What part does gender equality play in my personal life?

I co-created the South Africa Project with a group of friends. We promote gender equality in order to combat rape which is a big factor in the HIV/Aids pandemic in South Africa.
I have written about the cultural aspects of Gender (In)Equality and our website talks more about it. I am passionate about the subject.

I am a proponent of balanced relationships were two equally strong partners challenge each other.

Where does that stem from? What role does gender equality play in my personal life?

Gender equality is a concept that still raises the blood pressure or the heart rate of many men in our times. There are different approaches to defend the status quo:equality

  • It’s always been like this
  • Things are easier if roles are clearly divided
  • Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars
  • No way I let a woman tell me what to do
  • Etc.

I could argue in a number of ways to explain my interest in the subject.

Being the slightly biased best friend


I developed an interest in girls at a rather young age. I wanted to have a girl friend at times when I was light years away from being able to handle a relationship. I was not confident enough to tell a girl straight forward that I really like her. My fear of rejection was too big. So I rather became friends with girls I liked. That of course was lethal for my romantic ambitions. I was just looked at as a good friend – not someone from the other side of the fence.

I stayed out of the dating game and simply observed what the other guys were doing. And in most cases it was rather appalling what I saw. I felt bad for some girls that were being treated disrespectful. I could already see some potentially abusive patterns at the horizon at that early age. I would shake my head from some of the choices some of the girls would make. Boys were cheating and bragging about it.

Since I didn’t drink I could see the piece alcohol was adding to the mix. I didn’t have the option to get drunk, each out to a woman and then claim the next morning that I didn’t exactly remember what I said the night before. That estranged me even more from some of the classic dating patterns.

At the same time I was also didn’t have the guts to step forward and show my own feelings. I was a hypocrite in commiserating with some girls about how bad guys sucked while I had a crush at the same time. I wouldn’t look at that behavior of mine as the highest from of integrity.

I was also didn’t want to stand in line with 20 others guys to reach out to one of the girls I was really attracted to. That was like an unregulated form of the bachelorette to me. What a stupid show that is!

So I could argue that I am not exactly a gender equality supporter by choice but merely by circumstances that resulted out of my own weakness. I was hiding my feelings in order not to get hurt. I was too afraid to take an uncalculated risk.

The spot I ended up with made me the perfect observer for the dynamics between boys and girls.

Standing up for me beliefs = need to be different

Let’s take a look at the non-coward version of my story (I wouldn’t go that far to call it truly authentic):

I was lucky enough to pick up a set of core values from people that where influential in my life. I don’t know if this is the perfect set. But I it provided me with a good sense of what feels right and what feels wrong for me.

I was also fortunate to connect with some girls at a rather young age. It was a time when boys and girls wouldn’t really do too many things together. At least one girl that I met over 30 years ago is still on the list of the finest people I ever met in my life.

On the other hand I was also surrounded by guys pretending to be “real” men if they’d talk derogatory about girls or women. Yes of course there were jokes we all told each other. But I couldn’t see the point to engage into a conversation that really bashed females in general. Guy talk? Yes please! Visits to the whore house? Thanks for the invite but I’ll pass…

I played soccer for almost 20 years and the locker rooms are a perfect breeding ground for trash talking. I differentiated myself from this whole school of thinking. I know I couldn’t change the other boys by arguing with them. All I could do is to try to do things a little different – for my own sake.

I have to admit that I had a brief phase around age 20 where I actually played with the guy approach for a little while. Fortunately I checked in with myself and realized that this wasn’t who I really am.

I though I was ready for the challenging route I chose for me at an age when I was clearly not there yet. In a Monopoly terms I ended up with the “Go back to start” card a few too many times;-)

I think it is important for men to acknowledge that we all have a feminine side to us as well. Some more, some less. Can we truly be in touch with ourselves if we don’t respect the feminine inside us and as a collective but rather look at it as weak and inferior? What does that tell about ourselves? Are we able to find balance and harmony this way?

Does it even work?

For me there is no alternative to how I approach relationships. I’ve always looked for strong women who can hold their own ground. I couldn’t handle someone constantly leaning on me. To me that is not validating. It is a burden I don’t want to carry.

Of course it bears great risks to be with an equally strong partner:

  1. You could have arguments that could lead to the destruction of your entire household
  2. You could think you are equally strong but in reality you are being dominated
  3. Your strength could make compromising really hard
  4. It can be very confusing because the dynamics are constantly shifting

My vision of a truly gender equal relationship is indeed much more demanding than the standard role model relationship of Western society. There is much less certainty, more discussion, more conflict, more misunderstandings, more change, more challenges.

This vision requires two partners that are differentiated and confident. Both partners need to be willing to grow at their own pace.

Warning

Finding a partner with balance of power in mind adds a whole additional layer to dating. You don’t just have to go through all your normal checkpoints of being attracted, common interests etc..
On top of that you throw out a concept that can easily estrange everyone accustomed to traditional role models.
Talking about being equal partners can raise all kind of red flags:

  • Are you maybe a wussy?
  • Are you trying to avoid responsibility?
  • What is all this confusing talk about?
  • Does this guy even know what he wants?

Women will question how much you are even ready to commit when you talk about maintaining your own life and her wanting to do the same thing. Once these doubts are on the table and the discomfort level has reached a certain point the romantic encounter is usually over.

This might not be your path. If you want to play it safe I wouldn’t necessarily recommend that route.

A wish

Now let’s go back to where we are with gender equality in public today. My vision of a relationship is really only something I can aim for. I can’t ask anyone else but my partner to go along with it.

For the world out there I’d be happy if some guys could take the steps I took 30 years ago and simply become friends with some girls or women they know and develop the courage to have an open communication with them. The amount of wisdom gathered in these conversations will make our world a much better place to live at. Peace.

Bonus comment

I am not Mr. Holiness himself. I am a man. I judge women by their looks. My mind and body works differently than that of my partner. My needs are often different from that of a woman. But I am at a place where I can openly communicate my needs without the expectation that they are always being met. A strong partner will hear me and reply in a mature way. Today I can say that I am just fine with that. Being able to take no as an answer makes me a stronger person.

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