A friend of mine once told me that every newly married man should learn one very important principle. This principle is so important that once learned a married man will be able to lead a fairly tranquil life. Without that principle every married man is bound for serious grief, he suggested. That principle is this: Man bad; woman good. Once he learns that principle every married man will realize that in disputes with his spouse that principle will quickly direct the married man to understanding what needs to be done to bring tranquility into his life. After that life is simple. Such a principle, my friend claimed, had saved his marriage. It helped him learn that it was important to compromise with his female spouse. Everyone needs to learn that.
Of course that principle was offered in a spirit of jocularity. In fact, it was obviously a sexist remark. He did not really mean it. At least not entirely. Lately however I have been thinking that this statement is absolutely true. Men are bad; women are good (at least in comparison to men).
The year 2017 has so far been an astounding year of revelations of sexual assault and sexual harassment one after the other. Nearly every day another celebrity is revealed as a cad or a predator. Are all men cads, or worse?
Many of us have got distracted by discussions about whether Al Franken, one of the men who allegedly has seriously mistreated women and perhaps even assaulted them, should resign. We spend time arguing whether or not Roy Moore should be rejected by the Republican Party in Alabama as a suitable candidate for the U.S. Senate because of allegations of impropriety with very young girls. We even debate whether or not the President of the United States ought to resign as a result of admissions of sexual assault that he made , corroborated, later by numerous women. All of these are important issues. However there is an even more fundamental issue that is rarely discussed.
What is becoming clear—if it was ever opaque—is that we live in a society suffused with male dominance and privilege. It is so prevalent that it has become entirely invisible. It is everywhere. As more and more men are revealed to be harassers if not predators, it is clear that men have not understood this. It is difficult to process that one’s privileged position is not earned. It seems natural. Everyone who is in a position of dominance tends to see any challenges to that dominance as irrational, or worse. Men are exactly like that.
Dominance seems so natural to men that immediately upon reflection the man who is “outed” realizes he has been morally blind. I am not here to say that I am entirely blameless. I wonder if there are any blameless men. That power imbalance is so pervasive that it has been difficult for any man to escape taint. All men seem infected. That is a humbling thought.
Men have so often failed to understand that the woman in front of them is a person. A real live woman. Not an object for jokes in poor taste. Not an object that can be treated disrespectfully. Not an object for unwanted advances. For decades—no forever—men have dominated women and they have not been able to see the sense of anyone who challenged that power. Challenges did not make sense. It is time for men to see what they have done. They have created a society that is deeply unfriendly to women.
Until the culture of dominance is exposed for what it is, this power imbalance will never be successfully challenged. How can we change? How can men learn that they have been bad? What can be done about it? This is the deep underlying issue that we should be talking about. Until we do things won’t change.
It is not entirely true that man is bad and woman is good, but there has been enough male misconduct that has been starkly revealed that men should start to presume that they are bad until proven innocent. Men have a lot to atone for. But first men must learn. Then—perhaps—they will be able to see. Only then can they deny that men are bad.