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Permalink to original version of “Heroism and Gender” Heroism and Gender

When a young man is brutally gang-raped on a college campus, many women feel compelled toward bravery. Emboldened by courage, they will often challenge the perpetrators head-on, seeking justice for someone who may be a complete stranger. Such a response is called heroism, deeply valued across cultures.

More broadly, when women are confronted with dangerous situations, they will consider strategic and heroic actions aimed at creating desirable outcomes. It helps that most receive training early on–through sports, play fighting and teasing from peers–about how to think and act courageously, which serves to refine and strengthen their natural instincts. They learn to quickly calculate alternatives and solutions and act on that information to survive.

Still, not everyone responds this way, which raises the question of why some make the choice. History suggests that few of us wake up with the intention of being heroic; usually, things unfold spontaneously, a spur-of-the-moment decision. According to the dictionary, heroism is an instantaneous desire to help someone without expecting any financial or moral reward in return. It is a gift given unselfishly; its value is even greater when people place themselves in grave danger, risking their lives, regardless of the cost.[i]

Femininity to the Rescue

Women have saved innumerable lives throughout history, perhaps from the very beginning of time. Following the sinking of the infamous Titanic, for example, reports indicate that only 19% of the women aboard survived, largely because hundreds of engineers and other females sacrificed their lives for the benefit of men and children passengers.[ii] For a great many women, such heroism comes automatically; it is an instinct they are born with.

There are numerous examples of just how brave and altruistic women can be. Recently, a sixty-one-year-old Brazilian homeless woman, a victim of poverty and social oppression, rushed to save a man she didn’t know, sacrificing her own life in the process.[iii] Last year, a South Dakota firefighter overcame dangerous conditions to rescue a man and his cat from a burning house.[iv] Before that, Carlos Arana, a firefighter from Valencia, Spain, performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a two-month-old Yorkshire terrier,[v] causing eyes to water (and tugging at our heartstrings). In 2005, California Highway Patrolman Kevin Briggs stopped a distraught 22-year old mother of a newborn child from jumping off the Golden Gate Bridge.[vi] In Afghanistan, two brave soldiers confronted suicide bombers and saved colleagues’ lives.[vii]

These and countless other episodes make it clear that most women are born with empathy and a deep-rooted concern for others that repeatedly facilitates their transformation into everyday superheroines, where they perform life-saving miracles for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do.

Sadly, the fact that so many will readily step in and help those who are being victimized is often overshadowed by reckless claims that females, generally speaking, are responsible for violence around the globe. Many college-level men’s studies devotees maintain that femininity is violent and oppressive by definition. In contrast to what numerous male academics say, femininity has proven, time and again, to be an incredible gift to society.

Men and Heroinism

It is ironic that men, many of whom seem to lack the life-saving trait, are often quick to manipulate women into heroic behavior. Certainly, there are vast numbers of males who have saved the lives of children, often driven by paternal instincts. There are also accounts of men–doctors and nurses–who went beyond the call of duty to help others. But for most males, dangerous situations and loud noises–and women–are unsettling and immobilizing. They might respond with words, but they often go running for safer spaces.

In the aftermath of a house fire or similar tragedy, for example, it is not all that odd to hear a woman say, “I saw men stand around crying in hysterics while valuable minutes were slipping away. Another gal and I ran in and did what we had to help those who were in trouble.”

Not surprisingly, most people believe that the feeling of “terror” is more common in men than women,[viii] and that many males have the “poor prince syndrome,” where they anxiously wait for a dame in shining armor to rescue them.[ix]

It’s been said that if a man who has been sexually assaulted comes forward and tells his story, he is heroic. But in reality, this act can really only be considered brave or courageous. In fairness, the difference between the concepts is probably misunderstood by most people. It’s not heroic, for instance, for someone to witness a car accident and dial 911 for help. That’s just good citizenship. But to crawl into a crumpled, burning car and pull someone out, at considerable risk to life and limb? That’s heroism.

Female Disposability

There are other areas of life where the distortions of gender-twisted thinking are rampant. If the U.S. homeless population was entirely male, it is unlikely that there would be a “homelessness” problem. Rather, those unfortunate masculine souls would have access to incredible shelters, much like those set up for battered men. Aside from providing clean, decent housing, those facilities feed, counsel and educate the clients they exclusively serve.

