The Y Chromosome Conundrum:
Insights from a year of Male Free Living
By: Sarah Hollis
Men! You can’t live with them, and you can’t live without them. This cliché reflects a cultural confusion about relating with the men in our world. This confusion is often reflected in our media. How many times do we see men in commercials depicted as pseudo-children or clumsy fools? Men are depicted merely as someone to clean up after with name-brand cleaning products. On the other hand, in how many shows and movies do we see that the male character is the hero? According to the media, women have it all together and then some, while men, barely holding anything together, are also expected to save the day and romance a heart. The media, then, confirms our conundrum of whether we need anything related to that Y-chromosome after all.
Additionally, no matter what a woman’s background—traditionalist, conservative, liberal, feminist, activist, spiritualist—this confusion about men plagues all of us. Do we need a man? Women from different backgrounds, who often disagree on so many other issues, face a similar dilemma regarding the male of the species.
So, can we live without them? How do we live with them? These questions are passed down to each generation of women, and these are the questions particularly plaguing the twenty-something single women of today. The conflict between wanting the male species around and being infuriated by them faces younger women as we attempt to navigate friendships, dating, and marriage relationships with those Y-chromosome bearers. I know this, because I belong to this group.
I am a best first-dater, with a firm grasp on what I will and will not tolerate. We are more unfettered than past generations concerning the amount of opportunities offered to us. We are outwardly confident that we can become whomever we want, yet inwardly insecure about who we should be and what we should look like in this post-modern world.
Young women today have learned from the teachings of individualism and female equality that we can accomplish all of the adult roles— paying the bills, cleaning the house, caring for the “fur-children,” shopping for the essentials, working more than one job, volunteering in the community, developing hobbies and a spiritual life—without a man in the picture.
In fact, for one year of my life I literally did not interact with men for more than a few moments here or there. I completed all my life tasks without interacting with men, and I basically severed men from my life completely. Why I did that is the subject of another article entirely, but what I experienced in that year raised a question that I think today plagues all women, no matter what relationship status we claim: do we need that Y-chromosome?
Part of the question concerns semantics. Often, if a woman says she needs or desires a man, she risks implying that she wants to submit to a man to the point of giving up her other desires, values, interests, capabilities, and maybe even her life. If desiring a man means that, then I obviously do not desire a man.
I have seen this issue of semantics in play in the religious or spiritual circles in which I interact. When I speak about desiring a man in my life (for me that looks like ultimately desiring marriage), I often see expressions of deep concern and caution on others’ faces. “There is danger in desiring a man, you misled single woman,” their faces and guarded feedback seem to say. By saying I desire a man, I almost communicate that I have no other desires or interests.
I now find that when I dare to share about my desire for a man, I end up spending an hour contextualizing to prove that I am not desperate. After speaking about my desire for a long-term dating and marital relationship for an entire hour, guess how I look to those people? You guessed it— desperate.
In my circles, I am often counseled to reduce my desire for a man by replacing that desire with the greater and more satisfying desire for an enhanced spiritual life. I followed this advice and actually found some satisfaction in learning that happiness is not dependent on obtaining what I desire. But, even as my spiritual life grew with this revelation, the Y-chromosome conundrum began creeping into my mind again. If my relationship with my Higher Power is incredibly satisfying and (gasp) no one has ever died from a life of chastity, then I am back to the same question—what is the benefit of a man?
In a similar way, many friends and acquaintances are in committed same-sex relationships, and do not depend on men to fulfill the role of a partner sexually or in many other ways. And they too face the question—why do we need that Y-chromosome in our world? Additionally, the women I know who are married to men face another question about the same conundrum. Outside of procreation and physical intimacy, why do I keep this man around? The kids are grown and the sex is less important . . . Do I need a man?
When we pull gender stereotypes and sexual pleasure out of the needing a man question, I continue to find that we still need their unique qualities as a person bearing a Y-chromosome. First and foremost, men are human beings. Men have issues, and women have issues. As a counselor, I see that hurts, hang-ups, and annoying habits do not discriminate or pick one gender to infect. Seen through this perspective, women are on more common ground with men than society’s teachings would have us believe. Men can impact our world and our lives, whether for good or ill. Due to years of my issues colliding with particular men’s issues like a perfect storm, I was convinced that I had no need for men at all. Because I had interacted with men who, due to their own hurts and hang-ups, failed to contribute good things to my life, I forgot that the male species still had something good to offer me.
As I ended my year of man-free living and rejoined the real world where men lived, I began to interact with good men, slowly changing my perspective. For example, no matter the gender roles or personalities in the men I met, I noticed that each one had a common desire to offer something tangible and visible to those around them. I also noticed that these men looked to me for my response. These men wanted to offer something good for someone! Now, I let men hang my picture frames, move my furniture, change my tires, give me decorating advice, open the door, and offer opinions on my paperwork. I allow them to do these things when I, or any female, could accomplish them because I am now aware of their desire to offer their manhood, often characterized by strength, or their unique talent arenas, whether fashion, muscles, decorating, finances, or navigational skills.
So, I do not desire men because I need them to complete or enhance my own value. I do not desire men because they are easy to interact with or I need them to fulfill some societal gender role in my life. I do not need men because I hate my life when there is a man shortage. I do not need men because my life’s satisfaction somehow depends on the amount of sex I have or the number of kids I obtain.
I desire men in my life because I can tell when the good influence of that Y-chromosome is absent. I need men to remind me that humanity has the potential for great good and great strength. When men offer me their strengths, I often find much more strength in myself to endure and thrive.
I need the male species for their innate desire to offer strength, for their eagerness to act on behalf of someone or something, and for the unique way that they go about offering themselves. And, I discovered, along the way, that when I openly enjoy the unique strength that manhood offers, I enhance my value as a woman and play an essential role in a man’s life. So, as a single woman, I don’t need a man . . . I simply have a built-in need to enjoy good men in my life.
Sarah Hollis connected with Black Mountain, North Carolnia, as a child and moved to the mountains to continue her work as a licensed professional mental health and addictions counselor. She spends most of her time immersed in the painful hardships and the beautiful redemption of the human story as she lives her own life and walks with clients and friends. She writes about these experiences through her blog, www.simplyadreamchaser.blogspot.com