Equal, but Different

June 9, 2002

by John K. Bates

Growing up in the 70s, many people of my generation were exposed early and often to the unwavering belief that men and women were equal. The “Equal Rights Amendment,” NOW, and media such as All in the Family and “I Am Woman” taught us that when it comes to work, home, and even such traditional “male” roles as combat and athletics, women were to be considered equal and more or less the same as men. And it worked; most men under 40 have bought into the concept of equality so much so that it is not seriously questioned in today’s culture.

Yet there is an undercurrent, something that bubbles up now and then, which most often (and surprisingly) comes from women. An example of this came last week when flying with a female companion, I was shocked to hear her exclaim that she was nervous that the pilot of the aircraft was a woman. She believes that if there were a crisis on the plane, a man would be better equipped to handle it. And my companion was not a wallflower; she is independent and strong and everything one would expect of the so-called “modern” woman. Yet in her statement, I sense cracks in the “Helen Reddy School” of modern militant feminism. Rather than insisting they must do everything alone, some women today are seeing that men are indeed better equipped to handle some things, and women are equipped better to handle others. They are equal yes – but they are different, and to pretend that differences do not exist is a growing tragedy.

There is actually much written on this subject. Author Christina Hoff Sommers has written several books on the flaws of modern feminism, and Wendy McElroy’s brilliant ifeminists.com has fresh material every week. Yet men have been largely cowed into going along with women, with “chauvinist” the most scorned label in society, save “racist.” While it is understandable and perhaps necessary that women have been the first to stand up and say that modern feminism is wrong, it is time for men to stand up and reclaim what in fact God gave them: A unique set of skills and talents that they do not share with women.

Indeed, God made man is his image – as God made woman in his image. But he gave each a different skill set. Men are warriors and providers; women are stabilizers and nurturers. Men think more than they feel; women feel more than they think. While some crossover occurs – no man lives in an emotional vacuum, and most women can stand up and fight for themselves when necessary – it is to these roles that men and women have been created. Both will always feel most satisfied when they are performing these primary duties.

It is here most of my debates with women occur. In discussions with many women over the role of family, and of the role of men and women in raising children, two irreconcilable points always come forth in the first minute or so. The first is obvious: Women want to raise children (and they are lying if they claim otherwise). The second is what I end up disputing: Women cannot only raise children and be satisfied in “modern” America. They must return as quickly as possible to the workplace, and place their children in day care, so that they will not end up “bored” and “miserable” (their words, not mine). Women have changed, and life no longer resembles Father Knows Best. The Liberated Woman has to be free from the “suffocating prison” (again, their words, not mine) of home life and out with the adults and the action of the “real world” (ditto).

This concept is indeed wrong, but is it wrong not in what women are saying, but the reasoning behind what they are saying. What modern feminism would have us believe is that women have changed, and that men will no longer “confine” them to the home. I would say instead that women have not changed - it is the modern, suburban lifestyle that has upset the social apple cart. Think of the things a homemaker had to do even 100 years ago. There was the house to upkeep, including minor repairs. There was what we would call a yard, which was her responsibility. There was clothing to mend, and food to make (from scratch, no prepackaged foods available). There was teaching and there was spiritual education. The woman of 100 years ago was not bored at home watching Oprah while dinner heated up in the microwave. She was a business manager of a very difficult but rewarding enterprise called the home.

Compare this to today’s lifestyle. Houses are modern and well constructed. Anything that goes wrong in today’s house is generally beyond the ability of the average homeowner to repair. Yards are small and grassy; fertilize them twice a year, water them twice a week and mow them when needed and you have a perfect yard. Clothing is disposable; why sew a hole in a shirt when you can go to Target and purchase a new one for 10 bucks? Food is quick, easy, and increasingly pre-prepared. There is no need for canning and preserving; every meal of every day can be bought weeks in advance and cooked within minutes.

And then there is school. Even when school first started to take children away when they reached the age of 6 or so, mothers stayed with their kids until then and gave them a tremendous head start towards formal education. Now we have backed the school system into what is misnamed “day care,” starting from the very earliest of ages, which among other things “frees up” the mother to go back to work. Day care itself – whether it is good or bad, and why some parents have little choice due to excessive taxation – is another topic for another day. But for women, day care is seen as “liberating” because it removes yet more time needed to raise kids. Indeed, some women go back to work within weeks after birth, confident that complete strangers are properly teaching their kids’ first lessons.

Not that the home education would necessarily be much better in the age of television and Nintendo. One cannot dispute that today’s parent finds it much easier – and much less time consuming – to plop Junior in front of the television with a Barney video than to sit with him and teach him valuable skills. And since the chores needed to maintain a farm or ranch are completely lost in the bland fields of suburbia, a mother is very hard pressed indeed to find enough activities to keep the average child occupied. Hence, mother is not busy and child is not busy, and life becomes “hell” for women accustomed to a far greater challenge. In some respects, it is small wonder women seek to return to the workplace.

And so…what? Life, after all, has progressed beyond the days of yore when survival was a struggle, and that is a good thing. Are we to now bash technology and to claim it a bad thing, like crackpots on the left who think we should give up our cars, computers, and houses for a more pastoral (and environmentally friendly) way of life? The technology that so enriches our lives has changed things, and in simple terms there is no going back. If this allows women to work while others raise their kids, so be it.

All true. But I would submit that many of today’s problems stem from kids being left unattended or put in the charge of those who are not their parents. Furthermore, I would speculate that one of the primary reasons for today’s astronomical divorce rate is that neither men nor women are happy with the blurring of their God-given roles. Men are made and wired to fight and to provide. Women are made to nurture. Men are unhappy when they have nothing to fight for, and women are unhappy when they give up the nurturing they were designed for. If life is simply too easy, and it says here it sometimes is, both men and women need to be aware of this and find creative ways to keep everyone occupied while keeping the kids at home. This is not to say men and women are not equal. They are. But they are also different. And we as a society need to again acknowledge this and stop pretending otherwise.


John K. Bates is a part-time freelance writer who works in the energy engineering field and lives in the Denver, Colorado area. He enjoys many outdoor pursuits and the company of his family of three cats. His columns can also be seen on CheyenneNetwork.com.

Send the author an E mail at Bates@ConservativeTruth.org.

For more of John's articles, visit his archives.

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