Opinion: The Carter influence


Published: 11-26-2023 7:00 AM

John Buttrick writes from his Vermont Rocker in his Concord home: Minds Crossing. He can be reached at johndbuttrick@gmail.com

Jimmy Carter, in an interview following the death of Rosalynn, commented, “My wife and I were equal partners in every way.” They were married in 1946, when equality between spouses was in its infancy. (Consider the popular radio sitcom, Father Knows Best). It wasn’t until 1972 that the Equal Rights Amendment to the Constitution was initiated, 26 years after the Carter’s marriage and five years before Jimmy Carter was elected president.

Since then, the amendment has been in process, the last step to making it official still being debated. It seems the Carters were ahead of their time. Their being “equal partners” for 77 years has been a generational example leading the movement to demonstrate that the patriarchal society is obsolete.

Yet, still, “gender… is clearly of central concern to the hard right,” reports analyst Cassie Miller in a 2023 investigative report for the Southern Poverty Law Center. She continues to explain that the concern stems from the white supremacy movement seeking to “maintain a patriarchal society where people adhere to strictly defined gender roles and men act from a position of dominance.”

There seems to be a fear that the dignity, meaning, and a preconceived role of men is somehow being threatened. Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, has given into this fear. He has signed a law that includes a ban on discussing sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom. “He has barred Medicaid recipients and transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming care.” And he has signed a law that prohibits “instruction that may make people feel guilt or anguish” — read issues of race or sexual orientation.

Miller’s observation that society is immersed in a “crisis of masculinity” is, of course, nothing new. Whenever the social order trends toward modification, there are men who perceive a threat and go into a hypermasculine mode. Missouri U.S. Senator Josh Hawley gave a speech suggesting that a project to deconstruct American patriarchy “begins with and depends on the destruction of American men.” Last year, Fox host Tucker Carlson produced a self-described “documentary,” The End of Men. The Proud Boys advocate that masculinity leads to the domination of all parts of society. Gavin McInnes sees men as embracing violence, “You’re not a man unless you’ve beat the shit out of someone.” (I might add, unless you can demonstrate a prowess for rough graphic language).

The fear these men and paramilitary organizations have is the loss of white supremacy and domination over women as society moves toward equity and equality among all human beings. What these men have missed is that equity and equality do not erase the uniqueness of each and every individual. Learning this is part of the maturing process from childhood to adulthood. It is also an historic process of culture changes that have been going on for generations and centuries.

There have been some rather abrupt social changes in my own generation. As a skinny pre-teen I had learned the importance of physical strength. I could cut and stack, with my father, a cord of wood in a day using only axes, saws, and two “man” crosscut saws. The only power used was our bodies. I’d compare arm muscles with my dad’s. I could carry a ten-gallon can of milk and lift a bale of hay. I learned to shoot a shotgun and hunt pheasants. At school, I learned to compete in baseball and basketball. In Boy Scouts I learned hiking and camping skill. In 4-H I learned how to be responsible for the feeding and caring for the farm animals. These experiences were my right of passage into “manhood.”

What I and my male compatriots did not know was that “times, they were a changing.” In college and beyond, we were lucky enough to be influenced by a culture of women and men who were not daunted by those who insisted on men being strong and women weak. While some men dreamed and fantasized about being paramilitary warriors, practicing blatant misogyny, dominating in all parts of society, and nurturing the fear of feminists trying to destroy men; we were participating in a movement toward equality and equity between men and women and among all people with differing genders and unique individual gifts and talents. We did not need to be defensive about embracing manhood and womanhood defined by their fearless acceptance of others; their gender, talents, and dreams. Flexibility and freedom are the prize.

Today we are reaching an inflection point between the suburbs of the 40s, 50s and 60s where “Father Knows Best” and Lake Woebegone, “where all the women are strong and all the men are above average.”(Prairie Home Companion, National Public Radio). Gender is not the issue. Being stuck in an outmoded image of manhood is the issue. One person’s gender is not another person’s fear.

Thanks to the example of Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, and others who have lived before their time. They have contradicted the supremacist agenda and pointed us toward a free and flexible future.