Thursday, April 1, 2010

Piece of Advice #15: Soften

If what is masculine is hard, harsh, strong, tough - and historically we have been drawn to those adjectives to describe men we think of as manly or heroic - then it makes sense that what is feminine is soft.

Soft hair, soft skin, soft curves, soft voice, soft words, soft manner.  Tactile, touchable, comforting, nurturing.  Imagine a mother, the ideal mother.  Your ideal mother.  She may look a little more respectable, a little less boudoir-ish than Thisbe on the left there, but she would be soft, wouldn't she?  She would kiss you, her child, and rumple your hair, and she wouldn't fret over the smudgy fingerprints you get on her shirt.  You would touch her and it would feel nice, comfortable.  You would lean into her and she would not pull away.  She would soften against you.

Ultimately what is feminine is maternal - either there already or meant to get there soon.  A girl's body develops into a woman's body with an express biological purpose, to bear children and perpetuate the race.  Pregnancy, nursing, caring for small children, caring for a husband - the adult female's job is to blunt the harshness of the world so her children, temporarily cushioned, can survive and flourish.  And yet today women are are not encouraged to be soft or develop the nurturing parts of their personality.

Women are told to "strive" and "break through the glass ceiling" and ignore or deny the limitations of the female body entirely.  Softness is for weaklings and doormats.  Hands-on mothering is for losers who can't hack it in the real world or who are too stupid for useful work.  Marriage is mutual striving toward common goals, and not for complementing each others' natural gifts and vulnerabilities.  Real men shouldn't need soft women.  A man with a quiet wife or a solicitous wife is a man with obvious inadequacies, one who can't hack keeping up with a real woman.  Do we really believe this?

Modern conceptions of beauty - at least those reflected back from the media - are of androgyny and shellacked brittleness.  Hair is teased and sprayed, nails are tiny carapaces glued to hands made useless for any work that demands touching.  Makeup is sharply defined and smudge-free.  The women who stare back at us from magazine covers are posed uncomfortably and look like women advertising their wares.  There is a toughness, a "Like what you see?" in every image: a challenge.

Women, the world has enough hardness, enough challenge from men.  Domestic discourse doesn't need another strident voice.  We need to soften, to show there is value and import in caring and caretaking.  If every adult  is out fighting the war, the village falls apart from neglect.  If the battle should be won, there will be nothing to return triumphant to, only abandoned children and ashes.

15 comments:

  1. grerp, I just wanted to say thanks for writing all these. I saw your comments on another blog and clicked on yours. Your advice is awesome. I'm a forty five year old man with a sixteen year old daughter. My wife is of an American ethnicity which is much more traditional than average- probably why I married her and had children- so she has been raised not to chase most of the common American feminine goals, but every little bit helps. I've given her your blog site to peruse. Thanks again and please keep posting.

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  2. Vincent Ignatius - Thanks for visiting and for your comment. I am naturally pretty pessimistic, but I think of that story where a man is walking along a beach throwing clams back in the water so they won't die. Someone asks him why he bothers, he can't possibly make a difference to the clams. He tells them he made a difference to that clam he just threw back in.

    Cheesy, but...

    I don't think that we can fix the situation, but I think that individuals can have happier lives if they act more honorably to each other. I'm advising women because that's the perspective I know best (and because I can't presume to tell men what to do).

    Anonymous - I'm so glad you are finding this stuff useful and I hope your wife and daughter will too. Thanks so much for telling me.

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  3. grerp, I really love this post! The problem is rooted in a feminist ideology that insists women and men do not differ. To me, the idea is so obviously wrongheaded that I'm amazed it took hold in our culture to the extent that it did.

    I believe that women want to be soft, and we need to make sure we give them permission to do that. We were told we could have it all, but most of us didn't want it all. I chose softness and it's the best decision I ever made. I hope I've taught my two children how a woman can be soft and strong at the same time.

    One other thing - men want soft women. If a woman wants to marry and have a family, she would do well to soften and embrace femininity, IMO.

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  4. Global EnterpriseApril 5, 2010 at 4:53 PM

    The problem is, MANY men would just take advantage of "soft" women.

