Can Women Do What Men Do?

Graham Phoenix counters the ‘equality’ of Gloria Steinem.

On Friday over at Good Feed,  we heard Gloria Steinem say, “We know that women can do what men can do, but we don’t know that men can do what women can do.”

They are extraordinary assertions that cry out to be challenged—not just the statements but also the assumptions behind them.

I have never heard of Gloria Steinem and am not aware of the work she has done. I am British, and in the UK we tend not to be as brash or confrontational in our passions. We see things more as shades of grey. Sadly, the Colbert interview with Steinem had no shades of grey.

The issue is equality. This is the hottest political issue in America. It fires people up and sets them against others, others they want to be equal to. It was the British philosopher Bertrand Russell who said:

In America everybody is of the opinion that he has no social superiors, since all men are equal, but he does not admit that he has no social inferiors, for, from the time of Jefferson onward, the doctrine that all men are equal applies only upwards, not downwards.

I see equality as a different beast altogether. Where Steinem sees equality as people doing the same things, I see equality as people having the freedom to do what others do.

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“Equality is not in regarding different things similarly, equality is in regarding different things differently.” —Tom Robbins

This does not mean that men should do men’s work and women should do women’s work. It means that we should do the work or live the life that is most in tune with our character. 

It’s about celebrating our differences while opening ourselves up to freedom of possibility for all. While in Britain we have made great strides, there is still a long way to go. We work on issues of race, gender, sexuality, education, poverty, and age from the perspective of opening up channels of opportunity. In sexuality, we abolished our ridiculous law making buggery illegal and have created same-sex marriages. Recently, it has been deemed illegal to ban guests from a hotel because they are homosexual, even if they owner has a strong religious belief against homosexuality.

What is important to understand, however, is that we don’t require everyone to be gay or experience gay sex. Most of us are not gay and that is OK, as long as we give gays the freedom to practice their beliefs in the way we practice ours.

Steinem wants women to be men and men to be women. In her world, we each need to do what the other does. It’s fine if we want to but she requires that we have to.

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“Before God we are all equally wise—and equally foolish.” —Albert Einstein

I have worked with gay Christians in the past, helping them to come to terms with their Christianity and their sexuality, so that they can live both without confusion or guilt. I am at one with what they believe. Homosexuals believe that they were born gay and their orientation remains no matter what socialization they put themselves through, never mind what society puts them through. This understanding is even more pertinent with transsexuals who believe they were born trapped in a body of the wrong physical sex.

When people own up to and live their sexuality, they live what they were born to. It is the same with men and women. We were all born to a degree of masculinity or femininity, and when we live our lives fully, we live in that masculinity or femininity.

Masculine and feminine are different, with differing qualities, characteristics, and skills.

This does not mean that men should do men’s work and women should do women’s work. It means that we should do the work or live the life that is most in tune with our character. There are many women who desire and are able to do work that is normally associated with masculine characteristics, work that requires the focus and power of masculinity. Equality is when anyone is able to do this work, when anyone is able to recognize these qualities within themselves and live accordingly.

Equally there are many men who desire and are able to do work that is normally associated with feminine qualities, work that requires love, care, and compassion. Equality is not requiring all men to do this or all fathers to nurse their children, even if the world might be a better place of they did.

The world exists and prospers through the tension and excitement of polarity. The interplay between masculine and feminine is one of the key drivers of society. To flatten this out with a distortion of the concept of equality is to damage society in a dangerous way. America is a society that is in danger of losing its way. There is pressure for women to become men and, most worryingly, there is pressure for men to become women.

Men are losing their way because they are confused and afraid. They are afraid to stand up and be men and they are afraid not to. They are afraid of the reaction of women such as Steinem, and they find it difficult to do anything other than ignore them or, as Colbert did, mock them. What we did not get in the interview was any coherent argument from Colbert. As a man he didn’t know how to counter a woman showing such strength.

—Photo  RachelH_/Flickr

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About Graham Reid Phoenix

Graham Reid Phoenix writes about his experience of men and being a man in 'Graham Reid Phoenix'. Through his work he helps men to become strong in themselves and teaches them how to create amazing relationships and how to be successful in business. Graham has a popular radio show called 'Men Alive!' that broadcasts every two weeks for and about men. Connect on Google+, Facebook Page and Twitter.

Comments

  1. “Steinem wants women to be men and men to be women. In her world, we each need to do what the other does. It’s fine if we want to but she requires that we have to.”

    “There is pressure for women to become men and, most worryingly, there is pressure for men to become women.”

