February 23, 2014

A Love Letter to Women—The Cartographers of my Heart. ~ Paul Overton


“If they were barefoot and pregnant, it was because they wanted to have a child and didn’t feel like wearing shoes. And if you were to ever utter something as ludicrous as ‘I’m here to protect you,’ well, you might just lose one of your front teeth.”

Who exactly are we talking about?  If what comes to mind is a clan of empowered, nurturing, expressive, shrewd, gentle and judicious superwomen—who live spiritedly, love fiercely, work passionately and stumble gracefully—we are on point. Women-lover Paul Overton shares his thoughtful, heartening musings in response to a perhaps well-intended, and therefore grossly disconcerting open letter to women.

I was raised, in large part, by strong women.

We had plenty of men in the family but they tended to work a lot, so I spent a good deal of time with my grandmother, great grandmother and aunts. They were my earliest, consistent role models for how to move through the world with purpose, grace and a kind heart. I loved them fiercely and they spent a great deal of time and patience on me. Something I will be forever grateful for.

I suppose a lot of people have had that experience, but I’m not sure that everybody’s family was filled with a pack of women that were as badass as mine. These were not women who needed to be taken care of by men. They were capable (with their brains and hands), smart, outspoken, and were unafraid to point out injustice when they saw it. They were all in partnership with men, but not submissive to anyone. There was no subjugation in their relationships.

If they did mend wounds it was because they loved, not because they were obligated by their sex to do so. If they were barefoot and pregnant, it was because they wanted to have a child and didn’t feel like wearing shoes, not because they felt that their womb was the cradle, and power, and majesty of civilization.

And if you were to ever utter something as ludicrous as “I’m here to protect you,” well, you might just lose one of your front teeth.

So, when I read this “open letter to women,” I couldn’t help but bristle because the author’s perspective stands in such stark contrast to the reality of my upbringing. All politics and feminism aside, I can’t see why anyone would prefer to have a woman submit to them and let them “take the lead” instead of having another brain and pair of hands that are more than capable of helping solve life’s mysteries. Not only is it insulting and degrading, it just doesn’t make any sense. I hold partnership—friendly or romantic—in the highest regard and I can’t imagine a relationship without it.

In a way, the issue reaches beyond sexism for me. It’s about separateness. Ideas like those put forth in the post frame women as the other; an object or servant or baby maker or slut that is engaged in a relationship only insofar as it’s useful to the men they are with. Besides being a horrible paradigm for the women in question, it’s just sad that a man would limit himself to such a limiting perspective.

In their defense, men have taught me many things. Many of my practical skills were patiently passed on to me by men who took the time to guide me through the beginner’s process because they cared about my development. I am extremely grateful for each and every one of those lessons and I use those skills every day. I love that I have those abilities, but if I lost them all, I’d still be okay.

If I were to lose the skills I have been taught by women, however, it would be difficult to function in the world with any sense of joy, purpose, or cooperation.

These are often called soft skills, although I don’t especially like the term because it truly isn’t up to the task of accurately describing what women have given me. If I think of the things that really, really matter to me outside of career and hobbies; a woman has taught me how to be those things.

A small but important sampling of the lessons the wondrous women in my life have taught me:

·         how to listen

·         empathizing and caring for those less fortunate

·         metta (the practice of universal love)

·         the importance of partnership

·         where true worth lies

·         love beyond the romantic

·         the value of hard work

·         and the importance of humor… and rest

I could go on and make this list a mile long, giving specific examples of each one, but I won’t. Suffice to say that, the way I navigate life is with a map that has been largely drawn by women. They are the cartographers of my heart.

They have softened my edges, allowed me to shed some of my armor, and taught me that there is a vast array of possibilities that exist between the poles of fight and flight. Without them I probably wouldn’t be totally lost, but I would certainly spend a lot more time aimlessly wandering the emotional landscape, wondering where to go next.

As far as being “proud to be a man,” I’ve never found any particular use for it nor have I found any conventional models of manhood compelling—save for those of fictional characters such as Atticus Finch. Sure, I’m a man, but any pride I have doesn’t come from my sex, nor do I believe there’s any intrinsic value in simply being a male or a female of the species.

When I do feel proud, that pride stems from the moments when I am most kind or empathetic or loving toward myself or others. Qualities that have little to do with sex, but are often taught and nurtured by women…at least in my case.

Although this is beginning to read like a love letter to women (which it is), it is also a wish that we become less concerned with gender as it pertains to the roles that we can play in society. I’m much more interested in us making better people out of our children than I am about making better men and women.

This starts with facing the denial we have about the interconnectedness of our world, which leads me back to my earlier statement about women and separateness. As long as we believe that we are so different from each other, the less chance we have, I feel, of developing true and equal partnerships with each other.

Of course, this goes far beyond gender and deep into race and culture as well–something there’s not enough space for here—but something we need to start talking about in earnest—because ignoring it and hoping it goes away isn’t working.

Lastly, I’d like to thank the author of the piece for giving me a chance to reflect on how fortunate I have been and how many fantastic women I have had the privilege of knowing. Thank you as well to those women who have been such a constant source of inspiration, partnership, and strength in my life. I love you and I hope that I have done my level best to show you that.

 Love elephant and want to go steady?

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Editorial Assistant: Ola Weber / Editor: Catherine Monkman

Photo: Library of Congress

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