In my recent trip to Salt Lake City, one day in particular reminded me of the wide gulf that exists for women in this present society. In a speech highly colored with feminism, Facebook COO and founder of LeanIn.org Sheryl Sandberg decried the double standards that exist for women in large part because of their lack of entry into the quantitative fields that give respect and promotion to people in present society . Yet only a few hours later, I was served my shirley temples by a clever and talented and attractive young woman who had just turned 21 but whose college plans (if she had any to begin with) had been derailed by having a child with a man she was no longer with . How many of the people who cheered on greater opportunities for women in business and in engineering and mathematics were sensible to the ironies of the exploitation of women later on that same day in a rap concert.
This is all the more poignant to me because the cocktail waitresses in particular reminded me of several young women I happen to know, who could easily find themselves in the same sort of position with a little bit of misfortune. Our lives can easily be derailed by errors in judgment. The wrong sort of behavior with the wrong person can completely ruin our hopes and dreams and plans for years to come, and even for our entire lifetime. What is most necessary in life is some way to overcome failures, to make a setback a learning opportunity for more people and not lock one in to a lifetime of struggle and misery. It is one thing to preach a need for repentance and another to provide a means by which people can receive the benefits of repentance, namely a blank slate free of recrimination and the painful and constant reminder of past failures and errors.
In truth, I felt comfortable neither with the crusading feminism of Sheryl Sandberg, looking at statistics as a way of clubbing society for a failure to provide quotas of leadership positions for women on all levels, nor with the sight of attractive young women in their late teens and early twenties flirting with and affectionately touching a group of executives, managers, and data scientists at a rap concert. I neither wish to see women as rivals and enemies for the honorable positions I desire in a zero sum game of gender competition nor as sex objects to be exploited and taken advantage of in a pageant of domination. I desire to see ladies as friends, someday as a wife, perhaps as daughters, certainly as sisters and cousins and colleagues with their own perspectives, but with common moral positions, common goals, and a common desire to make life better for all, and not only for some based on identity politics.
We need to realize that both men and women suffer greatly in life from mistakes in love and relationships. It is all too easy in life to focus only on our own suffering, and not to realize the damage that is done to all by our errors and blunders. A man can find his success in life penalized by the need not only to support children, but alimony and other income to support a generally ungrateful and unpleasant former wife, forcing hard work but not providing the fruits of that labor to the future because one must pay such a heavy cost for the past. Likewise, many women find their own desires to live on their own and live above a standard of poverty greatly impacted by the demands of working as well as raising children, and not often feeling successful at either task. Of course, children suffer, and communities and the larger society suffer as well by the diversion of resources, the loss of opportunities, and the loss of trust and cohesion within families. Yet we do not often stop to examine or count the costs of behavior until we are sifting through the wreckage of broken lives and relationships and institutions, far too late to do anything but mourn and try, however unsuccessfully, to rebuild.
I often reflect on the consequences of my own upbringing as a survivor of early childhood rape and incest, of a divided family, of growing up in poverty and shame. I am still haunted by all of those disasters, in my nightmares, in my struggle to trust authority, in my extreme difficulty forming intimate romantic relationships, in my own frustrated longings for honor, stability, and a loving family. Yet it is not only my past that presents difficulties in relationships, but also my goals for the future. This is because my own life and my own driven nature seeks a very complicated sort of person to be in my life. Not only must someone be gentle and affectionate and understanding because of my own damages in life, and my own extreme aversion to being treated with disrespect or ridicule, but I also seek someone with a serious enough mind to be an intellectual partner, and someone who shared the same moral and spiritual convictions to be a fitting partner in our mutual spiritual life. These are heavy demands in a world where trust is a scarce and valued commodity.
And I believe these same concerns are what haunt both people like Ms. Sandberg and Jacy, and others like them. We all are pulled by great and difficult longings. We want love and respect, we have ambitions for a better future, a future that includes places of honor, a certain lifestyle that rises above misery, and loving families. Yet we feel ourselves frustrated by a lack of progress in these goals, and the fact that our desires are in tension with each other. We can err on the side of being too self-disciplined so that we are led to be proud in ourselves and contemptuous of others. We can err on the side of lacking self-discipline and find ourselves facing prison time, immense poverty and dishonor, and greatly difficult lives for ourselves and those we love. Yet despite the fact that this difficulty is widely shared, we do not find the sort of love and respect and concern from others that we all desire. Are we good enough at giving that love and respect and concern to others? Clearly much work remains to be done, and much work has not even begun.