    WTF?!

    You know, I usually love what I read on the GMP site, but I have to say I’m really disappointed in you guys for publishing this ignorant crap. What would possess this guy to publicly spout an opinion about Gloria Steinem’s views or philosophy when he’s never read any of her work and doesn’t even know who she is??

    Again, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so ignorant (as in factually incorrect), so poorly written, or with such an anti-feminist undertone as this article on your site before. For the record, I didn’t even have to look at a picture of this author to know he was white and male – he writes like a person who lives in a bubble of privilege. (Hmm…I think I just answered my above question.)

  2. Ron Ron Ron says:

    Can women do what men do? No, not one female separatist community has managed to move off the grid and and actually separate. I’m aware that’s sexist, I’m just sick of hearing feminist bs.

  3. Jfpbookworm says:

    I think a relevant question is “how can we celebrate this ‘polarity’ (assuming we want to) without enforcing it?” Presumably equality means more than the “freedom” to be regarded as inferior for not conforming to gender roles.

  4. “The world exists and prospers through the tension and excitement of polarity. The interplay between masculine and feminine is one of the key drivers of society. To flatten this out with a distortion of the concept of equality is to damage society in a dangerous way. America is a society that is in danger of losing its way. There is pressure for women to become men and, most worryingly, there is pressure for men to become women.”

    I completely agree with this. and I agree with the message that equality is about living the life that best suits your characteristics with freemdom, without being opressed for it. Whether that’s classically masculine or feminine or not.

  5. Steinem is wrong. Women can’t do what men can do. Women cannot father a child (any more than men can get pregnant and give birth), nor can they be fathers. No matter how hard feminists try they will never succeed in making the sexes interchangabe, with the end goal of convincing all of society that males are inferior. She can’t fool all the people all the time.

  6. This whole article is a straw man argument.

    Gloria Steinem never said men and women have to do exactly the same things and people shouldn’t be free to be who they are—quite the opposite. They should have the freedom to do whatever they want. Women can (not have to) do what men can do and men can (not have to) do what women do.

  7. “I have never heard of Gloria Steinem and am not aware of the work she has done.”
    Then it is incredibly foolish to write about her as if you know what you are speaking of, isn’t it? Let me introduce you to a research tool of mine I like to call Teh Google. With it, a person can go from complete ignorance about a person of note to being moderately well-informed if they are simply willing to invest half an hour of reading time. That, however, may just screw up their pre-planned “silly Americans are just stupid” theme.

    Some quotes from Ms. Steinem that gives a bit more insight into her thinking:
    1) I’ve yet to be on a campus where most women weren’t worrying about some aspect of combining marriage, children, and a career. I’ve yet to find one where many men were worrying about the same thing.
    2) No man can call himself liberal, or radical, or even a conservative advocate of fair play, if his work depends in any way on the unpaid or underpaid labor of women at home, or in the office.
    3) We’ll never solve the feminization of power until we solve the masculinity of wealth.
    4) We’ve begun to raise daughters more like sons… but few have the courage to raise our sons more like our daughters.

    The ignorance of the author is inexcusable. If he wants to talk about how much better things are in the UK, that’s fine. But there is no need to build a strawman attack against a person the author admits he knows nothing about. Is this what the “GOOD” in “Good Men Project” means? That we blindly attack someone without finding out what they actually believe?

  8. Why is it that in discussions of feminisim, outliers & fringe folks like Gloria S. are discussed?

    Feminism, at its core, is the belief in social equality for women. That’s it.

    Wanting social equality for women doesn’t mean wanting to do social harm to men. Man hating does not = feminism.

  9. “There is pressure for women to become men and, most worryingly, there is pressure for men to become women.”

    I guess I would like to know why it is more worrying that there is pressure for men to become women than it is for women to become men.

  10. Logoskaieros says:

    Steinem is speaking culturally, not biologically. We know women can inhabit the social roles that men inhabit (being head of a household, holding public leadership positions, etc), but as a society, we are still squirmy thinking that men can take on socially feminine roles (being nurturing parents, taking care of very young children, etc.)

    Think about why it’s so weird/scary to think about (straight/cis) men being feminine. Why is the masculine/feminine polarity WORTH upholding. As the OP said, “we should do the work or live the life that is most in tune with our character.” Why do we consider our gender to be so intimately tied up with our identity?

    Think about why “manly” is a compliment but “girly” is an insult.

