or leave if it becomes too scary. I also think that women know their own power and are often not admitting it because that would require that we take responsibility for all of it – including the ways we use it to manipulate.
If we’re going to continue this as a gender competition and not engage in honest interaction then why would I want to give up my advantage? I know the power of my beauty and sexuality – throw in intelligence and a sense of humor and I’ve practically got the ‘cat in the bag’ – or the guy in the sack – and that’s usually where I want him. Give him sex and emotional nurturing and he’s mine. As benevolent as I think I am, there is part of me that just doesn’t want to give up control without a good reason. I know surrender is an imperative aspect of this change we desire, and requires radical trust, but I’m reluctant to surrender until I sense that there is enough radical honesty to engender my trust. I want someone to catch me when I jump.
David: We do need to work together to change what’s not working. For a man during the earlier years of the women’s movement, the challenge was getting us to realize that it was right to stop chivalrously protecting women from social power and responsibility and to see that women were fully capable of engaging as equals in the workplace. Once men understood that women truly wanted social equality, and saw the benefits, most became willing to make space for them in the corporate world.
If women can really understand that men want domestic equality – to share fully in child raising and feel they are fully capable – change might happen faster. One challenge is to stop care-taking each other. Women have to let men have their emotions, for instance, rather than feeling they have to comfort or protect them. It’s a similar condescension to what men showed when they chivalrously tried to protect women from dirty and dangerous job-sites.
Maraya: I don’t agree that, overall, men were willing to make space for women in the corporations and the educational, political and religious institutions without a fight. I do, however, believe that men want to be fully engaged in the raising of their children and have an equal say regarding their homes.
I believe that men and women care deeply for, and want to take care of, each other. When the ‘taking care of’ becomes ‘care-taking’ – a form of protection or patronizing – it diminishes the other and can lead to a cycle of codependency. If we can stay conscious about our patterns and challenge each other on our shadow aspects, maybe we can heal the need to ‘manage’ each other.
David: The key to becoming conscious is to recognize the reality of our unconscious. I discovered mine about eighteen years ago. I was dating a woman and I really wanted something from her. I told her, “unless you do this, I’ll leave you. It’s that important to me.” (Yes, I really was that manipulative.) Courageously, she called my bluff and said, “well, if you need to – go – but I’m not giving in.” In that moment – and not until that moment – I realized that I didn’t actually want to leave her. I didn’t know that when I said it. I thought I was sincere. The discovery that I could lie to myself astonished me. I realized that there were two ‘Davids’: one I was familiar with and had thought was complete, and another, that operated from outside of my awareness but still influenced me. Our unconscious self influences us mainly through our feelings about what is right and wrong, and our notions about gender behavior are some of the most deeply planted.
Maraya: It’s scary, and kind of exciting, to think we know ourselves and then find out there is still so much more waiting to be discovered. The process of ‘peeling that onion’ often brings tears to my eyes.
David: Yes, it can be difficult and emotional, but if we can do that work in relationship where both partners are conscious, where both the man and the woman are working to discover and dissolve their codependent gender patterns, it can be a wonderfully exciting and fulfilling process. I think one of the benefits of men and women being different is that we can challenge each other to grow out of the narrowness of our single-gender worldview. It is only ‘together’ that we have the whole story. Men and women have different energies and there is vital wisdom in the merging of those energies into an integrated whole. I’m convinced that we can learn to hold the tension of our differences without negative judgment, seek creative resolution and lead truly magnificent lives.
This dialogue was originally published in Synchronicity Magazine in August, 2005.