    I've lived in regions where women are "soft" and they are often taken all kinds of advantage of, even from their in-laws, or ESPECIALLY from their in-laws.

    Soft is alright. But everyone needs a marketable skill so they can support themself.

    Also, not all women want to have children. I don't have any maternal instinct. I like kids and babies, as long as they belong to someone else and I can return them at the end of the day.

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  5. "The problem is, MANY men would just take advantage of "soft" women."
    I totally agree with this. If I weren't smart and determined not to become bitter from my experiences, I would have been fucked over a zillion times from Sunday by men who would take advantage of my softness.

    Also, no offense, but you married at a relatively young age and don't work. What exactly are the women who don't have a partner and who are in the workplace supposed to do? It becomes very difficult to "soften" when being masculine is how you keep your job & means of supporting yourself. You become partly what you do, especially in male-dominated fields. If you gave some advice on HOW we can turn the aggressiveness off at home, that would be more useful. Everyone seems to have this advice, but no one is able to say how to put it into practice.

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    1. Most of us men do that because we've been trained to treat you like men, not women. and men are so constantly taken advantage of by bitchy women (thanks o the totalitarian court system) that men figure, "Well, there aren't any real women out there so screw them" (literally and figuratively). It's a vicious circle. Guess where all of this that comes from....Feminism.

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  6. Global Enterprise - I think moderation is often the key. Also, I would not necessarily equate soft with weak. A strong person can choose a soft or moderated approach and often get a better response.

    Women who don't care to have children can live their lives largely on their own terms as long as they can provide for themselves. The rules of self-preservation would be much simpler for them: work hard, save your money, be honest with your neighbors and coworkers, avoid physically dangerous situations, etc. Percentage wise, though, I think it is only a small segment of the female population who never want children and never change their minds. I can't speak to everyone.

    2nd Anonymous - I worked in a variety of jobs until I was nearly 34 and had my son to care for. Some of these environments were less than ideal, although I've never worked in a male-dominated profession. Those professions, however, tend to pay better and have higher status, so there are perks to being forced to use a masculine facade or to become less feminine.

    You have a point that the advice here is perhaps more romantic than practical. I will think more about what a pragmatic approach to softening would be and post later.

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  7. "Also, I would not necessarily equate soft with weak. A strong person can choose a soft or moderated approach and often get a better response."
    Right, but I think that's a different point than the one you made in your blog. What I think you're talking about in your blog is feminine softness, which is defined by being maternal, nurturing, vulnerable, and emotional. Those last two are the big ones. It is extremely hard to be vulnerable and let your emotions go with men when often they take advantage of that. That's what I meant. If there is a practical way to do these things without leaving yourself so exposed for potential devastation, I would most certainly like to know it. Because that's when women become hardened and cold, like men, when they've been deeply hurt and have determined that it will not happen to them again.

    "Although I've never worked in a male-dominated profession. Those professions, however, tend to pay better and have higher status, so there are perks to being forced to use a masculine facade or to become less feminine."
    Right, so you're implying that because I make more money than you, I get what's coming to me because I am not soft? As you said, society incentivizes women to become masculine for financial & status gain. And what if I just happen to like finance or engineering? Again, I want to ask you what a solution is, not to encourage young women not to go into male-dominated fields.

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  8. "Right, so you're implying that because I make more money than you, I get what's coming to me because I am not soft? As you said, society incentivizes women to become masculine for financial & status gain. And what if I just happen to like finance or engineering? Again, I want to ask you what a solution is, not to encourage young women not to go into male-dominated fields.


    Anonymous ,
    I'm not saying you get what's coming to you. I'm saying there is a trade off. Say there are three factors to a job (and of course there are far more than three):

    pay
    personal satisfaction
    ability to express your feminine nature

    If you are working in a traditionally male field you may get a lot of the first two and very little of the last. A stay at home mother gets nothing of the first and may get more of the latter two. There are no perfect jobs, and actually compared to working in the salt mines or getting blown up on the battlefield, both seem pretty good to me.

    This sounds like another version of the "It's not fair" argument. But nothing in life is fair. I feel blessed to even have choices when so many people in the world have none.

