I was at a grocery store the other day. This is unusual for me because I tend to go through my day with a mindset based on limiting my interactions with other people. Unlike many people I see little value in conversing with someone between classes, inquiring into other customers purchases at the gas station or talking to a store clerk before making a purchase. It’s not that I don’t suffer from some degree of self doubt – indeed, I’m sure I do – rather I don’t see the value in most peoples opinions. I don’t need that extra reassurance that I am in fact buying the correct brand of consumer goods and I certainly don’t care how your day is going. It’s nothing personal if you happen to be one of the unfortunate souls that likes to inquire into my day or make chit-chat between classes, it’s just that there is little of value that you could say to me that would fundamentally change my day. A pat on the back isn’t going to make my next class go any faster and your recommendations on my purchases won’t make me feel better in any way, shape or form.
As I looked to complete my journey to the grocery store on this particular day I found myself facing a choice. There were three checkout lanes open and one was busy leaving me with a choice between the other two checkout lanes. One of the checkout lanes had a male cashier, the other had a female cashier, which one do you think I picked? My choice of cashier was likely the same as any other mans choice of cashier would be in this situation. This is what I call the Quasi Wu-Tang Hypothesis. In their famous song: C.R.E.A.M. the Wu-Tang Clan puts forth the idea that “cash rules everything around me,” but I would submit that cash only rules everything around you in a gender-neutral environment and that therefore gender rules everything around me. If cash ruled everything around me I wouldn’t put any thought into which cashier I visited on my way out of the grocery store, but given the option of a man or a young woman the choice became important. Put simply: men behave differently around women, I don’t think there’s any denying that and undoubtedly women behave differently around men. I would suggest however that men behaving differently around women has a greater social impact than women behaving differently around men because men assign a higher social value to talking with women than women do in talking with men.
When I went to the grocery store I made a choice to go to the checkout clerk that happened to be a young woman and I highly doubt that I was the only one to make that decision based on that limited social factor. Now if her line had been longer than the mans I might have made a different decision, this is to say that convenience also played into my decision making process. The choice was made however on gender and primarily on gender alone. Consider another situation: I was walking to class the other day and a man from one of my classes that was later in the day asked me what the reading assignment was. I told him to look on the syllabus partly because I don’t like it when people don’t do their homework but also because he was a man. A few hours later I was asked the same question by a woman and I thought to myself: “if I give her the same response that I gave that other fellow I’m going to feel bad.” Why should I feel bad because I failed to give her the same information I had refused to give a man in almost the exact same situation? Gender. As a man I am pre-disposed to act in a nicer and gentler manner towards a woman than I would towards a man. Is this sexist behavior? Absolutely, but society rarely faults us for it.
I wondered the other day if my noticeably different behavior towards women had anything to do with the fact that I have fewer male friends now than I did say ten years ago. I think the obvious answer is yes and I would further state that I think we look at the world with gender bias to our own peril. Objectivity is an illusory idea in my mind. I simply don’t believe it’s attainable. True objectivity exists in the mind of idealists in the world and uniformly with them alone. Society reinforces my gender bias by saying that equality is something that we must strive for. By saying that we must work towards a more equal society is to implicitly state that our society is, by default, unequal. Obviously I agree with that sentiment as is evidenced by my previous behavior, but not everyone does. As is evidenced here and here and can be read almost daily here, there are plenty of websites, blogs and undoubtedly plenty of more real world people who believe that men treat women with far too much kindness. I find this argument intriguing for a number of different reasons, but first and foremost because the writer presupposes that all men act with one and only one thing on their mind and thus act with the intention of achieving this one and only thing, that thing of course being sex. This may be the case sometimes, but nothing is true all the time.
To put this point rather bluntly I think that men treat women differently because it is in their interests to do so. Men look at relationships with women as being more important to maintain than relationships with their male friends (speaking broadly and without specific examples.) I would submit that you probably value your relationship with a woman far more than you value your relationship with any one of your male friends. I’m not saying that there is anything inherently wrong with this either, but I do wish more people would step back from the world and ask themselves: why? I treat women differently because that is how society teaches us to act and it is also how society reinforces us for positive behavior. If we hold the door open for a woman we’re a “nice guy” if we stand around holding doors open for guys we’re just “weird.” This of course presupposes a certain Freudian mindset, that we are somehow at war with our fellow man to gain the heart of our significant other. That theory would make sense if we didn’t repeat this behavior all the time towards most members of the opposite sex, but we do. If we were at war with our fellow man it wouldn’t make sense to cast such a broad net of kindness out for the people whose hearts we are trying to woo for under this theory there is only one woman for every man.
The idea that man is unnecessarily nice towards most women despite not having an endgame in mind seems almost counter-intuitive, but it is nonetheless true. Nine times out of ten a man put in my place in the grocery store is going to pick the female cashier over the male cashier and by and large men are going to act kindly towards women with frightening uniformity more or less until we die. We ought to rethink why we do this as a gender, but we shouldn’t do so in a way that encourages sexism. It’s not the fact that we’re nice to women that’s the problem, it’s the fact that we’re not so nice in our dealings with other men that’s the problem. I think we can have this discussion in a free and open environment so long as we remember that we’re not doing so with the aim of dividing people along gender lines, rather we’re doing this so that we can be better towards one another regardless of gender. Equality should be the ultimate goal in every society and the only way that we can treat each other equally is by diagnosing and fixing the areas where we treat each other differently. So let us go forth in the spirit of being good to one another and with the goal of overcoming life’s inequities not with the goal of setting one gender back one hundred years because we feel that our tolerance has gotten out of hand. It is not tolerance that is the issue mind you, it’s fairness and equality.