BarrettAndBrowning (11 Nov 2001) got me thinking again about the tricky subject of women and men. It's a theme fraught with generalizations (all of which are false) and hypotheses (all of which are built upon quicksand). It's so easy to appear, and be, a fool when discussing it. But however thin the ice may be, it's a vital topic. Maybe when Daniel Dennett writes a sequel to his Kinds of Minds (a little book about animal consciousness) he can discuss it ... or maybe he's too wise.
At a Philosophy Breakfast not long ago, one of those present (BD) remarked:
The big revolution of the 20th Century was capitalism and technology --- but I believe that the big revolution of the 21st Century will be women's equality.
We were talking about terrorism, Islamic societies, African tribalism, and so forth. (See WorthRemembering2 re turn-of-the-Millennium thoughts on related issues.) The surface debate was politics, justice, economic efficiency, and social progress ... but the undercurrent was still the delicate one of women and men.
So how deep into this swamp may one venture? The classic caricature draws men as impatient and inept non-conversationalists ("OK, get on with it!" ... "Your point?" ... "Well why didn't you say so?" ... "What's the problem you want me to solve?" ... "Can we shut up and go to bed?", etc., etc.) and women as catty chatterboxes, emotional and hyper-judgmental. Men are driven by physical stimuli (their "lizard-brains" as PD says at times), especially visual ones; women are moved by expressions of love and loyalty. Sociobiology and evolutionary psychology offer to explain the differences in the sexes via natural selection. Or perhaps these are mere just-so stories, post hoc rationalizations for what has come out of history and human social systems. Perhaps....
In a more literary vein, Lucinda Ballantyne wrote an thoughtful and self-revealing essay, "If a Man Answers", that wrestled with this issue. It appeared in the Washington Post on 8 October 1999. She tells of how uncomfortable she is in talking with her friends' husbands --- a reversal from when she "... 25 years ago yelled at her mother's knowing smile, 'It is too possible to have a real friendship with a guy!'" Ballantyne says that she now fears "... the kind of Midsummer Night's Dream-like romantic anarchy that starts with a power walk with a friend's husband. Maybe sex does lurk beneath the surface as we stand next to each other at backyard birthday parties, pushing small bodies on swings." But, on the other side, Ballantyne sees "... a wry stoicism about some husbands that book-writing therapists might call emotional shut-down but which I, knowing the details (via the wives), have come to admire." She ends her article ambiguously, with her mother's current story: retired, alone, taking long walks along the beach with an old man whose wife is dying --- friends, and more.
Ballantyne was smart enough not to reach a conclusion in her essay ...
TopicSociety - Datetag20011120