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 Earhart, Rosalind 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.
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.)
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!!
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.