"Must women 'civilize' men?" Joan Walsh asks in her column today in Salon.com. After all, it is the position of many conservative thinkers (See Charles Murray) and politicians (See Rick Santorum, Mitt Romney, et. al.) that this is the role of women in society. That it is the only role they should play in society. They must stay home, tend the fires, raise the kids, and be there whenever their husbands want them. This is the basis of all human civilization and when women seek to play any other role, that civilization begins to break down. In this worldview, all the problems of our society today can be traced back to women trying to break out of the mold that genetics put them into, and everything would be fine again if women would just shut up and fit themselves back into that mold.
And why should it be women's responsibility to provide that civilizing influence? Are men such wild and base creatures that they have no instinct for civilized behavior on their own? What an insulting idea.
The conservative model for family is set in stone. It consists of a man and a woman and children, with the man the head of the household and the provider and everyone else subservient to him. If you take away from the man that role of family ruler then you have taken away his whole reason for being and the thing which gives him the veneer of civilization, the thing that distinguishes him from beasts. Wives who enter the workforce are demeaning their husbands and usurping their role of provider. And in the philosophy of today's conservatives, women who seek to control their own bodies and the number of children which they have are interfering with the husband's responsibility and prerogative. Yes, some people who live here in the second decade of the 21st century do actually think like that. You can hear them on conservative talk-radio or, for that matter, on the Fox News Network any hour of the day.
My thought is - and I think Joan Walsh would agree with me - that the sexes civilize each other. We complete each other. We form a unit, two halves of a whole. We create a family together and that is the basis of our civilization. But civilization is not the sole responsibility of one sex or the other. It is in every way a joint undertaking. And it works best and is most successful when both parts of the unit are equally valued and respected and when each has the capacity to bring out the best that is in the other. We each rub off the rough edges on the other and that is the real civilizing influence.