Battle Between the Sexes (Jul, 1964)
Battle Between the Sexes
Right from the start we train our children for a war between men and women. By Walter R. Stokes, M.D., LL.B.
Why do we have violent, humiliating conflicts between the sexes? How can we stop them?
Ideally, whether you were born male or female, there should be no real difference in your opportunity to live a full, well-rounded life.
Persons of either sex should be able to look forward to a relationship with someone of the opposite sex that will be cooperative, affectionate and enjoyable. In our society, however, this goal is reached by only a few. For a great many men and women, sexual, social and marital relations are torn by indignity, strife and trouble.
There is a traditional, thoughtless habit among many of us of stirring up hostility between the sexes from birth. Boys are preferred over girls in ways that can only antagonize girls. This makes girls feel that they are not considered to be as good human beings as boys.
Boys, in turn, find themselves burdened with the undeserved rating of being better than girls. This gives them feelings of dishonesty and discomfort. So, from childhood, the two sexes are put at odds with each other.
The situation is made worse when children are taught to be ashamed of their sexual anatomy and feelings. They grow to believe that persons of the opposite sex are alarming creatures with whom sexual contact would be dangerous. Separation of the sexes is forced upon children by continuous parental vigilance. Boys and girls are made to fear and distrust both their own sexual feelings and their curious interest in the opposite sex.
Many children arrive at their adolescent years with fear of the opposite sex. Effects of this hostility crop up when, responding to social pressures, they start dating. Their natural desire to like one another is suppressed by suspicion, anxiety, and an uneasy confusion about desirable sex qualities.
Copying movie queens and their phoney sex behavior, girls affect artificial “glamour” costume and makeup to captivate and exploit boys. Boys are expected to regard girls as merely tempting sex objects. Neither sex is able to see the other in a natural, comfortable, affectionate light, or to deal with sexual attraction in an open, socially effective way.
This confusion of youngsters about sex often accompanies them to the wedding. They enter matrimony with dreamy, romantic ex- pectations which temporarily submerge their doubts and fears. After marriage, the great anticipations quickly collapse, and are followed by disillusion and release of stored-up bitterness.
Everyday examples of sex antagonism can be seen all around us. It is common to hear even recently-married couples belittling one another. Often we hear one spouse express contempt for some quality he or she dislikes in the marital partner with, “Oh, men (or women) are like that!” or “That is a man (or woman) for you!”
What is needed at such times is patient consideration and a quiet effort really to understand one’s partner. Outbursts of righteous indignation and belittlement only intensify unpleasant situations. Regrettably, the wounded-feeling. self-pitying attitude is one which too many people learned from their parents.
It is highly significant how often, in movies, radio and television, performers use humorous material based on sex hostility or ridicule of the role of the husband or wife. This type of amusement finds popular acceptance because it provides release of suppressed inner dislikes.
Audiences are able safely to imagine they are airing their desire to downgrade the opposite sex.
This wretched, sadistic sport is shameful evidence of our crude manners when we are dealing with sex and the relationship between the sexes.
Another expression of sex hostility is the double standard of sexual morality—a harsh, rigid one for women; a permissive, indulgent one for men. The inequality and injustice of this philosophy cannot fail to antagonize women. It adds no lustre to the character and integrity of men who take advantage of it. Fortunately, the double standard seems to be declining in many social groups, but it is still a prime cause of poor relations between the sexes.
There is food for serious thought in the fact that obscene language widely used in our society refers to sex and the sex act in the most loathsome manner. Words describing the sex acts are used not to indicate a cherished and loving relationship — but as fiercely hostile outbursts. It is significant that four-letter sex words often are used interchangeably with obscene, hostile terms relating to the bowel and urinary functions. It is difficult to imagine a more degrading result of our misguided sex education of our children.
The damage done by oppressive child supervision to personality, and to the capacity for successful, mature sex adjustment, is at last coming under commonsense review. Recently studies have been made of the early – life learning process in animals and in humans. They strongly indicate that many habits of conduct, including the sexual, are more or less permanently fixed early in life.
It has been found that there are critical learning periods during which the young must have favorable, encouraging experiences if they are to achieve successful relations with the opposite sex.
Scientific research in this area is still too new and incomplete to provide sure and reliable guidance. But already it is spelling out a warning to us to stop our habits of frightening our children about their sexuality, and their interest in the opposite sex. Unless we do stop it, we cannot expect them to grow up to become happy, mature, sexually well-adjusted adults.
Another aspect of sex hostility lies in our commonly assumed idea that man is by nature filled with evil, aggressive impulses that are released in domestic strife. This idea was supported by Darwin and others to explain evolution with the belief that in nature, the struggle to live is aided by the use of claw and fang.
More recent studies have disproved this belief. Now it has been firmly established that animal species generally live peacefully together, and practice mutual cooperation. Fighting is unusual. It rarely occurs between males and females in the animal world.
As a result of other studies now going on, we are learning how to meet more wisely the emotional and sexual needs of infants and children. A great reduction in sex hostility is in prospect.
Affection and cooperation between male and female can be bred and nurtured as easily as can suspicion and hostility. This calls for an art in child raising that we have not yet mastered. And it will probably be many generations before we succeed in such mastery. Yet succeed we must and shall.
Putting an end to the cold war between the sexes is more important than putting a man on the moon.
Now retired after over 30 years of psychiatric practice, Dr. Stokes is a Fellow of the Amer. Assoc. of Marriage Counselors and a distinguished pioneer in sex education and marriage counseling He is author of “Married Love in Today’s World.”