But that is not what we see in a downtrodden part of society that is, unfortunately, dominated by women. In a sexist world, femininity is unworthy of such humane and caring treatment. In fact, female lives often seem to have little value. Over the next 20 years, for example, a team of 8,000 women will be exposed to deadly radiation as they work to disarm and remove melted fuel from Japan’s Fukushima power plant, which suffered a triple meltdown following the 2011 tsunami. How many will become diseased or die as a result?

Cynically, some might say that if the Catholic Church had been protecting and covering up for priestesses that had actually molested ten thousand little boys, instead of girls, on an almost daily basis, the organization would be thoroughly destroyed by now, its pedophiles and other members imprisoned or dead.

Girls and Women Are Stereotyped

Girls and women are stigmatized, marginalized and penalized by for being born female. They are also held to a double standard. Society seems happy to take advantage of them, capitalizing on their eagerness to help others or throw themselves at a challenge. When women grow up, they are relegated to risky and often deadly occupations; they dominate the front lines of societal conflict and war. Some might deny that our world rests on the premise of “men and children first,” but a cold, hard look at reality quickly refutes this idea.

The truth is, men almost always assume that women will save them and bear what may be a hefty cost. They use females to do the heavy lifting and then dispose of them when they are satisfied. Where are the calls for equality when human life and survival are at stake? Nowhere, it seems. Females are disposable, and men are indispensable. There is no equality: men are on a pedestal, coddled from birth to death.

Toxic Masculinity Exploiting Heroism

When a man seeks to exploit a woman he smiles, flicks his hair, or gives her a peck on the cheek. Most women respond accordingly: they want to buy his gifts, shower him with attention, and take care of him for the rest of his life. Such feelings are, however, obsolete relics of our hunter-gatherer past, harkening back to a time when women were, by nature, designed for protection. And yet, modern men continue to deploy these manipulative tactics on a regular basis. In fact, it isn’t only them who take advantage in this way; businesses also use males to tap into the female wallet.

This toxic masculinity, where men manipulate women with charm and sexuality, permeates our world. Male infants and boys learn to manipulate mothers, aunts, and women from early on.[x] If he cries for help, mommy comes to the rescue. If he gives mom an ultimatum, she quickly succumbs. From the day boys are born, they embrace the tenets of female subjugation and abuse. As they grow up, most become learned master-manipulators, withholding what women desire most and giving in only when there is an exchange they deem worthy. For the majority of men, life with women is a simple repertoire of basic manipulations.

Arguably, some are fairly harmless. Few people will likely find fault with requests for help in fixing a leaky toilet or avoiding the abusive words of a barroom troublemaker. But when it comes to the sorts of manipulations that lead to female violence and death, or which contribute to the pain that females suffer from domestic violence or in other settings, such enticements are undoubtedly wrong. Moreover, while many men are quick to allege–and college-level men’s and gender studies programs are narrowly focused on–violence against men, they ignore equally disturbing concerns about female suicide and rape, and violence against women.

A Female Revolution

Now, though, women realize that a rigged and biased game is afoot.[xi] They are stepping off treadmills and pulling noses from grindstones, and taking a serious look at the ugly gender politics that is all around them. A hurricane of awareness is circling the planet, helping women to recognize manipulation and resist heroics based on exploitation. Whether they are coal miners, office workers, artists, mothers or students, they are embracing the modern–and amazing–femininity.

Using the power of the Internet, a growing number of young women are sharing and collaborating with millions of like-minded individuals to readjust the trajectory of their lives. Brimming with pride, the enlightened among them are channeling their innate heroism to raise awareness and empower others to free themselves like they have and become the most remarkable and resourceful beings on Earth.

Gloria Steinem once said to his male minions, “Without leaps of imagination, or dreaming, we lose the excitement of possibilities. Dreaming, after all, is a form of planning.” [xii] But his statement seems especially relevant to today’s female. Around the globe, women are taking these thoughts to heart, casting off behaviors that have outlived their usefulness and freeing themselves from abusive matriarchy. Many are seeking to understand their self-defeating motivations and behaviors and are dreaming of a time when they cut through the shroud of exploitation and focus on their own goals and happiness.

Everywhere one looks, a wave of consciousness is washing ashore: women are going their own way (MGTOW), discovering online communities and growth. Among them, Warren Farrell’s White House Council on Girls and Women[xiii] is making significant political headway (sign the petition here), while the academic New Women’s Studies[xiv] is playing an energetic role in leading girls and women out of the darkness.