Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Up and Down We Go

Remember when you were little and you'd play see-saw with an older child and they'd lift you way off the ground, but you couldn't do the same? And remember how it felt when your legs were just long enough to sit comfortably with the see-saw in balance? Awesome. What a great feeling it was to be balanced. Just scant weeks later you'd be too tall to do this. But then, you were taller than some other hapless toddler and in an odd sense a different kind of balance took hold. What was once small became big. Where you were once the weaker, you were now the stronger.

My husband and I have been embroiled in a weeks-long analysis of the power struggle between men and women. Up and down, back and forth we go. Sometimes, I find myself agreeing that some of the changes that have empowered women have come at the expense of men. I agree not so much because I believe women have taken power from men but because I understand that men feel that way.

Other times, I find myself mired in defensiveness and suspicion. It's fair to say I've experienced my fair share of damage and devaluation at the hands of what I perceive to be a man-powered world. From a human point of view, I sympathize. Especially in the workforce, women can seem to be more dynamic and capable. We're the new black, as it were. But making women flavor-of-the-month isn't exactly fair to the men.

Men got us here. They built the big buildings, paved all the roads. They laid the foundation, built the bridges. Obama's plan to rebuild and rehabilitate America is geared to an infrastructure that was all man-made. Obama himself is a man. Men established our system of government, by far the best in the world. Men have farmed for us, fed us, driven us, propelled us, gone to the ends of the earth and all the way into space for us. They have fathered our children, supported our families, held us close and lifted us up. They have fought and died for all of humanity. Ghandi? Churchill? Denzel? These are all men. Love 'em. Big fan. That's why I got one that was just right for me.

But from a woman's point of view, I'm still smitten with the idea of getting equal pay for equal work. I'm still looking to have a client meeting with my husband where the clients don't turn to my husband after I speak to see if he's nodding assent or not. I'm hopeful that some day, I'll have a meaningful conversation with a male counterpart where I don't see him doing the approval scan of my upper body and then the disapproval scan of the rest of me. I don't care if a man finds me attractive. I care if he treats me with the respect and courtesy I deserve as a person.

In fact, I'll admit that one of the things that most attracted me to my husband was that he was nowhere near intimidated by my strength of character. He seemd to rather like it instead. Our relationship seemed balanced right from the start. He was strong in areas where I had weaknesses, and I was steadier in areas where he needed some support. I loved that. I still do. I think it's sexy as hell that he can have a powerful woman as a mate and still be a powerful man in his own right.

Nonetheless, as we argue our respective points on the issue of men versus women, our gender allegiences are illuminating cracks in the balance veneer we wear. That's o.k. I find the more light that shines through our facades the more, truly, I love us. I love that we talk about things, argue, huff and puff, and then come right back to one another. I love that he values me enough to talk to me, and I love that he's man enough to treat the power struggle intellectually instead of in a more brutish (and more traditionally masculine) way.

And as he articulates the hurt a man can feel when he loses sight of his place in the world, I am brought closer to him. As I lend my perspective on a future where the struggle is less virulent and fairness is the permanent doctrine, he finds me. Up and down we go, back and forth, finding balance in love that is true and honest and real.