An excerpt from Laurie's upcoming book, Call Me A Woman: On Our Way to Equality and Peace


Gender Identity: The Place To Begin

"When we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves."       

~ Viktor Frankl, author and Holocaust survivor

Because of the vastness of the challenges we face world-wide, what is needed today is change at our very core. It is from this place—how each of us defines our identity and our place in the world--that we make all of our decisions.

While we look in new directions to create solutions for challenges we face, it is important to remember that in every time and place, a culture will appear normal to its members. Betty Friedan challenged what we called ‘normal’ in 1963 with her ground-breaking and controversial book, The Feminine Mystique. The “mystique” Friedan spoke of was the limited belief held by most that women belonged in the home and were defined by their husbands and children.

As so many of us women came to understand, it was a belief that once held, was hard to shake off.

The companion mystique was that men’s identity was to be found almost entirely in their economic success, sexual conquests and athletic ability.

It is now more than a half a century since The Feminine Mystique was published. When I first revisited these gender-defined identities, I automatically thought, “Oh, they are outdated.” And then I stopped and thought, well, maybe not.

There is no question that women today have many options. We have children, or not, run businesses, lead a government, and by and large these choices are respected by both women and men.

Are there still remnants of the feminine mystique Friedan described? Yes.  Are women today defined entirely by men and children? Not so much.

The masculine mystique, however, has not changed nearly as much. Money, sex, athletics—men still define themselves by competing in these areas, which are as limiting as the feminine mystique was for women. These arenas alone are simply not meaningful pursuits, points out Frank Pittman, author of Man Enough.

According to Pittman, “men fight for turf and wrestle for control over people and things, whether through war, armed robbery or corporate takeovers. They are trying to feel like men but no matter what they do, they never seem to feel man enough. Masculinity is an artificial state, a prize to be won by fierce struggle.”  

Coach Joe Ehrmann, a former NFL star, high school football coach and inspirational speaker, would agree. He fervently feels the problems we face today are a result of our sons being raised without a very important human dimension. Boys are not raised to understand their feelings, says Ehrmann, and “if you don’t understand your feelings then you won’t be able to understand love—critical for having empathy.”

And of course empathy—understanding another’s pain—is the basis for a fair society.

What I am convinced of is that—in order for a society to be truly great, two things must occur. The masculine identity must change and women must embrace their rightful place as equal partners in the world. Until this occurs, we will continue to see the problems of today--corporate greed, economic and environmental disasters, violence, war and poverty—continue and worsen.

As each of us has a tremendous stake in this, we must each look to see where we play a part.