Sunday 24 June 2018

The Girl with the Hammer

The cliche is a boy with a hammer and a girl with a hairbrush.

In North America, it's the most commonly accepted social contract between a man and a woman. It has always seemed, to me, an unhealthy arrangement—an unsophisticated agreement drawn up by the most inexperienced, impetuous, and undisciplined people in our society: the young. 

Agreed to early on, it typically remains unquestioned long enough for us to build a little empire and breed, fulfilling Nature's imperative. Reduced to the essentials, it pits a woman's sexuality against a man's usefulness. One large problem with it is that it hobbles women, which in turn hobbles the men they marry.

I was thinking about this and how I might teach my son and daughter to avoid this trap. It is difficult for both.

Young men's egos are tied to their sexual urges, which are overpowering for a good portion of their lives. Men often confuse sex with love. In fact, I believe young men typically fall in love through sex. Hormones are involved and when they surge they override logic to a degree that is at once amazing and frightening. Logic does return, briefly, immediately after sex. I have no idea how I am going to get my son to see the difference between sex and love. It took me about 40 years to do that, myself. And, older and wiser though I may be, I am still vulnerable to misinterpreting my feelings. Most modern North American men have little trouble being intimate, but making love is an act that connects emotion to their day-to-day intimate behaviour. For men, it's a very powerful link in the intimacy bond.

Young women often abuse their sexual power over men, bartering their way to security through much effort expended on their youthful looks. The extra time and effort seem innocuous when one is young and life is relatively uncomplicated. But it's at least an extra hour of physical maintenance each day, and time spent monitoring trends and, of course, shopping. As well, women endure the pain and physical harm that many fashion trends inflict. And, it's a major distraction from more important matters. It all adds up. Throw in a job, a couple of kids, and the deleterious effects of aging, and the energy expended to maintain that youthful appearance spirals, becoming a confidence-sapping handicap that men don't share.

On top of the time wasted, of course, there is a deeper danger associated with being evaluated based on looks. It's a game that constantly chips away at self-esteem because, from the very start, there are always more youthfully beautiful people out there, and every day that goes by sees that number increase.

The upshot of all of this is that a woman ends up more dependent and with less power to maintain her lifestyle than a man. The flip side is that the man ends up with a pretty, but dependent, partner. It's punishment for both parties.

And a woman can't drop out of this system without facing consequences. Going "all natural" visibly identifies her as different. Society does not encourage "different," though it may tolerate it. In fact, "different" is the exact opposite of "Society." Women will have more trouble connecting with her, and men, most of whom have been programmed by society to be visually attracted to trend-driven models, will tend to pass her over. Of course, this is a generalization with a large number of exceptions, but still, it is true for the majority.

And though it may not be fair, it is the reality for the foreseeable future. As intelligent and progressive as modern young people are, they remain ruled by the same hormones which have conjured the same social pact since the beginning of time, when I was born.

If you accept this, as I do, then you will be concerned for your children, as I am.

My first big-picture realization regarding raising a daughter was that she would need a robust self-esteem to be able to resist the hobbling social pressure to base her worth on her looks.

I call her my "Do Girl" because when she was a toddler, she used to insist on doing everything herself. "I do, I do," was her favourite phrase.

My "Do Girl" in action at age 4, helping to stain her brother's treehouse.
(Note that her 6-year-old brother is nowhere to be found.)

...and at age 11, helping to stain our storage shed.
(Brother remains MIA.)

I am thankful that she's inherently built that way, but I still push her a bit because the only real way to gain self-esteem is to do things. It's a very positive cycle: the more you do, the more confident you are that you can do things and, consequently, the more you want to do. She emerged from the womb with an interest in fashion and style, but she is prone to being active and yet intellectual enough to question a lot of human behaviour that most of us take for granted, so I feel she is quite well insulated from the judgements and putdowns she will undoubtedly encounter.

My son likes his solitude and would prefer to spend time reading, playing video games or making YouTube videos. He is technically minded and always wants to understand how things work. My daughter is more social and needs less time alone. She doesn't care how things work but is keen to understand people. It's interesting because I notice that my daughter can be easily upset by the feelings or opinions of another person, whereas my son seems much less concerned with what others think but is more easily upset when a device doesn't work the way he expects. He has a thicker skin because, so far at least, machines are generally less malicious than people.

This is not inherently a boy/girl thing, but because society promotes a divide, almost every one of my male friends has become the in-house technician/mechanic for every modern convenience their family owns, regardless of their affinity for the job.

For me, there are days when it's overwhelming. I often arrive home after hours of solving problems at work to a list of devices that are offline, leaking or making a strange sound—all of which, apparently, is my responsibility. When you think of the number of machines attached to the average household—not to mention the structure itself—it's a staggering responsibility for a single person. It would be fairer if this could be shared.

And fairness is a big deal because letting your partner in a long-term relationship take on more than their fair share not only risks resentment but is also robbing you of power. The person who is actively doing a thing always has the greater influence over that situation. The person who contributes more is building more self-esteem and skills and, consequently, more personal value. It really doesn't matter whether we are talking about repairing the wi-fi, communicating effectively, or expressing love—the essential fact remains true—the more you do, the more power you gain as an individual.

Of course, there is rarely a perfect balance and it's difficult to establish the relative values of each contribution, but if the imbalance is too great, it can create a "winner" and a "loser" which is not healthy for any relationship.

I am witnessing my 13-year-old son step into the role already. If I am not available, both my wife and daughter instantly turn to him to solve issues with the TV, wi-fi, or computers.

It made me realize that there is a small way to help a daughter retain more power throughout her life: Teach her the value of understanding how things work. In fact, knowing how a device works is a responsibility that comes with ownership.

It's little different than owning a pet. You shouldn't be expected to perform surgery on your pet, but you should know how to feed and care for it. Our responsibility in owning machines is not to a single living organism—it's to the Earth that we pillaged to create these modern conveniences. We owe it to the Earth to use our machines responsibly, in order to make them last longer. If we each take the time to understand how to properly use and maintain every device we own, there would be three large benefits that would come from this...
1) We would be more hesitant to purchase, electing to own less because there is a limit to how much time one person can spend on each device. (Reduce)
2) The devices we own would generate less frustration, work better and last longer. (Reuse)
3 And, we would be less dependent on others, which is essentially saying we would be more powerful individuals.

My daughter does not need to know how to solder circuits and repair her TV. Acquiring knowledge to that level would be making a career of it. But she should understand the general concepts involved and be able to find answers in the user manual. She should understand the relationship between her TV and everything connected to it, know most of the TV's features, and be able to troubleshoot common issues. This would put her on par with the average man and, thus, she would be less dependent on one.

If she owns a car, she needs to understand the basic theory of how an internal combustion engine works, be sensitive to the state of the vehicle and she should be able to refill the fluids, know when to get an oil change, and how to change the lightbulbs and fuses. Otherwise, owning a car is just reinforcing an illusion of a degree of control over her life that she really does not have. The first time her car stops working, she will be at the mercy of the person she takes it to and indebted to him/her, either financially as with a mechanic, or sexually as with a boyfriend/girlfriend.

For my son's part, I am trying to teach him to evaluate a person by their character. Beyond that, once he's involved, I advise him to teach his partner how things work. We'll start with his sister because I'm pretty sure that it's too late for his Mom. It will be a frustrating and inefficient process at first, but the benefits will accrue.

If we all start treating our machines as we would a pet, we can become better people who create happier unions... and, perhaps, avoid an AI apocalypse.

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