The request wasn't made of me, but occasionally I can deal with a challenge. Susanna Cornett gave this assignment to another blogger:

"What it is about women that you don't understand, do understand and appreciate, and do understand and don't appreciate. This is not limited at all to romantic involvements, although you can go there if you wish. Also, how a society run by women would look and act. You can't crap out in two graphs, either."

Those who know me might sniff, "Yeah, like he can manage two whole paragraphs on the subject at all." Sniffage aside, however, it's a legitimate query, and one I need to answer, not so much for the sake of the question (or the questioner), but to find some sense amid all the emotional nonsense with which I've surrounded these issues over the years.

At the core of my understanding of women is the most obvious of statements: they are people. Bipedal humanoids of the sort one sees every day. Which is another way of saying that while there are characteristics which are most specific to women, there are others which appear more-or-less equally in both genders (and in nonstandard gender variations, but that's another topic entirely). So I understand women, at least to the extent that they exhibit the basic needs — food, shelter, some reasonably-solid semblance of identity — that are common to us all. Beyond that, I am totally lost.

Which is not quite true. There are times, not frequently enough perhaps, when I have some sort of actual insight into a woman's thoughts. (If these were really common, there would be little point in mentioning them.) I tend to attribute this phenomenon to a vestigial form of feminine intuition; if one buys the premise that human embryos default to female unless something happens very early in gestation to produce a male, it should surprise no one that this characteristic could be present, albeit with reduced function, in men. And "intuition" is a nebulous concept in itself. What we think of as "intuition", I believe, is mostly an enhanced ability to interpret nonverbal language (facial expressions, body positionings, voice inflections, and the like, which, to a small extent anyway, can actually be learned; it's not entirely a function of gender at all.

This nonverbal understanding I have, of course, has its limitations. As a solitary soul, I seldom get much opportunity to work with it. And it has a blind spot the size of, well, me; if she's thinking about me, favorably or otherwise, I haven't a clue one way or another. I need hardly point out that this contributes to making that solitary state more permanent. But on issues that don't affect me personally, I think I do a passable job of walking a mile in her moccasins, though I draw the line at Manolo Blahniks with four-inch heels.

Women are often portrayed (especially by men or by female rivals) as being calculating and devious, and the portrayers go out of the way to suggest that this is a bad thing. I'm not so sure. Without getting into that arcane left-brain/right-brain stuff, it seems at least plausible to me that women are certainly capable of working out the complex mathematics of human relationships, but most cultures familiar to us expect women to accept passively the results of those computations. Is she calculating and devious? More likely, I say, she's conducting a recount.

No matter how many times I see it, I marvel at the bond between mother and child, a bond which starts, I suspect, about half a second after conception. Both of my children met the general description of "unplanned", in the sense that neither of them fit into whatever dubious schedule my wife and I may have planned, but no thought whatever was given to the notion of taking an "easy" way out of the pregnancies; the very idea was, you should pardon the expression, inconceivable. (And yes, the scare quotes are deliberate.) These children were wanted, and I consider it mostly their mother's success (since the marriage broke up rather early) that they learned to take it as a given, something their old man never quite figured out on his own.

One thing I have noticed among women around my age (which is forty-nine) is a general dissatisfaction with their marital status; those who are married seem chafed by their chains, and those who are not seem to mourn their loneliness. I am not quite sure what to make of this, and consider it a failure of my pseudo-intuition. Inevitably, the married ones explain that it's all his fault, and recite a litany of grievances which is simultaneously grossly stereotyped and painfully accurate, which leads me to believe that there must be something to it — but what? Is there some hitherto-undisclosed midnight for every married man, when the tolling of the bell means Mr Right reverts to being just another pumpkin? If there is one thing I would wish to learn from any woman, beyond "Why do you dislike me so?", it is the timing of that moment.

(I seem to have veered away from the topic at hand. Sorry. It won't happen again. Not this week, anyway.)

I really can't imagine, except in the most general terms, what a society run by women would look like, or how it would act, but some characteristics, or the absence of characteristics, suggest themselves. I doubt, for instance, that there's any truth to the notion that the society would inevitably be more pacifist: certainly since 9/11 there has been no shortage of women willing to kick ass and take names in the manner stereotypically associated with men. (Condi Rice vs. Colin Powell should settle that quickly enough.) And I think it unlikely that politics would shift substantially leftward; the American left seems generally inhospitable to issues concerning families and children unless its proper buzzwords are included. On the other hand, there's one thing you can be sure of in a society run by women: it will not be Islamic.

The Vent

#300
6 July 2002

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