Venus & Mars

A while back I wrote about Yin & Yang and how some opposites are truly opposing (positive and negative) while others are actually the presence and lack of a thing (light and dark, for example). In that article I cited men & women as being genuine opposing pairs, as you can’t consider either one the absence of the other.

That, understandably, generated some comments. Many would not choose to see women & men as being opposites at all, but as two variations on the theme of human. I think that is absolutely correct. Our two human sexes have far more in common than they do in opposition. (And note that gender is a different concept than sex. Gender is about how your mind works, about who you are; sex is about your genetic code.)

And yet… Anyone who lives in the real world knows that the “Mars & Venus” thing has some substance.

I’ve always liked the W.G. Sebald quote, “[Humans] and animals regard each other across a gulf of mutual incomprehension.” I think that also applies to the sexes. What woman, what man, has not found the opposite sex incomprehensible? We are so much alike, and yet so interestingly different!

In the Yin & Yang context, those concepts often represent abstract ideas (in fact, I would say that’s a key to understanding Yin & Yang). My canonical example is the North and South Poles of the Earth. In reality, they are concepts with no physical reality. Each Pole is an infinitesimal mathematical point. Every real point on the earth is both south and north of those points. Likewise, “woman” and “man” are abstract concepts (and here we’re really talking gender). Every real person is both “south” and “north” of those points. (In fact, they are really better viewed as existing in a two-dimensional phase space.)

Another way I’ve visualized it is with the trusty old Venn diagram. The two logical spaces of women and men are nearly identical, except for small crescents on the sides that are exclusively female or male.

The vast bulk of the territory is shared; it’s just that the centers are not quite the same.

(And in that small difference is a world of magic, mystery, delight and wonderment.)

I will say some things here that may generate some controversy or opprobrium. As a very general statement, I would offer that men think globally, while women think locally. In general, I see men going out and exploring and conquering other territories, building cities and roads and bridges, driving the force of humanity outwards and onwards. And, in general, I see women more focused on community and consensus, creating and sustaining that infamous (and necessary) village.

This is not to say there aren’t many, many exceptions and general tendencies should never a prison make. Our history is filled with women who boldly went where no one had gone before. Harriet Adams, Gertrude Bell, Louise Boyd, Marie Curie, Amelia EarhartRosalind Franklin, Jane Goodall, Grace Hopper (a personal favorite), Mary Leakey, Margaret Mead, Florence Nightingale, Amalie Noether, Annie Peck… It’s a long, long list all the way back to Hypatia of Alexandria!

An image I’ve had in my head for many years is of a vast double-circle of humans. The women stand in the inner circle, facing inwards, the men stand in the outer circle facing outwards. We stand, back-to-back, arms interlinked with those behind us and next to us, a chain of humanity, the endless circle of human life.

Ah, Women!

For myself, I have always loved, and been fascinated by, women. Over the course of my life, they’ve been my friends, my lovers, my (ex-)wife, my co-workers, my bosses and always the object of my undying fascination and interest. In my younger days, I spent time in online Feminist groups, which was a great way to learn what real women were really thinking. It’s that female point of view that I cherish. The view from across the gulf. A sensibility I can never fully comprehend (though I try).

My love of women goes way back. I had what I now regard as romantic fantasies about my Kindergarten teacher. I used to fantasize about saving her from drowning (doubly fantastic in that I didn’t learn to swim until years later). I believe that all came from a visit to the beaches (near New York City, circa 1958) where I had picked up the beach imagery.  I married a second-grade classmate, Michelle; gave her a ring and everything. She put it on her egg container caterpillar  art project, and that project was among those chosen for posting in the hall outside our room. I was so proud (she left me in the third grade).

By sixth grade the romantic/sexual circuitry was kicking in, and then a series of serious crushes began. And loves. By high school (albeit not at first; too nerdy) I was dating and falling in love.

By the time I got to college I’d had my heart broken, and I’ve broken a few myself (never by intent; maybe someday I’ll tell the tale of Susan and Jan).

In particular, over the years, women have been among my most cherished friends. Some of my male friends can’t understand that, but I can’t understand what they don’t understand (understand?). Why would you not want to better understand women? They are half the world, and I can tell you based on many years of experience that their point of view, coming as it does from a slightly different center, is invaluable.

I’ve heard women say they seem to enjoy the company of men more than the company of their own sex. I would say the same is true for me, but in reverse.

