University of Texas head Coach Charlie Strong’s list of core values provides a great foundation for his student-athletes. Number five on Coach Strong’s list is, “Treat women with respect.” Way-to-go Coach! The insufficient attention to, and commitment to fix the sexual assault problem on and off campus, is disgraceful. I believe that says a lot, in general, about men’s beliefs and attitudes. Guys, this one’s for you.
It’s taken me time to overcome my natural bias against females. I say “natural” ironically, since there’s nothing natural about male superiority. Bias against women is taught and learned within a culture. It’s not innately part of being a man, since there are examples, albeit few, of matrilineal cultures. Thankfully, our society is changing in this regard. For example, it’s no longer considered strange for a woman to keep her maiden name upon marriage.
In the society of my youth, boys were taught early that physical prowess and emotional detachment were the keys to success for a man (unfortunately, this is often still the case). Mom, like most women of her generation, quietly supported my father’s career and life choices. My sister, my only sibling, is 14 years younger than I. So, equality of the sexes was not necessarily something I learned growing up. In fact, it wasn’t until after several failed relationships that my eyes were opened to a woman’s needs. I learned the proper behaviors for a man, which did not include being inattentive and selfish. And eventually I tired of maintaining a persona that requires maintaining a stiff upper lip and keeping a measured distance between me and others. Those changes allowed me to advance my thoughts and adjust my actions. Having daughters finished my education. I learned that a father needs to be especially careful in the example he sets for his daughter – her views on men will be based on how she comes to know her father.
Talking about equality naturally brings up the pay issue, which is certainly justified. However, I’m confident that women will eventually get workplace equality. During my career, I’ve been fortunate to have worked for and with many strong women. There is noticeably less competitiveness, as there is among men, and those woman-to-man job relationships have worked out pretty well for me. I’ve found that giving women a bit of deferential treatment, when possible, sets a good tone. That in and of itself has its rewards when I need help.
I’m not suggesting that we men should put women on a pedestal. Each woman has her own set of character flaws, just like each of us men. A man might say, “Hey, I put up with this and that all the time.” But fellas, tolerance does not equate to respect. Respecting women requires patience, admiration, consideration, compassion, and good manners. What I ask is that you picture all the women you know and all you meet in this way – she is some man’s daughter, often she is someone’s mother, and could possibly be a grandmother. A woman feels respected when you remove her fear. We men cannot imagine what it must feel like to view nearly every other person they encounter as a potential physical threat. I’m ashamed that I can walk along the street in my neighborhood at night without worrying about being attacked, but that most women cannot. The truly manly thing to do is respect women.
In case you haven’t read about Coach Strong’s other core values, they include “No drugs, no guns, no stealing, and be honest.” Most of us would agree those rules are fairly obvious requirements for all young men. I’m hoping the day comes soon when number five becomes just as obvious.
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Michael Brown is an education consultant and former teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.