I haven’t weighed in on The Great Gender Debate that has been raging for a while, but something I saw this weekend demands I break my silence.
I left the house on Sunday to walk my dog Ginger just after 9 am. It wasn’t early, but I was quiet so as not to disturb the many sleeping teenage boys that arrayed themselves on various beds and couches upstairs. They came in very late (or, I should say, very early) and I wanted to let them sleep.
I relished the snow, appreciating it as one does something that is likely to be gone soon. Ginger ran ahead and I stared, amazed, at the frozen lake covered with ducks, the trees beyond, and the waterfall sidelined by icicles.
Kids slumbering, nowhere special to be for a bit, walking alone in the woods, I started humming, then singing to myself “Memories, light the corners of my mind, misty water-colored memories, of the way we were…”
Aaah, Barbra. I could almost hear the lyrics blaring from the stereo of the long metallic-hued Cadillac my father had coveted and, finally, bought from a friend. Sunroof open, Arizona sun blazing in, my father belted out Barbra lyrics.
I searched for the song on Spotify and found it, “The Way We Were,” on Babs’ “Memories” album. I sang loudly and danced along on the path just as I did so many years ago on that little patch of floor between the dining room table and the turntable where I let loose when no one else was around.
My dad loved Barbra, and Julio Iglesias, and anything Italian the same way my mom loved show tunes — with great expressive passion. I thought, interestingly enough, about how Barbra was such an icon for gay men, as if her boisterous expressiveness was solely effeminate. My father was heterosexual, hairy, and foul-mouthed, but he painted and fished and listened to highly emotional love songs at full volume. He was the one who we woke up in the night if we weren’t feeling well. It occurred to me that we all are emotional beings, but sometimes “men,” like those asleep at my house, aren’t expected or allowed to show that.
I walked out of the woods, out of the park, and back into the present-day. A young woman strolled toward me with a T-shirt I had no choice but to read.
“The Future Is Female”
I think I sucked in my breath. It felt a little like I’d been punched, but then I also had the instinct to punch back. All the anger I’ve been feeling about the anti-male sentiments raging in our society came flooding into my body.
Really? Really? I wanted to stop her, spin her around to face me squarely and ask her what, exactly, she expected me to do about those five sleeping teenage boys in my house, about my husband, about some of the little boys I work with in the projects who are very likely, if someone doesn’t do something fast to change their course, headed directly to prison? What of their future?
Maybe she thinks we’re just better off without them, and we should practice male infanticide?
No, I thought as I walked on past her and my racing heart slowed down. She’s confused, or at least the T-shirt maker is. They didn’t really mean “female,” certainly, they meant feminine. That’s different — very different. We have inner masculine and feminine aspects regardless of what body parts we possess. Inside all of us are the subconscious necessary drives of the other that Carl Jung called anima (the feminine in the masculine) and animus (the masculine in the feminine).
I stopped on the sidewalk and Googled “traits of femininity” and found what I think the young lady must have been referring to: not the end of males, not the extermination or casting aside or animosity at half our population, but rather a balancing toward things that have been ascribed historically to the feminine. The acquiescence, the yielding, the acceptance, the compassion, the shining light, the flow, the sensuality, the nurturing, the affection, the warmth … it went on and on.
Warmth. The smell of pipe smoke or Polo cologne can send me there, back to the memory of my father’s warmth. He is a man and yet he embodied many feminine traits I can only hope my husband and I and the world can help pass along to those boys back in my apartment.
Thank you, sweetie, for the crucial reminder that the future is for all of us, if we can remember to embody the traits that will allow us to collaborate peaceably with one another.