Due to unfortunate circumstances, I was forced to take my stroll this morning without my trusty iPod. I wish I could say that the pleasing sounds of bird song accompanying my walk led to numerous uplifting meditations about the wonders of nature, but it did not. The noisy overtures of the local avian population did not impress. This, I thought to myself, while not unpleasant, is not something I would bother to download from iTunes.
Then at the playground, I overheard a couple of old ladies having a conversation about the general failings and inadequacies of men. They were largely talking of their respective husbands, but seemed to have no qualms about attributing the specific annoying qualities of their spouses to the entire male gender. On the whole, this sort of sexism doesn’t really bother me that much. It tends to be funny and I figured that the women have probably been married to the same bloke (or pair of blokes) for forty years and after decades of frustrations with the same old husband failing to help with the washing up or leaving the milk out to go off, they’re entitled to the odd cathartic, if somewhat unfair, generalising remarks along the lines of ‘aren’t men useless?’
However, it was in the context of this mutual whinge-fest that they announced ‘well, men only have the power to destroy lives whereas women create life’. They nodded and hummed away as though they had at last struck upon something profound and, even more irritatingly, true.
Obviously, being the shy, retiring misanthrope that I am, I didn’t stroll over and take issue with their fatuous, self-affirming inanity. I came home and wrote a ranting blog post about it.
I think it bugged me for several reasons. I loathe the tendency people have to make oversimplified or downright stupid remarks but then dress them up and try to pass it off as wisdom. They all annoy me. Any mindless statement along the lines of ‘it’s not what you know, it’s who you know’. Wow. That’s sounds wise. It could almost be in a fortune cookie. Plus, it’s a cliché so it must be true.
Even if we could suspend our rational faculties long enough to allow the whole of humanity and our civilisation throughout the ages to be simplified down to the basic sentiment of ‘women have babies whereas men go around stabbing/shooting/blowing up people’, I think most of us would agree that we manage to fit in various other activities into our hectic childbirth/killing schedules. Surely, even the most enthusiastic mother who yearns for nothing more than to punctuate every birth with yet another pregnancy would find it unfair to have her whole life attributed to nothing other than the creation of little babies. I imagine the average bloodthirsty bloke who likes to fit five good killings in before breakfast each day would likewise find it reductive to say that he only had the power to destroy lives. He would be the first to point out that he could injure, maim or even just bruise people with just as much effectiveness as he could kill. Perhaps he might even mention numerous other abilities he treasured as dearly as his masculine capacity to bring death to any who wished it, or more often, those that didn’t. He might be a fine fisherman, a weaver, a carpenter, a maker of velvet flowers, a butcher*, a baker or even a candlestick-maker.
If such individuals who so graciously meet the requirements of the gender stereotypes inflicted by the spurious ‘men destroy life/women create it’ dichotomy cannot be comfortable with such limitations, then surely the rest of us cannot be expected to buy into it.
I mean the whole assertion is so clearly ridiculous, I don’t know why it bothers me so much. There are obviously millions of men who get through their daily lives without needing to destroy or kill anything just as there are women who don’t have children without feeling the need to throw themselves out of windows in despair.
Maybe it’s because whenever anyone makes these directly oppositional statements about men and women, I feel the urge to prove whatever they say wrong by doing the ‘masculine’ thing. The problem is I just don’t have the desire to kill anyone. Call me a sissy but homicide just doesn’t appeal.
It’s not that I think I lack the ability to successfully murder anyone. I’m sure I could shoot someone as well as any bloke could. Well, not a guy (or indeed girl) who had any training or experience in firearms obviously, but I’ve seen action movies, and I think I could master the basic principles of pointing the gun and pulling the trigger. I don’t particularly ever want to fire a gun, but I resent implication that shooting a gun is somehow like peeing standing up. You can attempt it without a penis, but you’ll find it difficult and, potentially, very messy.
Maybe the concept of men being loaded with testosterone-fuelled, life-destroying potential is so annoying because I have a son. I feel quite outraged at the implication that he must be a fleshy human equivalent of the Deathstar, able to be repurposed for other uses, but fundamentally a massive killing machine on a design level.
Overall, though I think it’s this sanctimonious nonsense about women as the sole ‘givers of life’ trope that I resent. I in no way mean to denigrate the enormity of motherhood. It is an immensely important, rewarding and dramatically life-changing experience, but it is not the only way in which women can lead important and rewarding lives. Also I imagine that fatherhood is likewise exceedingly important, rewarding and dramatically life-changing. Certainly, men don’t get to enjoy** the alarming transformation of their once pleasant-to-inhabit bodies into rudimentary incubators, suffering a barrage of hormone driven unpleasantness and developing the bladder capacity of a gnat for nine months. However, while they don’t really help out at all with the burden of pregnancy, childbirth or even breastfeeding***, they are nevertheless essential in the whole propagation of the species.
Even the most fertile of women will struggle to conceive by merely gyrating their ovaries or becoming spiritually attuned with Mother Gaia. As a species, we have yet to perfect asexual reproduction and it seems with all the rampant bonking going on, no one’s really that bothered. In fact, the general tendency has been towards developing methods for people to have sex without getting pregnant, rather than getting pregnant without having sex.
It is as though Nature has decreed that while on the whole women get to be less hairy and smelly than their male counterparts, they’re really going to cop it on the procreation front. If reproduction arrangement was in anyway fair, then it would be largely the female’s genes getting passed down to the next generation, not the male’s as well. However, the business of procreation tends to focus largely on the benefit of the species as a whole, rather than proportionally representing the genetic makeup of the next generation based on the relative effort, pain and hardship endured by the respective parental contributors.
In biological terms, the male contribution to conception begins and ends with an orgasm, whereas for women, that’s just when things start to get interesting. And when I say interesting, I mean a generally unpleasant and uncomfortable state, lasting for nine months, and culminating in a harrowing experience that can best be summarised by ‘you know that chest-bursting scene in Alien? It’s like that, only with your genitals.’
If the matter of human procreation was fair to the individuals involved, women would at least be rewarded for their suffering efforts with a baby that was basically 99% like them. None of this fifty-fifty sperm/ovum business. Women would get to have a baby that was pretty much a miniature version of themselves. It would be like a very dilute form of immortality.
“What’s this?” bewildered fathers would cry at the sight of their newborn child. “It doesn’t look remotely like me at all.”
“Isn’t he/she lovely?” the doting mother would reply, gazing adoringly into the tiny face of her newborn child.
“He/she is exactly like you,” the father would wail. “It’s like I’m not really involved in the process.”
“Oh, that’s not true. Look at his/her big toe on the left foot.”
“What? You mean the slightly less pretty toe.”
“Yes, dear. It’s just like yours. Isn’t that sweet? He/she has your toe.”
“That’s it? My entire contribution to the continuation of the human species is one big toe?”
“After what I’ve just been through, you’re lucky it’s as much as that. If you hadn’t come to those ante-natal classes and driven me to the hospital, I doubt you would have even got a toenail.”
Ah well. At least now I have been reunited with my beloved iPod so the irritating soundtrack of the real world shall not encroach upon my walk tomorrow.
* Thus handily finding an occupation whereby his previously mentioned slaughtering things skills were a definite boon.
** Any of you who were around me often enough to hear my bitter complaints about the discomforts of pregnancy at the time will know just how sarcastically I am employing the word ‘enjoy’ here.
*** I do find this abominably lazy of men on the whole. You’d think they would at least try to lactate or carry the foetus in the weekends during the last trimester.