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The issue of the supposed dominance of men over women in society has generated cemented opinions and heated controversy. Proponents of sexual equality point to the leveling of educational and vocational opportunities between the sexes as proof that women have become equals to men, such as the recent fad of working moms and stay-at-home dads. Moreover, they highlight the power and status of women in professional fields and government, such as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi. In addition, fans of female progress celebrate the successful establishment of women's sports leagues, such as the hyped WNBA, or Women's National Basketball Association, and the implementation of women's weightlifting in the Olympic Games on par with men. While advocates of women's power in society assert that the opportunity, status, and athletic parity available to women prove complete sexual equality, these arguments, while valid in some aspects, fail to analyze or take into account the balance of power in cross-sexual relationships.
Although women may deserve and share equal roles with men in society, their accomplishments remain insubstantial because they have a right to the opportunities they take advantage of and the roles they occupy. Granted, as human beings women should possess the same rights that men do as a matter of fairness and justice. As a result, in society women deserve sexual equality. Nevertheless, justice or fairness of opportunity cannot govern the balance of power in relationships between men and women because these relationships are private and out of the reach of government, law, and probing society (except for celebrity unions decimated by The Inquirer). Therefore, progressive sexual equality has left these relationships untouched and undisturbed from their natural origins like technology has left the New Zealand aborigines unchanged. Thus, the presence of sexual equality represents a figurehead or inevitable truth given by men to women as part of a larger compromise that allows men to retain their superiority in relationships. Although society has reached an equilibrium concerning sexual differences, the scales of relationships between men and women tip themselves increasingly in the favor of men as they age.
Starting from the days of childhood and adolescence, males begin to establish the upper hand in relationships with women. When a young group of neighborhood playmates converge, they never vote a girl as "captain" or "commander." In the movie The Little Rascals, for example, the young gang accepts the tough Spanky as their leader, not any of the girls.
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Furthermore, the position of men above women in relationships becomes more visible as people progress through secondary school and college. That is, the wet-cement-like power balance of childhood hardens into a more concrete disparity of the power as these relationships enter adolescence. For example, guys usually take the initiative by asking girls on dates, not the other way around. In addition, society expects the man to pick up the check at a restaurant and pay for dates. With these initiative and financial responsibilities comes the power in the relationships. On the popular teenage sitcom Dawson's Creek, for example, Joey's boyfriend Pacey manages to strangle her interaction with her childhood best friend Dawson because he fears that Dawson represents a threat to their relationship. This example illustrates how young men use their power to control their women. Simply put, guys generally "call the shots" in their relationships with girls at this stage of life.
Moreover, male dominance swells into the realm of marriage. When two people get married, the bride's father "gives her away" to the groom, illustrating how she becomes the groom's possession. In addition, the practice of the groom standing on the bride's right began in ancient times because the man was responsible for the couple's defense. Standing on the right, the groom would have a clear shot to unsheath his sword or whip out his gun with his dominant hand to protect his bride. Thus, the groom takes responsibility for his bride's welfare like the American government ensures the well-being of its citizens. Moreover, men control the lives of their new wives because power comes with their responsibilities. In the retired show Step by Step, for example, the bride and her kids came to live with the groom and his family, illustrating how the man often takes charge of the living arrangements. Like acceptance to a college Early Decisions binds an applicant to attend that college, marriage binds the bride to a life of deference to her husband.
Furthermore, in married life, the power the man enjoys over his wife surpasses any prior power imbalances in their relationships. In married life, the repression of the wife and her being confirms the husband's power in the relationship. In The Awakening, for instance, marriage in Victorian society became a cage for the free-flying Edna Pontellier because it trapped her individuality and suffocated her happiness. Also, the poet Sylvia Plath persistently expressed her wrath over how her husband oppressed her and eventually, like Edna, committed suicide because her oppression disturbed her to an extreme point. In addition, the oft-heard cliché "man of the house" demonstrates how the male leads and dominates the household, not the woman. Moreover, in the Bible Paul instructs, "Wives, submit to your husbands" (Colossians 3:18) because "the husband is the head of the wife" (Ephesians 5:23). Therefore, even the Bible acknowledges how men undoubtedly hold the upper hand in marriage. Thus, in married life the power imbalance in relationships slides to its extreme.
Although much of the support for power imbalances in relationships may seem like stereotypes, these stereotypes and the social traditions they influence are the very guardians of the power imbalances. That is, these cited stereotypes, especially those of the media, dictate social standards. For example, a 13-year-old Connecticut boy severely burnt himself recently while trying to imitate the "human barbecue" fire stunt he had seen on the MTV show Jackass, exemplifying how the media affects behavior. In this way, media exposure and stereotypes work to control the way humans think and act. For instance, kids imitate the superpowers of superheroes in video games and comic books, teenagers emulate the clothes and hairstyles of celebrities in music videos and fad magazines, and adults copy the language and habits of actors in movies and soap operas. Merely walking across a neighborhood, one can see a child in a cape reminiscent of Superman, a group of teens practicing their N'Sync dance routine, and an overweight housewife exercising on her Ab-Blaster like Suzanne Sommers. In this manner, people accept the dominance of males in the aforementioned relationships like Langston Hughes blindly accepted seeing Jesus in Salvation.
As a result, their relationships model themselves after the stereotypical ones described earlier in that males take the upper hand over females. While the power imbalances may have begun with male physical superiority, they survive through the means of social tradition, influenced by stereotypes. Although humans have reached the pinnacle of sexual equality in society, in relationships males continue to enjoy more power than their women. While natural order or Darwinian "survival of the fittest" may warrant this masculine supremacy in the best interests of a couple, shouldn't the same guidelines of fairness and equality that place women equal to men in society do the same leveling in relationships? If it should, stereotypes must change so that people can change. Changing the human world without changing stereotypes is like building a house without laying a foundation because these stereotypes determine human behavior and standards. Maybe if we saw an independent, assertive Jessica Biel on Seventh Heaven have her way in society and then not let her evil, double-crossing boyfriend control her life, we would begin to reform the power structure in relationships. Otherwise, the status quo of male dominance in relationships shall remain until further notice.