Recently, my spouse said the following,
“You know that sometimes when we speak, I feel like I am being ordered around.” I responded, “I don’t think I am intentionally ordering you around.” Her reply, “Yes, and sometimes when you speak, I feel like you are ordering me around.”
I thought about this for more than a bit, and it seems to me that we all live with the legacy of thousands of years of social, cultural, and religious standards of “How a Women should be in relationship to Men.”
We labor under many thousand-year-old social, cultural, and religious norms of what constitutes Femininity and Womanhood. Broadly speaking, women are even nw expected to be submissive, obedient, sympathetic, understanding, and wise, loving, sexually available and silently compliant to male whims and not causing upset.
The consequences for women who do not conform to these ancient models are physical and emotional violence, threats of such violence, ridicule, humiliation and ostracization from the community. Historically, non-compliant women have been accused of being witches and burned at the stake.
Fast forward to our 21st century, I know I have said, “Honey, pick up the dry cleaning, will you?” And therein lies a difficulty for my spouse who may not want to pick up the dry cleaning; it may not be workable nor convenient for her to comply, to do what I requested of her.
She now becomes confronted with a subconscious dilemma:
- If she says no, how will she handle, or manage my irritation and disappointment?
- Will she be safe from any annoyance and anger I may have from her declining?
- Should she “just do what I ask” to avoid anticipated negative consequences?
- Does a woman who declines or resists meet socially accepted social and femininity norms of compliance, support, and silence?
Looking back at our incident, while I may not have consciously intended my request to occur as an order, it was experienced in that way. And in retrospect, I may have been subjected to the effects of the very same millennia of how she “should have responded to me and complied with my request.”
We were both of us subject to the same trap of ideal gender roles and expectations. Men request and Women, comply.
So, how do we escape from this slippery slope that could cost us our happy relationship, and enjoy growing intimacy with women we love? The way out begins with the word, “Please,” which in its original form was, “if you please.”
When we insert the word, “Please” into our requests we ’ve shortened those moments of anxiety the women we love suffer. Saying “Please,” we assert that they and we are equal partners, neither one obligated in any way to comply or submit to our desires.
Throughout the late 19th and 20th centuries, we’ve made strides towards mutual honor and respect and there is more to be accomplished as we keep moving forward to greater safety and respect between men and women.
Aware, conscious, no longer at the will of antique male and female expectations, we are free to love and be loved.
For those of us sufficiently brave and courageous, we might assert that Feminism begins with our becoming aware of this dilemma, choose to be respectful, and say, “Please.”