Marlo Thomas wrote a humdinger in Huffpost Women a couple of days ago. She goes straight to the heart of the problem with men behaving badly and women putting up with it.
I, like Ms. Thomas, have often wondered why we see cheating men blubbering at the microphone about their infidelities as their wives stand silently by. What must they feel? Is it disgust? Embarrassment? Anger? Indignation? Or is it the feeling that all will be lost if they dump him unceremoniously and go on to live by their own means and on their own terms?
Thomas celebrates the recent trend for these women to move out, file for divorce and move on. Good for her. I hope they keep doing that. And while we are at it, let’s discuss the men that make this kind of thing necessary.
Being a man is not throwing one’s weight around indiscriminately or satisfying one’s urges just because they are there. It is not treating women like dirt, thinking that is what they really want. It is not tweeting pictures of your, ahem, self to college girls.
Being a man is having manly virtues. Strength, courage, fierceness in the face of a threat, and fidelity to one’s spouse all rank as desirable qualities. We are sorely lacking in such, at least in our public figures. We see instead male children who have never been told “no” by someone who would make it stick. We see armies of cads roaming the halls of Congress and the top floors of corporate America. Millions of nameless men do the same; we just don’t see them. Look around sometime and measure each man you see by the virtues above. Disappointed? Yeah, me too.
Neither is a man one who cowers in the presence of his wife. He knows what is right and does so to the best of his ability, even when it sometimes means acting against her wishes. He does not allow her to dominate him or disrespect him. He does not adopt politically correct opinions because he is afraid of being seen as domineering. He lives as a man should live: alive, vibrant, and free, but with respect for the virtues of the woman he has chosen to marry.
Are womanly virtues different? Not much. These same qualities become a woman. Masculinity and femininity are traits perceived differently by nearly everyone. Yet within each of these two fundamental relationships to life, the same truths hold. Respect for oneself is the root of all virtue. Just as a man should not bend to his wife’s every command, neither should a woman tolerate disrespect and abuse or snuff out her desire to live her dreams because it is a threat to his ego.
For either sex, these virtues require a rock-solid belief that one is capable and deserving. A woman who lives in fear of being ostracized or descending into poverty if her husband leaves is not fully exercising her birthright as a woman. A man who thinks his extracurricular antics make him more of a man falls well short of understanding what manliness is.
Mutual strength, mutual respect, and a foundation of independence–these are the stuff of a relationship. Marlo Thomas is right–it is refreshing to see women say “enough.” I would only add that many men should do the same.