Life Is Not A Zero Sum Game
I know that it sometimes seems like it is—that it sometimes seems like someone else’s gain automatically signifies my loss, but it is not like that. Or, at least it is not always like that, or not in the things that matter most. This is true on individual levels as well as institutional levels. For instance, men’s gain does not need to mean women’s loss, as women’s gain does not need to mean men’s loss. It doesn’t.
When things are done right, everyone gains: when things are done poorly, no one does. One of the best examples of this in a religious context is set forth by renowned feminist Rosemary Radford Ruether in a direct dialogue with Mormon theology. Straight from a paper I once wrote:
Ruether “engages in a critique of patriarchal images and concepts of God,” as well as “in a re-visioning of God-language inclusive of women and men.” She began by stating her view of the problem of patriarchal God-language. She did this not to suggest that “the traditional patriarchal language for God has been fine for men but has excluded women, so we need some additional feminine language for God,” but to emphasize that “language for God that subordinates women is detrimental to men as well.” Subordinating language “distorts and limits the humanity of men as much as it does the humanity of women,” for a “God who is alienating and dehumanizing to women is harmful to everyone, and even to the well-being of the planet earth itself.”
Again, a gain for one is a gain for everyone, and a loss for one is a loss for everyone. This is why it is so puzzling for me to hear statements that “feminists hate men,” want men’s demise, or any other such thing. In my experience, that is not the case at all: the feminists I know love men. And women. And children. They often fight for women’s rights because women are often the ones lacking rights. But (and this is an important But), this does not mean that feminists do not want men to keep the rights that they do have. In almost every case, they want men and women to share the same rights—not more, nor less for either.* Thus, it is not taking away rights, benefits, etc., from men to given to women; it is giving to both equally. It is a desire for all to succeed, and a belief that it is possible.
I thought of these things again recently while sitting on a living room couch and catching the tail end of the movie “Enchanted.” One of the individuals I was with had not seen it before, and interpreted the only scenes he saw (aka: the “true love’s kiss” and the heroine saving the male “damsel in distress”) quite differently than me: he saw them as evidence of Elder Christofferson’s most recent General Conference talk about the media’s denigration of men, while I saw them as a very welcome shift, and a great tie to one of the earlier scenes in the movie, where the leading gent’s young daughter is given a gift about brave, smart women through history.
I was troubled by our different perspectives, and tried to get to the bottom of it. Later I asked my fellow viewer if he believed that both men and women are in need of saving, or more simply: occasionally in need of helping. He answered in the affirmative. Then I asked if he believed that women can sometimes do that saving/helping for men, as men can sometimes do for women. Again, he answered yes. Next I asked if he had daughters, if he would want them to be smart, and strong, and brave. He answered resolutely that he would want all of those things for his daughters. So I asked him what the problem was.
His problem was not that the females in the film were portrayed as brave, smart, and heroic, but that the males weren’t. It didn’t bother him that the women (or woman and girl) were strong, but that they were strong (from his perspective) at the expense of men. At this point, I quickly reminded him that he has not viewed the whole movie, and that the lead male was not portrayed as weak throughout, as he suspected, before asking him how he would have preferred the scene to play out. This is where this tale connects to my original points, because his answer was a great answer: he would have liked to see both the woman and man yielding swords, overcoming the wicked witch-turned-dragon together. I am pretty sure that I would have liked that too.
I still insist and acknowledge that there are times when a man needs help, just as there are times when a women needs help, and am still profoundly grateful for “Enchanted’s” rare and precious gem exemplifying the first. However, I insist as emphatically that women’s strength or rights do not need to come from men’s weakness or lack of rights. All can win. Really.
This also makes me ask more questions, but to myself now, and to you, instead of only my fellow viewer. What would it look like if other’s successes were our successes? What would it look like if other’s losses were our losses? To me it would look like covenants fulfilled: rejoicing with those who rejoice and mourning with those who mourn. Among other (specific) things, it would further be desiring all persons in an LDS context to have their voices and words matter, and for their hands (and hearts) to have opportunities to heal. As for me and my house, we would much, much rather live in a world where things are good for men, women, and children.
*Neither does this desire for equality signify that feminists want women to be the same as men, or for men to be the same as women. That idea is bad logic that I simply don’t have time to go into now.