After I wrote my last post about women impinging on men’s territory, it occurred to me that I had hit on the very reason why there’s a war between the sexes in the first place. Because what is war anyway but a conflict over territory? Even when the purported reason for the war is to protect some ideal or philosophy, it all boils down to a battle for territory.
Take the war in Iraq. Bush justified it as a fight for democracy, but in reality it was to protect our territory. Those who orchestrated the war wanted to make sure that no one (read terrorists) would ever be able to take over America. And, to be honest, it was also to protect our “territory” in the sense of our access to Middle Eastern oil.
Everyone has territory. It can be physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, philosophical, familial—you name it, we all have it. The reason why territory is so important to us is because what we “possess” makes up a great deal of our identities. Who would you be without your possessions, both material and immaterial? Without your home, your family, your religion, your ideas? And make no mistake, even with those things that are also possessed by others (like religion), we will still protect our version of it.
One of the things we possess is our roles. If anyone tries to take over our “God-given” roles, we become defensive, even aggressive. Thus the man feels threatened when his wife makes more than he does, because his special role is to be the provider. And his wife tends to shut him out of the things that define her role as a wife and mother: nurturing and consoling the children, decorating and maintaining the home.
That’s why it’s hard to let go of these roles even among egalitarian couples. The father might be all for his wife contributing to the family’s net worth, and yet resents it when she does it better than he does. The mother is all for sharing parenting and household tasks, but finds fault with everything her husband does.
It’s not so much that we want to prevent others from trespassing on our territory, it’s that we want to retain control over it. They can “visit” all they want; we just don’t want them to take over. You can see this dynamic when women become mothers. It’s especially hard when our children are infants, for instance, to relinquish control over their care. We want our husbands to help out, but we feel uncomfortable or even angry when they try to do too much.
By the time our children are older and we could really use help taking them to doctor appointments and attending their school events, not to mention disciplining them, the pattern is already set. We may chafe under the responsibilities of child-rearing, but by then we’ve bought into the idea that they’re our responsibilities.