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Is It True That Women Look Forward And Men Look Back? - 1/31/2014

In an article in the December 22, 2013 edition of The New York Times magazine, Lisa Schwartzbaum states that there is a decided difference between the way men and women look at their worlds. For the most part, she bases her thoughts on the rash of movies released in recent years that depict men as searching for their last hoorah, lamenting the opportunities they didn’t avail themselves of, and the challenges they failed to take because of fear, or practical considerations such as their job, family and financial responsibilities. In most instances, these movies depict men gathering together with old cronies who share the same regrets and dreams, who then plan and actualize their long-term hidden desires in an attempt to either recapture their youth, deny their age, or mitigate their earlier disappointments. Several of those films that you may readily recall are The Bucket List, Cosmic Cowboys, Last Vegas, The Big Heist, Stand Up Guys, Grudge Match and Hangover.

In every instance, AARP-aged guys crave one last victory, accomplishment or epic moment that will go down in their history as a testimony to their masculinity. To my way of thinking, it’s more a testimony to the harsh demands parents and society place on men. From the time they are little boys, they are told they need to be tough, can’t cry, and must strive to be a Hall of Fame-caliber quarterback in every phase and facet of their lives. So much so that, no matter how successful they become, it never seems to be enough. It doesn’t satisfy their inner craving to become the best of the best. The sad fact is that, even when they achieve legendary status in the eyes of others, in their own eyes, or more accurately their hearts and emotions, they are blind to it. It seems that life itself conspires against them. If they die early, people later speak of them in terms of “think how much more they might have achieved if they had only lived longer.” When they do live longer, they become increasingly concerned over their diminished capabilities and highly focused on, as Schwartzbaum put it, “the pain of their creaking, arthritic knees, pooching guts, dimming memories”, and I would add,  domestic servitude to women who they perceive as not appreciating them.  

She goes on to say, “Women don’t play like that. On screen and in real life, women look to the future.” In fact, it might be said that women are the face of the future. They have engagement parties to celebrate their future. They plan baby showers to welcome the tiny human they anticipate bringing into the world in the near future, and dream of the future family they want to build with their husbands and children. That’s their legacy, and movies, such as Shirley Valentine, Harold and Maude, Enchanted April, and The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel don’t depict aging women as wanting to rewrite their pasts. Instead, they deal with the notion and provide the thought that life can still be rewarding, even  spicy, at any age, if you open your eyes to the possibilities that surround you. Their lives aren’t filed with regret. Instead, they are filled with hope for the future.

If you need further proof, consider that, percentage-wise, there are now more men than women on unemployment, and more women than men who have recently entered the workforce. Furthermore, in 2002, there were only six women running Fortune 500 companies, now there are twenty-one. Those companies include IBM, Xerox, General Motors, Lockheed-Martin, Yahoo, Dupont and General Dynamics, to mention a few. Even more notable is that Christine Lagarde is the new head of the International Money Fund, and Janet Yellen has been nominated to head the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank. It’s still true, however, that 95% of Fortune 500 companies are run by men, but even that’s bound to change in the future. I, for one, am glad, because I believe women are far more able to adapt to change, to resist living in the past, and to be able to multi-task. All of which are valued traits needed for success.   

At the same time, I’m also frightened by that prospect, because, as increasing numbers of women become successful and financially independent, more of them are apt to declare their lack of interest in building the future by having children, creating families and filling their past role of sustaining our moral values. I refer to an article in The Houston Chronicle, dated December 12, 2013, titled “More married women content with ‘just the two of us’.” I fear that, much as it has been for men who focus on work and reach the top of their professional ladders, and then come to ask, “is that all there is?”, women will also come to forget the highly valued roles they previously played in society.

But before that comes to pass, I believe that both men and women desperately need to learn to live positively with themselves. That means to recognize their feelings of fear, insecurity, and inadequacy. To forgive their real or imagined shortcomings, and, in spite of them, to accept and love themselves for the values they inherently possess. No matter what life has in store for them; whether it is to financially support a family, care for children, retire, see their children grow up and leave home, fail or, conversely, experience ultimate success, get old, have physical problems, or lose friends and spouses, I would have them recognize that they themselves still have a future to look forward to. Thus, instead of looking back and trying to compensate for what they didn’t do, atone for what they did do, waste energy hiding from or rationalizing their perceived or real feelings of imperfection, or forever mourning their losses, they would choose, instead to look forward to what they can and need to do in the future.

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