Sheila and I had a great conversation yesterday. I was walking by her office, and she grabbed me for a brief chat — we haven’t crossed paths much over the last few weeks.
Anyway, the subject of women arose. She asked for an update about a young lady I had a few dates with in December, so I gave it to her. The discussion meandered around West Michigan culture, the tribulations of her friend Shari from New Jersey, and manifestations of innate attention-seeking behavior among people coping with emotional trauma. I relayed the story told to me by my new friend Jen, who makes me delicious coffee. Jen attends a local religious college, and shared with me her experiences of interacting with some hot young freshmen girls whose chief goal for attending college was to find a man to marry and with whom, to procreate.
Sheila’s insight, which I suppose I really hadn’t given due weight, is that “society” in general, and certainly the dominant cultural milieu of the Reformed tradition in West Michigan, socializes its children in very different ways. Most men are content to find a woman who will give them food and sex. Women need a degree of emotional connection that most men simply cannot provide, which is why females tend to have closer friendships with other women.
Yet we do something to both our sons and our daughters that sets them up for failure. We teach our boys to play the field and to repress their emotions — thus denying them the chief means of connecting with females. We teach our girls to expect a knight in shining armor to sweep them off their feet and satisfy all their emotional needs; worse, we send the message to our daughters that failing to find the perfect man and getting married young implies a defect on her part, which is why many women (at least in West Michigan) are desperate for a man but refuse to settle for anyone other than Brad Pitt. Or, they find Brad only to learn that after the honeymoon, he withdraws emotionally and expects her to be a domestic servant — which could explain why there are so many women in their late 20s or early 30s who are looking for a man after being divorced with children.
I had a phone call last week with my friend Stacie; the topic eventually settled on the candidacy of Hillary Clinton. To Stacie, Clinton’s candidacy is more significant than Obama’s because America doesn’t seem to have addressed its latent sexism to the same extent that we’ve overcome racism. Sexism is a particularly strong issue with Stacie, for a number of very valid reasons. Nevertheless, I cannot help but wonder at the highly emotional investment she has made regarding the Clinton candidacy.
Come to think of it, it’s a wonder anyone makes it through adolescence and early adulthood with a high degree of emotional and psychological stability — the misalignment of social expectations between the sexes is surely a force of discord that can tear at even the most stoic of souls.