I find I can get along with nearly all women, but a lot of men don’t do much for me. Men sometimes seem more limited to me, more trapped in behavioral boxes (“men don’t do this; men don’t do that”). I understand women feel trapped in social boxes of expectation as well. It just seems to me that they have a larger space available for expression. Perhaps that’s a grass is greener thing; maybe women feel the same way, but in reverse.

Some of the enjoyment of the opposite sex may be subliminal (or outright) sexual attraction, but I think (at least for me) the bigger part of it is loving the different yet the same factor.

According to Maslow, all humans have the same basic needs: security, sense of controlling our destiny and ultimately personal fulfillment. Our goals are the same, even though we take different paths.

The “B” Word

As with the “N” word, I’ve never been comfortable with the word, “bitch.” (So much so that I think I would have trouble being a dog breeder.)

I cannot fathom how it’s become such common coin. I know the theory of groups taking ownership of hurtful words (as with the “N” word), but I’m not sure I buy it. I’m not sure you can denature the nature of such words.  And it would be one thing if women took it for their exclusive use (as with, again, the “N” word… heaven help the honky that uses that word without full permission).

But it’s not exclusively used by women; it’s commonly used by (common) men and to my ears, it is not used in a good way. I think it’s reprehensible. Men, seriously, cut it the fuck out; it makes you a jackass. Just sayin’.

As far as the question of what to call someone you want to insult for being an asshole, well, “asshole” works fine for me and it can be applied to either sex.

(There’s a 1990 article by Judith Stone, “Why are you being such a bitch?” that was published in Glamour magazine back in the all-paper days. It’s been one of the more popular pages on my personal websites, so I’ve copied it here.)

Fire Fighters?

There was a controversy here some years back regarding women as fire fighters.

For me it boils down to this. Can you carry my ass out of a burning building? Do you actually want a job running into burning buildings?

If the answer to both is yes, I have no problem; I have only admiration and applause for your awesomeness. That goes for any of our citizens who take those scary, life-threatening, but oh so necessary jobs. Kudos!!

Equal? Equivalent!

I don’t quite like the statement that the two sexes are “equal.” We differ in the large in our form, and we differ in the small in our genetics. Our organs differ, our skeletons differ, our blood chemistry differs, even our brains differ. I prefer the word “equivalent.” You might think of it as how “1+3” and “2+2” amount to the same thing, but are stated in different forms.

One thing about us is that there are endless ways to state the human equation: “42-38” or “16*0.25” or “1+1+1+1” or “2^2” or “100/25” or… whatever.

They all amount to the same thing: we are human.

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

7 responses to “Venus & Mars

  • amazativity

    Thought I would check out your blog. It’s terrific. Your B- word rant is dead on. I will check out more of your posts and look forward to more words of wisdom.

  • wakemenow

    I personally wish to give up on figuring out women. Fascinating as they may be, they bite. Not unlike cats, much as I’m willing to tolerate the assholishness of most cats. And I believe a major reason I feel this way is because I am a woman. The competitiveness of women under 50 drives me insane! Caused me to completely rethink the notion of feminism since sisterhood apparently is best reserved for actual sisters or those who’ve known one another since childhood.

    Like you, I tend to gravitate toward my opposite sex, in my case men. It’s funny that you said men seem more limited, because I do believe men behave that way when around one another, just not as much when with a woman they trust to show emotion with. The main men in my life are very sensitive, compassionate, friendly people who take on roles others might associate more closely with women, such as nurturing caregiving. They each can tear apart a car and put it back together again, whip up a tasty meal, and do the household shopping. Yes, they are heteros. 🙂 But guess what? Women don’t typically dig them enough to date them long-term. Go figure out that one.

    I like your statement about equivalent vs. equal. Because the differences are real, but that doesn’t make one lesser or greater, and claims that we are or should be identical are absurd. I’d like to think the sexes are naturally “designed” to be complementary, but….doubts remain.

    On the topic of gender, as opposed to strictly sex: those conditioning forces do have a major impact on how and why we turn out as we do, making it difficult to really see one another beyond the masks we wear in an attempt to meet society’s expectations. As in, who would we humans be if stripped to the core, or would that even make sense? And I feel the need to mention hermaphrodites somewhere in here, for good measure. 🙂

    • Wyrd Smythe

      [I just learned the hard way that if you accidentally double-click on the comment you’ve just spent 20 minutes replying to, you lose your reply and go into edit mode on the reader’s comment. Thanks WordPress! Thanks a lot!! Trying to recapture work I’ve just done is one of my least favorite things!]

      As I was saying… Thanks for dropping by, reading, commenting! A number of interesting points there.

      I’d starting replying about competition among women and waxed so prolific that I removed that text planning to put it in a blog article. Fortunately, I still have that and will write that article ASAP. I hope you’ll stay tuned.