    My advice would be to ask yourself what is causing your anger/dissatisfaction and either address that issue if you can or decide you can live with it unaddressed if you can't. Or quit your job. I don't think you can magically flip a switch and turn off a harder persona when you clock out. It's a learned survival mechanism and becomes a part of you over time.

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  9. "pay
    personal satisfaction
    ability to express your feminine nature

    If you are working in a traditionally male field you may get a lot of the first two and very little of the last. A stay at home mother gets nothing of the first and may get more of the latter two. There are no perfect jobs, and actually compared to working in the salt mines or getting blown up on the battlefield, both seem pretty good to me.

    This sounds like another version of the "It's not fair" argument. But nothing in life is fair. I feel blessed to even have choices when so many people in the world have none."

    I agree with you that things aren't fair, but I have to say that they're more fair now than they used to be. Women can have careers, many work and lead fulfilling lives outside of the home if they choose to.

    If every woman had your viewpoint about being feminine and not working in male-dominated fields because it hardens you, you wouldn't have those choices between a career or a stay at home wife. You wouldn't have any choices at all because you'd be owned by your husband -- there would be no women's rights. It seems to me like you're pining for a time when a lot of women were abused and had a lot less freedom than we do now.

    I am asking you for advice on how the modern woman can fit herself into a changed society while remaining feminine. Progress has never stopped and the lines between men and women will only blur further in the future. What would be useful are ideas on how to navigate the future, not rely on old tactics that don't really work and fit our present.

    I just read in another post that you have no advice for career or for women who choose male-dominated fields or anything other than what you've chosen as a woman in a very feminine field / stay at home mom (which is becoming further and further a minority in the US).

    I just don't see what use your advice is for people who lie squarely outside your own choices.

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  10. I think that everyone should be more open to compromise both women and men. My parents have been together for almost 30 years and I was raised in one of the most stable loving households I know. I think the reason for this was that my Dad let my mom handle the household things, and was quick not to argue, and in turn my mom was quick to admit she was wrong as well. Most importantly both were able to laugh about whatever argument they had after the fact. Combativeness doesn't equal a good relationship, on either side of the coin.

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  11. This post is a nice counterpoint to the endless advice to young college/career women, which is normally "nice girls don't get ahead! You need to be meaner, crueler, less apologetic and more badass!" (with the feminist refrain "just like the boys are!")

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  12. regarding the April 7 post from "Anonymous":

    The crux of your complaint is, as grerp points out, that life isn't fair. As we agree, it's not...and never will be.

    It's a false dichotomy to say that if women don't go into masculine careers then women will revert to a status of "being owned by their husbands". There's a large area between those two sides with tons of options between.

    You're overstating how few careers there are outside of male-dominated industries. There are female-dominated industries that provide millions of jobs and salaries sufficient to support one-self. Education and health care, for example, are possibly the most ubiquitous career fields in the US. There are women-owned and -friendly small business such as a hand-bag company I've worked with.

    If "the lines between men and women will only blur futher in the future" we're going to see even more unhappiness and anomie, as a sociologist would put it. Happiness has increased since women entered the workforce (I'm not against working women, just pointing out poll data).

    We are bound, to an extent, by our biological drives. You can try and adapt to your current field, but as your post hints it's not something that comes without serious tradeoffs. It's not something that will change within our lifetimes.

    Lastly, want to add insight as a man who's fairly "alpha" and doing well financially. Working in a male-dominated field is a big red flag for a lot of guys. There are a lot of reasons for this, but that would be a long post in itself.

    I really feel for women in this struggling with this, I'm sure it can't be easy.

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  13. "Happiness has increased since women entered the workforce..."

    Meant to say that happiness has decreased since many women started to work in the 1960's

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  14. I love your opinions. You are standing out, but not alone. I am savoring each one of your posts. This is the first one I have commented on. The art of softness in a woman is truly a becoming a lost one. Your post has made me stop myself in many situations in these past days. I have analyzed how I could respond and how I should respond. The way I SHOULD respond is in a more soft and kind way. Your thoughts have changed my approach to life. Thanks.

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