For more information, contact:
Gary Schouborg, PhD
Schouborg, Gary (1992).
"Real Men, Real Women".
The Quest, Summer, 5-6.
Real Men, Real Women
For the sake of clarity and reality, let's cut immediately to the chase. A man is someone who wants to have a penis. If he doesn't have one, he is a physically deformed man, but a real man nonetheless. If he happens to have a vagina, he's a man in a woman's body. The obverse is true for the opposite sex (not "gender": I'm talking here about human, not grammatical entities). A woman is someone who wants to have a vagina. If she doesn't have one, she is a physically deformed woman, but a real woman nonetheless. If she happens to have a penis, she is a woman in a man's body.
That's it. Now that we all understand what a real man and a real woman is, we can proceed to other issues, like: What do individual men want for themselves? What do they want from other men? What do they want from women? And what do individual women want for themselves? From other women? From men?
My point is this. Let's stop pontificating about what men and women should be and non-judgmentally explore what they want. If Robert Bly and his fans want to go into the woods and beat drums, fine. But don't buy into their blather about becoming real men. Some men, and some women for that matter, may find such activities enjoyable, even therapeutic and fulfilling. Those who don't are not lesser men and women. Those who do are not becoming more masculine or feminine. They may be foolishly seeking approval and will eventually correct their mistake. Or they may be getting in touch with impulses deep within themselves that will make their lives more satisfying for themselves and for others. But not necessarily more satisfying for everyone. To some, they may be a pain in the ass. That fact is not a strike against either the painers or the pained.
Of course, each of us in different degrees wants to please others. It's understandable and legitimate to try to meet the expectations that others have of men and women, so that we can be sexually, personally, and financially successful. But let's not internalize those expectations. Let's understand them in reference to what we want and need for ourselves. Only then can we reach out for approval realistically and without betraying ourselves.
What I am seeking is clarity. I don't care what Ken Wilber and Wendy Alter see as their masculine and feminine sides. I do care, and am grateful for, their articulation of what they find satisfying in their lives. Who cares if some of what gratifies each of them overlaps and some is distinctive? What have we gained by labeling part of those things masculine and part feminine? If I identify more with what Wendy finds satisfying, do I have to worry that I am too feminine? Is there some proportion of masculine and feminine required of me as a man? Who requires it? If Ken Wilber seeks to be more whole, is it because he is too masculine? Or too feminine? Or is it because he is a human being with yet more possibilities to realize?
I am not trying to wash away differences, only trying to explain their nature. I have much to learn from others, both men and women. I have learned to be more assertive from both male and female models. I have learned to be sensitive from both male and female models. In my experience, thinking of these models as Men and Women only encourages me to think stereotypically. But thinking of them as individuals helps me pay much closer attention to what each concretely has to offer. Certainly, generalizations are possible and legitimate. As individual men and women break out of the bondage of ossified social expectation and explore what they really want, traditional generalizations are losing their credibility and we are seeking new ones. My concern is that the desire for generalization often carries with it normative assumptions about what men and women should be, about who is a real man and a real woman.
The problem with normative assumptions is that they disguise personal demands as objective judgments. Sure, go ahead and prefer certain characteristics in men and others in women. That is your privilege. But acknowledge that as your preference, not as your insight into how people ought to be. To the degree that you can do that, you will liberate both yourself and others from the tyranny of unrecognized demands. Instead, you can explore what you want for yourself and from others, and deal with them forthrightly in those terms.
The world of desire is a much larger and richer one than the one of normative expectation. Though the latter often initiates my quest for a truly satisfying life, the former is the door I must enter to follow that quest to the very end. Thus, if I am feeling troubled or unfulfilled, I may begin by following other people's advice as to what I should do or what I ought to be. Insofar as what they tell me is a reflection, albeit indirect and garbled, of what makes their own lives satisfying, and insofar as I am like them in that way, I will take a few steps down the path of what is satisfying and fulfilling for me. I will not have gone too far, however, until I experience dissatisfaction with their advice. I will have to explore my own desires, my own self, on my own. At that point, the mystery that I am (and correlatively, the mystery that others are) will open up to me in all its unrestrictedness. It is the anxiety of facing this open-ended mystery that too often seduces me into seeking an illusory comfort within the confines of normative expectation.