Snake Bloomstrand tries his best to explain the new playbook of gender relations to a man released from prison after 35 years.
I’ve been speaking with a modern day Rip Van Winkle who has awakened after 35 years to find a world transformed. He’s exploring a futuristic world of cell phones, Internet, e-mail, and texting.
He is finding it all a little overwhelming. Rip spent the last 35 years in prison.
When he was sentenced, a computer was the size of a small car. He missed “Woman’s Liberation” and the social catharsis that men and women have weathered the last several decades. Men serving long sentences in prison had other things to think about; they didn’t keep up with the gender wars.
He has a girlfriend. They’re living together. It’s not going well.
“Women have changed,” he shared. “What happened?”
Where do I even begin to explain?
Rip’s girlfriend called him a “Neanderthal” after he insisted she have dinner ready after work each day. (They both work full-time.) “It seemed like an reasonable request,” he explained
Rip is a formidable man, hard muscled from years of prison-yard exercise, expertly tattooed. He could stand toe to toe with any man.
It broke my heart to see him so confused and vulnerable as he mumbled, “My Mom always cooked.”
He loves this woman and wants to do right by her, but the male/female playbook he knew in the 60’s and 70’s was discarded while he was in prison.
“Help me understand,” he pleaded. “She told me to cook my own damn dinner if I wanted to eat.”
He was genuinely offended by her response. “Did you make dinner?” I asked. “Yeah! I was hungry. Now she says we should take turns cooking and shopping.”
Rip held his hands up in a gesture of surrender.
Money has also become an issue. They opened a joint bank account intending to share living expenses. Rip insisted on complete control of the account. “My father managed the money in our house and gave my mother an allowance. When I suggested we do the same she laughed at me. She wants an equal say in how we spend our money. What should I tell her?” he asked.
I suggested he agree to sharing control of their finances.
“You’re joking,” he replied. “Really?”
It seemed like a no brainer to me, but I’ve been boiling in the pot of equality for years. I see the benefit. I can barely remember when things were any different.
Rip is walking unfamiliar ground. The thought of consulting with his girlfriend before spending money was a serious blow to his sense of masculine pride. “I’ll be damned if I’m going to ask her permission before I spend five dollars,” Rip stubbornly announced.
“We’ve had a few arguments,” he admitted. “She has her own opinions on a lot of things and my opinions don’t seem to convince her otherwise.”
“That sounds about right,” I commented. “You want a woman with her own opinions and a willingness to speak them, right?”
“To be honest, I’d rather she just agreed with me,” he said. “It’d be a lot easier.”
“If you want easy, get a dog. A co-dependent breed like a black lab,” I suggested. “If you want a loving relationship with a woman then consider what she has to say. You might be surprised.”
“What do you mean?” he asked.
I explained. “The Neanderthal approach to women made for a lot of angry, resentful women. Do you want to live with an angry woman?”
“What do you want?” I asked.
“I just want a peaceful life and a woman who loves me.” Rip answered.
He stared at his shoes, then added: “I’d like to feel respected. I watch how men and women interact today and I don’t see much respect. Maybe I’ve lived with men too long.
“In prison, respect was a life or death commodity. The strong men earned respect and the weak suffered. Maybe I have become a Neanderthal?”
“I’ll level with you Rip,” I said, “The fact you and I are having this conversation proves you aren’t a Neanderthal. Women and men have changed. The world has changed. It does sound like you both want the same thing. Respect is the strongest foundation for any relationship.
“Demanding dinner, insisting on control of money and expecting her to agree with your opinions doesn’t sound like respect.
“Are you unwilling or unable?”
“What do you mean?” Rip glared at me.
“Are you unwilling or unable to respect her? Are you willing to respect and value the woman you say you love?” I asked.
“I thought I was!” He shot back angrily, “I just thought…”
Most everything he learned is now an outdated relic to relationships past. Thinking won’t help him. Rip and I speak every week, our conversations circle around one question.
What does it mean to live as a man or woman in a changed world? I’ve tried to explain the past four decades best I can.
Rip’s unique awakening shows how much has changed and how much remains the same. Despite the erosion of gender or racial stereotypes, and the whispers of equality that we hear, our culture remains fiercely divided. In the spirit of being “fair, we’ve attempted to legislate equality, and to guarantee access and equal rights. Yet, we unconsciously cling to stereotypes and old expectations.
Man or woman, we still share something in common.
We each have a little Neanderthal inside us.
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