      Maybe it’s just as well I lost the comment. It was turning into a bit of a brag (and lament) about how I matched many of the points you mentioned about men (although I confessed my car and chef skills were merely adequate). But being studious rather than studly seems to have been a show-stopper. There’s more to it than that, of course, but I have some friends (all married or committed) who can’t believe I’m still single. But as I say, a lot of that is on me, too.

      Here’s the point where I lost my comment. I wanted to double-click the word, hermaphrodites, in your post so I could take a quick look at the biological definition. My mistake was the double-click; lesson learned. The interesting variations of humanity! I’m reminded of two episodes of Star Trek:TNG. In one, a woman (Dr. Crusher) falls in love with a(n alien) man who later changes to a woman, which puts Crusher in the crux of a dilemma. In another, a man (Riker) falls for an asexual being who, IIRC (and it’s possible I don’t), is incapable of loving him back.

      I’ll see your hermaphrodites and raise you a bisexuals! 🙂 I’ve heard, online and from friends, that bisexuals get static from both sides for being, supposedly, “ambivalent.” I don’t quite understand that; it seems to have the same (lack of) logic as the idea that gay marriage somehow has anything to do with straight marriage. (Do men fear that their wives would flock to marrying women given the chance?) While I seem to have no inclination towards it myself, ever since high school, it’s seemed to me that the logical sexuality is bisexuality. Who wouldn’t want to double their chances?

      Ah, well. People are funny. In all senses of the word!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      My long-winded reply about competition among women got even longer-winded, but it’s up: Self-Loathing?

  • Lady from Manila

    I would like to write more about the subject of men the way I view them – being the other half of our earth’s mortal inhabitants. But I’m afraid I might unintentionally offend my blog pals who, by the way, are all male. I love men in spite of their not-so-pleasant side. Their good side, I adore of course. Once in a while, a few had misinterpreted my mere friendliness as something else, but I fortunately have learned my way around. It simply feels fabulous being around men – hanging out with them in chummy ways. I believe you fully understand me as you’ve also had a good history with your women friends.
    Don’t you get a bit annoyed, too, when people around you insist that men and women are basically meant to unite together as romantic couples? I got tired replying to questions about my choice to remain unmarried after my “divorce.” Most people in my country don’t get it when a woman decides she isn’t the marrying kind. Perhaps I should have explained to them how some of my loneliest moments were the times when I was still married. I’m sure you’ll agree with me that some individuals are meant to stay single.

    Competition among women can get darned ugly depending on the circumstance or grounds of what they’re competing for. I shy away from conflicts with them (I speak as third person here. he he) as much as possible because their most powerful and dangerous weapon – words – can potentially wipe out the whole of humanity :-).

    This is a very delightful post and topic coming from you, WS.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Oh, yes, my female best friends far outnumber my male best friends. And it has been my experience that men understand the concept even worse than women do. (My best buddy—a rare example of a really close male friend—doesn’t get it at all. He’s my best friend because we have so much in common, but this is one place we’re totally not in sync.)

      That said, and speaking from decades of personal experience, I think there is often a little flavor of sexuality involved in such friendships. (At least for the guy. I think women are capable of genuinely platonic friendships; I’m not entirely sure men are.) As you mention, you have to be careful about keeping things clear. Men tend to view signs as hopeful, and we can be great at spotting signs that aren’t there. (“She smiled and touched my hand! She wants me!!“) I’ve had a lot of close female friends. I would have had sex with nearly all of them. And, in fact, in most cases, if for no other reason than curiosity, something did happen, often just once or a few times. It takes the tension out of things, and makes it a lot easier to talk about each other’s sex lives.

      I’ve known a few women who said they preferred men as friends over women—exactly due to the competition you mention. Men can be hard on each other, but I think there is an underlying sense of brotherhood among men. That’s an odd thing to think given feminist (the force, not the political movement) sense of sisterhood. I’ve wondered if it comes from all the sports men play (or do men play sports due to that sense of brotherhood)? There is the famous, if rather crude, saying, “Bros before Hoes.”

      But I don’t think it’s that men don’t compete seriously over things (we definitely do put other things before our “bros”). I’ve always thought it’s that women are more bloodthirsty, more vicious. Women fight for keeps; men fight for sport. (Think of the canonical movie scene where the hero and villain finally meet. Both throw away their weapons and go at it mano-y-mano, hand to hand, let the best man win. Pretty much everyone agrees this makes perfect sense, since (of course) the hero is the best man.)

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