The Kavanaugh confirmation process kicks up issues far beyond and much deeper than the political and MeToo ramifications. In the midst of the confirmation drama we are seeing the unfolding of a heated drama about gender identity.
Gender roles enacted between men and women, as in the sexual assault cases, fly against the wind of gender de-allocation. The diffusion of gender specificity is disarming the old nature/nurture dichotomy.
“And women have been long scripted to signal their essential, socially assigned vulnerability.”
But the old “war of the sexes” plays on. Why did men of the older generation, so many pilloried in the MeToo revelations, do what they did, act as they did, and exemplify the worst side of men’s relationship to women?
Partly it may be the hubris syndrome reveling in male autocracy. The position of power creates an empathic dead zone around men at the top. Surrounded by sycophants of every color, men become inured to the feelings and wants of their subjects. And women have been long scripted to signal their essential, socially assigned vulnerability.
Why do men allow themselves to fall so far, to violate social norms that often seem to contradict the very role that provided them the means to achieve positions of esteem? Sexual prowess may provide a partial answer: men are conditioned to be sexual predators. They are expected to make the first move. Women are taught to be enticing. Usually this dynamic plays in low gear and harmonizes with a convivial mutuality.
But raised to thrones of power, perhaps subject to the hubris syndrome, some men seem to roar into unseemly, truly obscene action. And women submit out of fear and in line with their role of silent obeisance. They are caught in a schema that supports the male prerogative.
Women have been slowly gaining, very slowly, overtaking positions traditionally reserved for men. In the still male dominant roles in government and corporations, women are beginning to seize a presence. In medicine women are nearly tied with men. In sports women have corralled parallel positions and have even gained some small entry into teams otherwise reserved for men.
But…at the ballet the other night I was struck by the unyielding demarcation between ballerina and male dancer. Even as ballet has progressed into new choreographic heights, women on pointe ultimately render themselves into the supporting arms of the cavalier. The pas de deux, even in a very contemporary choreographer’s shaping, remains an exalted variation of sexuality. Women choreographers are becoming a strong presence in ballet. Yet they, too, create on that dualistic dimension.
What does the future hold for men as they achieve ascendency? Will the relationship dynamics of the older generation, the MeToo formula of sexual exploitation, be dropped and disbanded. Young men seem to believe they have entered a new sexually egalitarian era.
But the New York City Ballet just fired three of their principal male dancers, all of the young adult generation, for sexually exploiting a woman dancer. Is it another version of the hubris syndrome? Male dancers are surrounded by beautiful women whom they regularly partner in graciously intimate physical contact. Are they tempted to degrade them possibly because much of the world outside of ballet regards male dancers as effete and even homosexual and therefore unmanly. Desire, derision, and self-exemption might be the fuel to that fire.
Or; has no lesson ever to be learned? Why do men persist in viewing women as the eternal victim?
Perhaps the answer lies partly in the social education of boys. Historically boys have always been raised in some version of militarism. They are shamed if they show fear or if they openly reveal humiliation when defeated in sports. They are threatened by ouster from the male enclave with slanderous invectives: Pussy! Gay!
Boys are expected to separate themselves from girls until the girls become objects of desire. But adolescent boys hang together in their sexual distance. They typically regard girls as objects of conquest. And they are expected to hold that regard with a subdued, sub rosa, sense of contempt. Boys are taught that females are the weaker sex. Boys are raised to be sexual warriors.
Is this war of the sexes ever going to end? Is the world ever going to be safe for women? Are men going to discover a better, deeper connection to women?
Perhaps the move toward gender neutrality will lead the way to disarming the bitter, hidden distrust and desire that has fueled men to exploit and women to submit.
We would ultimately all be safer, happier, and truly equal.