“Blessed are you, Lord, our God, ruler of the universe who has not created me a man.”
I had to look it up to confirm that, yes, indeed there is a traditional Jewish morning blessing that thanks G-d “who has not made me a woman.” I guess I can understand this sentiment being shared robustly in a society where women were little more than brood cattle confined to propagating the species and changing their diapers.
This is no longer the case in much of the world (sadly, not all the world, however).
My own personal moment of daily gratitude comes as I reflect on all the ways in which my options in life and my emotional well-being are vastly superior to those of too many men. I still vividly recall when a friend of a friend slapped his crying two-year-old son and shouted, “Stop being a sissy!”. If a fairly large number of men today aren’t actually doing that, I’ll go out on a limb here and surmise that it was done to many of them.
Here are just some of the reasons I remain deeply grateful not to have born a man:
- I can cry whenever I want over anything that makes me sad. I can — and have — wept openly in public. Ok, back in Ohio people would be concerned and ask if I was all right but a major upside of crying in public in New York is that people ignore you. Unless you’re a man.
- I can dress in anything that I want to wear. I can butch it up and would love to own a nicely tailored bespoke tuxedo. I always have the choice of going butch or femme. I can dress in bright colors or all in black. Men can wear any color they like as long as it’s black, brown, or navy blue. Those who defy these constraints can be subject to ridicule, harassment, and even physical harm up to and including death.
- I didn’t need that magic users’ manual for life that so many of us wish we’d gotten in kindergarten. I had a mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, cousins, and best friends who clued me in about everything from cooking to relationships. For example, this gem from my Italian great-grama Mary: “always let him think he’s in charge while you’re running the show”.
- I can marry for money. Well, let’s correct that to “I could have married for money”. Instead, I married for love and I have to admit it’s working out really well. But if I had wanted to marry into money and live a life of ease and luxury, I could have. Certainly, men have done this forever as well, but it costs them. “Real” men are providers and from the time they hit third grade little boys know this.
- I never have to worry about ‘getting it up’. My sex life is not dependent on hydraulics. What a drag for men to be stuck with, ahem, performance anxiety. Or worse, worries about size. Nothing like this ever hits my radar.
- I still don’t have to register with Selective Service! In fact, the Supreme Court just upheld this. All men are required by law to register with Selective Service which, with the stroke of a presidential pen, can magically force them to go fight for “our freedom” in another of this country’s endless wars. This is especially meaningful to someone, like me, who grew up during the U.S. invasion of Southeast Asia when young men were being drafted and sent to kill or be killed in Vietnamese jungles.
And so I begin my days with the fervent appreciation that I hadn’t been born a man. Over the decades that gratitude has deepened along with a growing compassion for the plight of men. There is a false notion that men — specifically white men — get all the cookies. It’s true that they often do get a lot more cookies than the rest of us but, oh, the price they pay for those cookies!
Our indoctrination in gender roles starts before we can talk. Count how many baby girls you see with pierced ears the next time you go to Walmart. The moment the results of the ultrasound are in most parents’ hands, the plans begin. Pink or blue? Sure, little girls can grow up to be lawyers or hedge fund managers now but first they get to be precious little ballerinas or princesses. And in a world where it’s now marginally acceptable for a little boy to grow up to be a registered nurse, you can bet that first he’s going to be pretending to kill his little friends during recess. And if he doesn't, I'll show you one worried father.
Even with the prevalence of women being harmed and/or killed at the hands of violent men I would still prefer to be the one who always scopes out a room for the nearest exit rather than the one who is avoided on a deserted street. And I say that even having been at the receiving end of some of that violence.
Women have fought fiercely for centuries to become fully human in the eyes of the law and society. It was not done with guns or superior physical strength. It was done with steely determination and it was done together. It was done in spite of the myriad overt and covert ways that our society (still) undermines the authority and autonomy of women. And it will continue in the face of even more obstacles and outrages.
Governing bodies made up of men have always simply assumed that they were the ones who were fully human and patted themselves on the back for occasionally sharing some of the cookies.
Let me clue you in. People who are straitjacketed into only dressing, speaking, working, engaging, and living in narrowly prescribed ways are not fully human. If a person cannot laugh with abandon, weep in anguish when hurt, dress in ways that are comfortable, sing and dance and hold hands and confide secrets and hug friends and be silly and grow flowers and sit on the floor and confess to being afraid or uncertain, that person is sadly not fully human.
And that person is probably a man. Poor guy.
Time to insert the obligatory #notallmen disclaimer because throughout history there have always been men who were ready to pay the price to escape the confines of masculinity. I’m married to one. When he was faced with having to sign up for the draft — during Vietnam, btw — he chose to pay the potential price of incarceration and hit the road.
Our current social order that keeps men in charge does terrible damage to everyone. Too many women still live in fear for their lives and are unable to protect their children from violent men. Countless men are silently — many unknowingly — suffering from being confined to an unrealistic set of behavioral standards. In many ways, men are the first victims of this hierarchy we find ourselves stuck in however loudly they may howl in protest.
I don’t have any escape plans for men. Most don’t see the trap they’re in anyway. So, guys, you’re on your own. Women did it. We threw aside the millennia-old constraints of our gender and demanded to be seen and accepted as fully human. You can, too.
But what a drag it is for you to not have been born a woman.