“The male is a domestic animal which, if treated with firmness and kindness, can be trained to do most things.”
– Jilly Cooper
This quote sums up the modern view of men in a single sentence. Where once men were seen as innovators, thinkers and leaders they are now seen as barely even human – throwbacks to a simpler time, knuckle-dragging Neanderthals who would drag the world down into the mud without women around to civilize and direct them.
Never mind of course that the world was built, and is mostly maintained, by men:
“It is men who have built the houses, the bridges, the roads, the railways, the dams, the factories, the ships, the canals, the monuments, the airports, the churches, the offices, the tunnels, the engines, the industrial machinery etc. …
It is men mostly who have worked in the factories, the furnaces, the sewers, the mines etc. …
It is men mostly who have, rightly or wrongly, fought the wars, fought the crimes, fought the elements, fought the odds etc. …
And it is men who have invented, discovered and done just about everything that has ever been invented, discovered and done.”
It is in this context that I would like to explore the notion made popular by Gloria Steinem that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.
If men are indeed simple brutes, lumbering animals capable of producing things of value only under the watchful supervision of a woman, then it would logically follow that women could survive just fine without them. A cursory glance at history, however, turns this notion on its head in double-quick time. The greatest scientists, mathematicians, artists, philosophers, musicians, and writers throughout all of history have been almost exclusively male. The exceptions prove the rule.
What is true is that, thanks to the largely male-created technological wonderland we call Western Civilization, it is now possible for a woman to live comfortably on her own without a man in her life. So in that sense, no, she does not need a man. But men are very much necessary to the underlying fabric of society on which her lifestyle depends, so she very much does need men in general.
What’s happening, though, is that women have forgotten that it was men who made Western Civilization possible and that it’s men who do the dangerous and dirty jobs that keep it all going. Men as a group have become the collective butt of the joke as women imply that men are no longer necessary to society, and this is largely responsible for the rapidly burgeoning exodus of men away from the unwritten contract that holds civilization together.
Among other things the unwritten societal contract states that men as a group will always protect women as a group. You could call it the Bicycle Clause. It dictates that a woman without a man of her own, either temporarily or permanently, may procure assistance from a nearby man without any prior relationship existing between them or any expectation of reciprocation. This clause can be invoked for anything from changing a tire to intervening in a violent situation.
Simply put, any man must be ready to risk life and limb to protect any woman, even one he doesn’t know, at a moment’s notice. A man who saves a woman’s life is seen as a hero and a man who chooses not to get involved is seen as a coward. This section of the contract was based on the understanding that women were weaker than men and were therefore entitled to outside help while a man was responsible for taking care of himself.
But if women are at least equal (if not superior) to men then this part of the contract no longer applies. To demand equality is to renounce the clause in the contract that gives you special privileges based on the presumption of weakness. And yet still this notion persists that men should selflessly put women they don’t even know ahead of themselves:
“One of the features of the [Costa Concordia] disaster that has provoked a great deal of comment is the stream of reports from angry survivors of how, in the chaos, men refused to put women and children first, and instead pushed themselves forward to escape.”
But you simply can’t have it both ways. Either women are weaker than men and are in need of their protection, or they are equal to men and should take care of themselves. To blame men for looking out for their own interests when they have been taught that women don’t want or need their help is not only counterproductive but grossly unfair as well.
This is a binary question with only two possible answers – either women need a helping hand from men or they do not. Currently, the cultural imperative is that they do not, and therefore men are responding by letting women fend for themselves. This will continue for as long as the current cultural climate remains unchanged.
Simply put, in a world where bicycles are no longer desired none will be produced. Women are by their words and actions saying that they no longer need men, and are therefore creating for themselves a world without bicycles. It’s basic supply and demand. Let’s just hope that if and when women find themselves wishing they had a bicycle that they realize the reason they don’t have one is that they collectively insisted they didn’t need one.