I promised my friend Lisa that I'd talk a little about my thoughts on men and women. Several of you, wise counselors that you are, warned me off the idea on the grounds that anything I said would constitute fighting words for someone and that the subject was too loaded to be safely handled, rather like an old Soviet shoebox mine, or a family crime, or an angry puff-adder.
It's a chilly Sunday night that promises to become a chilly, rainy Monday morning, the small child is cuddled in her bed in the back of the house,
the big one snuggled up to mommy our big sleigh-bed in the front bedroom, and I'm here with my couch-bed (no, not one of those awful Castro Convertibles but the beamy down-stuffed chesterfield in the front room) and my computer, thinking about the women in my life and women in general.
For what man doesn't? It starts with our mothers - even for those of us who never crave another woman, she is there. that all-encompassing feminine godhead of comfort, love, often correction, sometimes wrath. Then we pass on to sisters, perhaps, and neighbors, soon classmates or playmates, enemies, friends, passersby, marked or not...monkey-girls to our itchy little monkey-boys. We mock them, tease them or ignore them, but for our childhood they are merely strangers that look softer or rounder than we do.
Until that time where our testicles descend and their ovaries ripen and our glances become overbold, or hesitant, or shy, or speculative.
And then we embark on a lifetime of precession, that wobbling, toppling motion of heavenly bodies that turns the axis on an axis; hoping, fearing, dreading, craving and wishing to be craved. Dizzy, bemused, frustrating and frustrated, trying to sort out our feelings from our knowledge, our hopes and desires and fantasies from our understanding of reality and probity.
In many ways, we never do return to that prepubescent serenity, that solid understanding that boy-things and girl-things are just different and never to be confused. Perhaps the final arrival of senescence dims the hormonal and emotional din...I don't know. Certainly many of the old people I've talked to evince a version of the same man-woman double helix I've felt for almost forty years, that almost every man I know has felt and feels. It's not as simple as the old joke about coming out at birth and spending a lifetime trying to get back in - although there's some truth to the stale canard. It's spending a lifetime with this woman, these women, the other half of you, the yin to your yang, the other side of the spinning coin, and trying to understand her and her effect on you.
Aside from the images of the hunt, perhaps the oldest effigy we men created was of a woman. We've prayed to her, feared her, courted her, raped her, loved and desired her, treasured her, trashed her. We try and know her, often think we have encompassed her...and then realize that we know nothing about nothing, or that our comprehensive understanding is the merest skim, a glittering pool a thumbnail's thickness deep.
But the oddest thing is - we often insist that she is "different" inside, that her very thoughts are alien, that she thinks and reasons in ways, that she believes in things, that no man shares and cannot comprehend.
If we were honest, we'd admit that we often think of her as soft, sentimental and a little foolish. Some of us go even further, and insist that her brain is fundamentally different from ours, that she is good at "emotional intelligence" and not at the hard sciences, that the reason that Nobel winners and conquerors are overwhelmingly male is determined by the genitalia more than anything else.
I have no honest idea whether there is some sort of physical difference inside men's and women's heads. I have no studies to cite; frankly, I am skeptical of attempts to "measure intelligence". Somewhere I recall reading that Jared Diamond did a little test of the observational, assessment, and decision-making tasks required of an average day and concluded on that basis that it required more critical thinking skills to succeed as a tribesman in the mountain forests of New Guinea than it did to work arbitrage at Goldman Sachs. (Which, since its publication several years ago quite a number more of us would agree with now than then...) Context is crucial, as is background, and the society surrounding us. And, besides, this isn't a blog about science, or anthropology, or gender studies. It's just me, maundering.
And in my experience there is as much or more variation between the way individual women think than there is between men and women.
There are women who fit the "traditional" (read "the way most well-fed Caucasian Christian Westerners think") female stereotype of the foofy sort of person, all emotion and reaction, more at home with love stories and gossip than firearms or sports jargon.
There are also women who would kill you with a smile, who would jack the blade up underneath your sternum and watch your eyes cloud over with no more emotion than satisfaction.
In my experience women can work, play, think and discuss everything from sports to music to art to war to children. Their imaginations are as barren or as rich as anyone's. Women can be gentle, artistic, passionate, soothing. They can also be fierce, boorish, brutal and stupid.
I have had conversations with women about means of killing and I have heard them expound lovingly on explosives. I have put my shoulder to a load alongside a woman who cursed and stank as badly as I did.In short, I find there nothing about women that suggests that they somehow think and act fundamentally differently than I do.
...there are ways that women ARE different. Some delightfully so, some distressingly so, but different, all the same.And that is the subject of our next post.