The power of choice

There’s a couple themes I’d like to pull together. The first one, which I’ve touched on in the past, is the idea that adversity builds character. Our culture tells us that we need to deal with our own problems. To an extent, that’s fine. But what happens is that this ideal of dealing with ones own issues causes people to pull out supports, to deny people the ability to get help for their problems, and then treats the consequences of one’s abilities and resources not being enough as a personal failing. We tell the bullied child to ‘buck up’, the poor person struggling to survive to ‘try harder’, the disabled person to ‘overcome’, and never considers the possibility that such things are beyond the person’s capabilities, neglecting to provide contingencies for when extra help is needed. We’re inherently limited beings, and no matter how hard we try there will be things beyond our power to solve.

The other idea is an anti-feminist one. “Why do women need feminism when they can have men take care of them?” is the basic idea. Why should we bother fighting for equality when we could have men do all the hard work of providing, earning an income, dealing with hard issues like politics, while we just keep a place for them to rest when they’re tired from all that. This idea pretty much shows the lie to itself, since if that’s how things were wouldn’t MEN be the ones leading the gender equality fight? If women really have it so easy, then shouldn’t men be arguing for us to be going out and working so they don’t have to shoulder the burden alone?

Both of these ideas have more to them, of course, but they both ignore the same issue–that of having options. I don’t think anyone, male or female, would deny that it’s nice to be able to handle things without help, or that it’s appealing to rely on others. The problem comes when one is limited to only one of those two things, though. When we hit the limits of what we can handle ourselves, we need the safety of having people there to back us up. When the person we’re relying on to take care of something doesn’t handle it, we need to have the ability to step in and deal with it ourselves. Historically, women have been denied the ability to take care of themselves, leaving them subject to the whims of men. Currently, we’re so enamoured with the idea of the rugged individual overcoming adversity that we forget that the struggles people endure are often more than they can handle alone. Both extremes are bad. The answer is not to tell people to try harder, or tell them how lucky they are to have things taken care of for them, but to realise that neither option is best for all circumstances, and allow people both the supports needed to succeed on their own, and the safety of having room to fail.

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