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Georg Simmel, German sociologist and philosopher, weighed in on the gender wars of the late-19th/early-20th centuries in an essay entitled, “Being and Becoming.” In it, he argues that a woman is about being, an internal struggle with expectations, roles and identity, while men define themselves through a constant attempt to become their identity.

While what Simmel posits is tempting, I’ve found myself arguing pro and con for many years — 2 of my favorite “B’s” aptly illustrate Simmel’s externally driven masculinity, but I wonder in an age of media saturation, can anyone completely define themselves WITHOUT external reference?

Bonaparte and Benjamin — one internationally known and one a small town professor and father, yet both driven to become something beyond. Napoleon, with whom I share a birth month and a deep fascination, strode across the canvas of Europe on a “whiff of grapeshot,” always demanding more of the world and of himself. While deeply flawed, his passions re-worked Europe — leaving a dysfunctional legacy that would do any nuclear family proud!

Benjamin, on the other hand, was my Daddy. Being a southern girl, he was always Daddy — though I went through a francophile period in which he was “pa-pa.” Daddy spent his life attempting to prove that with faith and education you could become anything. While everything seemed to flow easily to this courtly southern gentleman, he saw his life as an epic battle — always struggling against a hierarchy that left him a share-cropper at 10. He & I spent years arguing about the nature of that struggle — could one embrace the journey, enjoy the highs and lows or are we raging against a storm that only relents in death? Is there an answer? I know that his death in 2005 left me bereft in a way I can’t explain. I often wonder if he did become the man he wanted to be or if he gained contentment in the being that he was?

Other B’s in my life are books, books, books and Bruce & Bruce (Hornsby & Springsteen), the Beatles & Broadway.

Legend remains in spite of history. –> Sarah Bernhardt

Take care,
Aly

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