Wednesday, August 19, 2009

A Large Raspberry to Good Morning, America

Americans, in aggregate, tend to be an immature people, and I say this as an American born and bred. The media far too often fosters this attitude, and I saw a really terrible example of it this morning on Good Morning, America. They have just hired Steve Harvey for the show, and he led a discussion this morning of whether men and women can be friends, with Diane Sawyer and three couples. Almost universally the answer was that no, men and women can't be friends, because men always have sex on the brain.

There were some implicit assumptions here that have really nasty implications for both men and women. The implicit assumption about men is that they are incapable of responsibly handling their sexual attractions. The implicit assumption about women is that jealousy is always the appropriate response. I'll address each, one by one.

That men cannot control their sexuality is deprecated by us when we see it in other cultures, for example when in many Arab cultures it is assumed that if a man and a woman are alone together sex is involved. But we don't see how it plays out here. Here the undercurrent is that a man, to be a real man, acts on his sexual impulses. At its worst, this leads to rape and to molestation of children. I was myself sexually abused by older boys in my neighborhood when I was five years old, and I blame this attitude towards male sexuality for it. A mature man is perfectly capable of being sexually attracted to someone while understanding that acting on that attraction would be inappropriate. And that is what the media should be modeling for American men, especially boys yet to become men.

Likewise, for the couples on the show, it was assumed to be ok for the woman to be jealous for what seemed to me to be very slight reasons. I speak as someone whose jealousy has come close to causing my suicide. I KNOW how destructive jealousy can be. How many murders in the US are caused by this emotion? Far, far too many. It can sometimes be an appropriate response, if one partner in a relationship is letting another relationship get in the way of the primary one. But a loving spouse should also be able to trust that the partner will act maturely, responsibly, and appropriately, and if they cannot do so, recognize that this is a problem that needs to be dealt with by communication and perhaps counseling.

Finally, there is one other implicit assumption that is harmful to both men and women, and that is that one's partner must provide all of one's social needs. Many relationship experts have pointed out that is unhealthy. One needs friends, as well. A person, to be well-rounded, should have social interactions with a broad range of people, people that one finds interesting, or share a hobby, or have known for a long time. Expecting one person to provide all social needs puts too much of a burden on anyone. Of course friends who are mutual friends of both partners are best, but a partner has to be open to meeting the spouse's friends and understanding what the spouse likes in that person to make this happen.

I had to leave before the show got to the phone calls expressing a dissenting point of view, so some of the points I've made may have been expressed in the show.


Mrak said...

I think you've hit the nail on the head. The only other issue I'd point out is the fact that the "men can't control themselves sexually" myth was used to great advantage to press forward with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell."

Mary Amanda Axford said...

Yeah, I thought about this when writing it, in a broader sense... it has also been used against gay men to say they shouldn't be teachers, etc. But I was afraid of my post being too long and so rejected by the GMA site and it was anyway, sigh.