All weekend I kept thinking of a song from the 1960 musical Camelot. Based on T. H. White's The Once and Future King the musical recounts the story of King Arthur, Queen Guinevere and the knights of the Round Table, most particularly Sir Lancelot. The 1960 production of the Lerner and Lowe classic featured several outstanding performers, including Richard Burton, Julie Andrews and in his Broadway debut, Robert Goulet. It is a tale of political intrigue and sexual attraction, class divisions and warfare, and the wistful dreams of a world imagined but never fully realized.
The song running through my mind all weekend is sung by King Arthur in the first act as he puzzles his way through his relationship to the Queen. "How to handle a woman," he sings, " . . . Do I flatter her . . . do I threaten or cajole or plea, do I brood or play the gay romancer?"
See why it has been running through my mind? Clearly, it is a question many have been asking over the last few days as we have endured political shenanigans unlike any we've seen in our own lifetimes. But no matter what your answer to the question (which in the play is the rather charming "merely love her") there is a basic problem. For it is a flawed question! A question which grows out of a patriarchal culture. After all, the marriage between Arthur and Guinevere was an arranged marriage! The question assumes that women need to be handled. But the reality is women need to be respected and treated with dignity. Women need to be seen as full human beings, with all the rights and privileges of society. Turning a woman into a sexual object isn't respecting her. It is denigrating her. And assuming a woman's life only finds meaning if she stands in relationship to a man--her father, her husband, her son--fails to recognize her unique worth as an individual.
How to handle a woman? Don't! Don't handle her. Rather, respect her. Deal with her as an equal. It may not make for much of a musical, but it will make for a better world. For all women and men--not to mention girls and boys. For it is only when we truly respect one another that we can even begin to merely love.