Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The War Between Men and Women

I don’t know where the belief that men and women are at war came from. I really didn’t know much about this concept before I married.

My vision for marriage was two people working together to build a safe and loving home for their children. They would be helpmates, confidants, giving of themselves to make life better for one another. Creating the proverbial “soft place to land” for every member of the family.

I was stunned when words of confrontation spewed from my partner’s mouth. There was a war between the sexes he claimed. His over-riding message was that he was going to get me before I got him. He accused me of fighting for domination over him, manipulating situations to make him look bad, betraying him, creating power struggles to beat him down and turn him into a wuss. Fighting? Domination? Manipulating? Betraying? Power struggles? I remember being dumbfounded at how he saw our relationship and who he believed I was. 

One day I asked, “Why does our marriage have to be a war?” His response was that the war between men and women had been going on forever. “Why?” I asked. He dismissed me as if I was an idiot.

Everyday, like a wrestler, he’d stare me down as he circled the mat. I tried to explain that I was not at war with him—I was on his side. He insisted that I wasn’t. That I was playing him. He did all in his power to force me into a corner so I would fight. I refused to have any part of it.

The more hostel he became the more loving I became. I thought that would make a difference. After all, love can heal a wounded heart. I believed that if I continued to reassure him that I was not a threat to him, and if I returned love for his fury, he would come around. I mean, love always wins, doesn’t it? 

Being a people pleaser I bowed down and then bowed down lower until I became a doormat. That didn’t change anything. He still raged on. In the end, my response was what it always had been, I did nothing and said nothing more about it. All I could do was watch his hostility mushroom, escalating into a tempestuous storm.

Inside, I knew who I was and what my intentions were. He did, as abusers do, continue to tell me who I “really” was and what I was “really” thinking, summoning up an adversary to justify his hostility. I didn’t argue with him. It would have made no difference. Yet, I wondered, “If I’m so horrible, why does he stay with me?”

Why did I stay? I stayed with him until the pain of staying was greater than my fear of surviving on my own.

One of my favorite spiritual leaders is Sister Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun. She spoke at my Presbyterian church a few years ago. I was thrilled to hear her again when Oprah interviewed her on Soul Sunday (OWN).

Sister Joan said, “Nothing is going to change in the world until the situation with women changes.”

That resinated with me. 

She went on to talk about how women carry the other half of humankind’s life experiences. Yet women’s needs, gifts and intelligence are dismissed. Women should to be at the table or only half of life experience and knowledge are involved in making important decisions. “Isn’t that why the poorest of the poor are women and children?” she pointed out.

Marriage should not be a war, but a collaboration, a way to examine all the intricacies of a question in order to make the best decision for all involved. Doesn't it make sense to have those with additional information give input and be a part of the conversation?  Controlling men refuse to accept that women would not make decisions that favor themselves and children at men’s expense. What women see as a negotiation resulting in a win-win controllers see as a loss for them.

Women desire a partnership, but those with a sense of entitlement can only see that as a threat to their position and power. It is common for controlling people to take an issue such as wanting an equal voice and blow it up into a something outrageous. Consider the term “feminist.” It has been contorted by some into meaning “man-haters” when it really means having equal opportunities, equal pay for equal work, a seat at the table in decisions that affect them, you know that “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” thing?

When it comes to war, Sister Joan says, “Women are the booty of war. Their bodies have become an instrument of war. Their children have become the fodder of war. Their homes have become the rubble of war. Their daily struggles to live have become one of the horrors of war and their futures have been left shattered in the shambles of war through they have nothing whatsoever to say about the waging of wars.”

When I heard that statement, I thought of the women and children refugees that are currently in the news. It also made me think of the women and children living with domestic violence. They, too, become refugees from the war waged within their homes. It may be on a smaller scale, but to the those who suffer from the ravages created by a controlling partner, it is no small issue. Women in both those situations are running for their lives and the lives of their children.

When people ask Sister Joan, “What can we do?” She replies, “Something.” Make a difference in the circle that surrounds you. Do what you can to stand up for the other half.

Many of you are already standing up against domestic abuse as advocates, shelter workers, volunteers, speakers, therapists and by financial contributions. Today, I salute you for doing something.