    I was going to start reading this website regularly, but this post was incredibly low quality. Next time you have someone write on Steinem, you might want to find someone who HAS heard of one of the biggest icons in second wave American feminism. Lol.

    • I agree with most of your post, but the first sentence strikes me as odd. Steinem said “We know that women can do what men can do, but we don’t know that men can do what women can do.”

      How do you know that she is only referencing society? Who is the “we” in this statement? When someone says “we,” that person is usually including hisself/herself in with everyone else!

  11. wellokaythen says:

    Perhaps America is in danger of “losing its way.” I wonder what exactly that means and what the evidence is for comparing and contrasting today with earlier periods.

    The “America is losing its way” is a tried-and-true rhetorical flourish going strong into its third century now and will probably continue indefinitely. It is very popular when talking about gender issues and looking at current day social crises. (Or what appear to be crises.) It is incredibly easy to suggest a golden age when everything was the way it should be, when there was a clear path, when there was a successful unified “way of doing things,” before Those Bad People and Their Bad Ism ruined everything. I think when you really look at dependable historical evidence, this “decline and fall” argument looks not so clear. There’s a similar set of illusions on the left as well, about the good old days of the 60’s when students stopped wars and music really was rebellion, before everyone sold out. Yeah, right.

    I think the idea of bipolarity-in-tension is intriguing, and there is no doubt an element of truth to this. But, I think the scholarship and research about gender shows pretty clearly that it’s very subjective to think of “male” and “female” as polar opposites. That’s just one way to look at it. Leaving aside for a moment the possibility (and I think reality) of there being more than two genders.

    Even if you think gender theory is a bunch of baloney (like I do sometimes), it’s simply poor logic to define two very different things as opposites. Assuming there are only two of something, and assuming these two things are very different, does not mean that they are actually opposites of each other, nor does it mean they are on opposite poles. If I have a red pen and a blue pen and no other pens on my desk, that does not mean that red is the opposite of blue. The two pens are not on opposite poles from each other.

    This whole idea that men and women are opposites of each other is terribly tired and overdone.

  12. Graham, if you sit in your wheel-house and only do what’s comfortable for you to do, you don’t learn anything about yourself. Being a well-rounded individual is probably a better goal. That exciting polarity can exist within one person.
    Logo- You are so right about the compliment “manly” VS the insult of “girly”.

    • Being called “girly” is not an insult if you’re a girl. Nor is manly an insult if you’re a man. Evidently within feminist theory girly men are just as desirable as manly ones but Gloria and the feminist movement are going to have a time convincing non-feminists (~ 75% of women) that their preference for manly men over girly men is misplaced gender bias and that if they are called as manly when they’ve dressed up nicely it’s (according to this argument) a compliment.

      • Gloria and the feminist movement are going to have a time convincing non-feminists (~ 75% of women) that their preference for manly men over girly men is misplaced gender bias
        Or feminist women, egs. look at the none girlymen gloria has been involved with. Or The feminist sensitive weepy new-man construct of the late80s, quickly abandoned

  13. This is a bizarre and confused article. What kind of educated person writing about gender has never heard of Gloria Steinem?

    • Well, apparently, that would be the British kind who lives in Spain… I dunno…

      • It’s like me writing a blog post about, I don’t know, the British socialist labor movement (which I know absolutely nothing about) based on a comedian’s talk show interview with one of the key historical leaders of the movement, saying that I have never heard of him and I don’t really know what he was talking about, but then I go ahead and give a lot of advice about how the Brits got this socialism thing all wrong.

    • Just an aside – I’m sure there’s plenty of “educated people writing about gender” who have little or no knowledge about US politics or US feminism; just like I’m sure there’s plenty of “educated people writing about gender” in the US who are ignorant about key feminist figures in Sweden, Germany, Italy, or even the UK.

      Remember – having your culture be the “world culture” is also privilege.

  14. America is a society that is in danger of losing its way. There is pressure for women to become men and, most worryingly, there is pressure for men to become women.

    Seen from continental Europe, it sounds more like the UK is lost in the age of Victoria. It’s indeed true that we are different, have different wants, desires, and abilities. And we should live according to that, rather that all try to be the same. But why you want to tie those difference to gender baffles me. I’ll much rather pick what is right for me based on who I am than based on my gender. It’s time to realize that that the empire is no more, and that men can change diapers.

  15. So the author admits to not knowing Steinem or the breadth and body of her work. Interesting premise to even start an article. Then ends the article by critiquing the host of a tv show, that is political satire, for mocking its guest.

    This article is pointless, and its author clueless.

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