We have serious excesses of male power and energy on display. And we have a pushback in which can be seen some of the wisdom of Madame du Deffand when she told Voltaire that women are never stronger than when they arm themselves with their weaknesses.
There are characteristic near-symmetries in tension here, and the tensions unleashed from their pent up state has us frazzled, with some seeing the arc of history against patriarchy and others seeing signs of a classic moral panic.
The current moment pushes me away from certainties toward a characteristic ambivalence that is uncomfortable in the moment but which I welcome as necessary. Breathe in; breathe out; breathe in. Gain certainty; become confused; gain certainty. This is called living.
I am showing my age here but I take something of a longer view. Enthusiasms of all kinds–utopian communities, outbursts of hopeful anarchism, moments of perceived sexual freedom and moments of intense sexual prurience–tend to burn out. Western New York was hot with religious enthusiasms of all types in the early 1800s until it got too hot and was “burned over.” What was left behind?
It is fine to object to the excesses of male energies and moral panics, and it is OK to worry about the damage energies and panics will do as they run zir course. But take some time, too, to reflect on the nature of the system that gives rise to such zeal.
The morbid symptoms of an infection are not fun to look at but they evidence the body trying to get itself well again. There are an infinite number of ways to die, and while there is not one way to be healthy, good health is not an infinite thing, and will evidence itself within a certain range of conditions, with those conditions reflecting a kind of bounded interplay between things that can vary.
In the current situation we are dealing with the highly variable issues of sex, gender and power–these are the things that interact with one another, sometimes in volatile ways. How they interact, and the nature of the bounded interplay, can sometimes get out of line. An infection-fighting response is called for.
Our wealthy world, shielded from elemental disruptions for the lifetimes of most in it, too easily considers that it is is ordered, like turtles, all the way down. It is not. We are guided by laws and mannered directives from the human resource departments and then are shocked shocked when the system gets suddenly very tippy, and we are lurched in unexpected directions. We are sick, but perhaps we are getting better.
So what will the world look like then this current set of enthusiasms die down? What will our “burnt over” state look like?
Well, I doubt it will look like The Handmaid’s Tale. But neither do I think it will represent the opposite, and that we are seeing the creation of female tyranny and permanent warlock hunts. Men who worry overly about this should have a bit more confidence in the intractability of the male-female polarity, and that the somewhat predictable tensions it sets off are not about to go away.
My tentative prediction at the moment?
As the knotty issues get worked through women will find themselves successful in containing excess male enthusiasms but may not be as successful in creating a utopian state in which gender equality is the norm and familiar gender conundrums do not exist. The furious tensions of the moment will give way to a new but still familiar equilibrium. Not an equality. A tentative equilibrium only, one that will appear somewhat stable and which will for a time wobble less, but will eventually wobble more once again.
Men may be invited to walk more softly–but will they give up the big stick? Likely not.
In turn if not in consequence women may be invited to accept a kind of bargain. It may once again become a truth universally acknowledged that no one can truly have their cake and eat it too. This is called, variously, tragedy, comedy, drama, farce and life.
Perhaps these are just the reflections of someone who grew up in an era of more traditional gender roles, and who thinks that the swinging of the pendulum will bring us back to a world that would be more familiar to my parents. Could be.
If I am relatively sure of anything it is this: that while issues that partake of polarities are fought out by the different poles, with the energies supplied by the edges, in the end all change is understood best as a dynamic between the poles.
But who knows? As my parents quite often said to me, we’ll see. It is one of life’s little ironies that people with less time left sometimes are more willing to let time take its course.