A stunning, enrapturing film, a crowning work by one of the American cinema’s most essential artists.
Women are nicer than men. There are exceptions. Most people of both sexes are probably fairly nice, given the nature of their upbringing and opportunities. But in terms of their lifelong natures, women are kinder, more empathetic, more generous. And the sooner more of them take positions of power, the better our chances as a species.
This occurred to me while watching a forthcoming movie named "Where Do We Go Now?" It could have occurred during dozens or hundreds of movies. It's set in a tiny village in Lebanon, where Christians and Muslims have lived peacefully side-by-side for generations. Now the local men have become worked up by strife they see on TV, and have decided that even in their village, without any provocation, they need to start hating and fighting each other.
The women are tired of burying their sons and husbands. They conspire to distract the men from their foolish chest-beating. They stage fake miracles. They sneak hashish into their diets. In a bold masterstroke, they import a troupe of exotic Ukrainian dancers who are touring Lebanon.
Enough about the movie, except for this simple mind experiment: Can you imagine a movie in which Muslim and Christian women start fighting with religion as their excuse, and the men band together to import go-go boys? Not easily. The gender roles in the film seem to go without saying.
I've been noticing news items lately about how women are gaining in many ways. They now represent a majority of U.S. college students, and 60% of all graduate students. Their income levels are rising, although they still don't have parity with men. They are far less involved in violent crimes, and crime of all sorts. They are safer drivers. A child in a single-parent home is likely to be better off if the parent is a women. In the U.S. the odds are that 80% of the single parents will be women; having given birth, they stick around to raise children, while men are more likely to be missing.
I could bore you with more statistics, but I doubt you need convincing. Most of these things are intuitively true. I believe that a great many things can be explained by the process of evolution, and differences in the sexes are certainly included. We are the descendants of primitive hunting and gathering societies. Men are better are hunting, and women are better at gathering. Men are taller, heavier, stronger. They're not in the child-rearing business.
Because we do not often think of ourselves as animals, it is rather wonderful that women retain one function from their evolutionary past. They have breasts, and use them to feed infants. Think about that. In terms of body weight, they tend to have larger breasts than most mammals, although breast size has no particular relationship to feeding ability. One obvious reason for larger breasts, therefore, is to send a signal to prospective mates that they are promising candidates for motherhood. You may not realize this when you see a crowd of half-loaded guys in a lap-dance joint, but in some primeval sense they're looking for mothers--perhaps their own.
Women know things like that. Dogs understand humans by closely observing us. They follow our eyeliners, and discover what interests us. Women understand men in the same way. They observe the whole man, while men tend to focus more on secondary sexual characteristics and signals of availability. This is why a woman is more willing to marry an ugly man than a man is to marry an ugly woman. The woman is looking for reliability, responsibility, bread-winning. The man is looking for boobs.
But enough about evolution. Consider the role of the sexes in modern times. Men no longer need to be powerful and violent in order to hunt bison, walk behind a plow, tote that barge or lift that bale. In a society where the hunting and gathering is done by corporations, they need to be smart and work well with others. As leaders, they must be wise about human nature, compassionate about those working for them, empathetic with the needs of consumers.
These are areas in which men are not necessarily better equipped than women. A great deal of male drive is fueled by testosterone. A man wants to defeat other men and become the leader of the pack. He wants to scatter his seed far and wide. In these times he can demonstrate his potency not by fathering 50 children, but by driving profit margins higher and higher. This drive is more fundamental in business than worker happiness or customer satisfaction.
Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in the financial industry. Investment bankers do nor sow, and neither do they reap. They make nothing but profits. They create those profits through the stock ownership of companies that do make and sell things, but at their level they hardly care if they're making tractors or dildos. The recent trading catastrophe at J. P. Morgan had nothing to do with making anything. It was a pissing contest in which an executive wanted to produce a big number on a balance sheet, in order to justify still more millions in bonuses on top of his already obscene wealth. If he was gambling with the well-being of his bank and its customers, tough shit.
Am I foolish in suggesting that women don't think quite so easily in the same way? They like to compete and succeed, yes, but in their natures I believe they're also aware of human issues. Women are not quite so quick as men to grow enraged at the idea of raising the hourly wage. For most men, the minimum wage is important largely because of its impact on profits. I believe more women consider its effect on helping wage-earners support their families.
In the economic climate we inhabit, not many CEOs are prepared to stand up at a shareholder meeting and say: Our profits are down this year because we improved the pay of our employees, reduced costs for our customers, and caused less harm to the environment. That'll be the day. Much more likely is: We have record profits because we exported jobs to poor countries, fought labor unions and continue to pack fewer corn flakes in larger boxes.
In recent decades, corporations have taken over a commanding role in our society. In the era of deregulation started by Reagan and continued by both parties, corporate balance sheets have justified economic practices that are cruel and heartless. Consider the mortgage crisis, when we now know worthless debt was deliberately sold to investors by those who knew it was worthless, with the result that many people lost their money and many more lost their homes. This was clearly fraud and theft. Why aren't there more bankers and financiers in prison?
Am I wrong to suspect part of our situation has been caused testosterone--that men in power believe moderation and reasonable compromise reflect on their masculinity? I think you can see that many places in our society, for example in the joyless and punishing excesses of college and professional sports. Many sports fans are in a sense the "owners" of the teams they support, and if their favorite athletes suffer brain damage in the process of winning a Super Bowl, that's a price they'll cheerfully pay.
Religion is anther area in which men are responsible for mischief. Judaism, Christianity and Islam were founded by patriarchal desert tribes, and male supremacy was reflected in their theology. In many fundamentalist sects, wives are taught to be subservient to their husbands. To obey. Why? Catholics, Muslims and traditional Jews restrict their priesthoods to men. Why? Why must the god of all humans be approached only through men?
My feeling is that a fundamental shift is taking place. Women were not well-adapted for leadership roles in primitive and early historical times. But our emerging world economy is becoming less based on physical strength and more dependent on intelligence and emotional balance.
Women are not wired to see disagreement as a challenge to themselves. Women value common welfare above singular success. Women are more open to cooperation than competition. Women have evolved to focus more on prudent long-term survival, and less on immediate gains. When women give birth and spend months suckling an infant, they understand better that we all depend on each other. They're programmed to nurture the defenseless, plan for the future, value others for their qualities rather than for their externals.
Yes, these are generalizations. I am more right than wrong.
Mothers' Day, 2012.
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