Matter of Fact Gender

Gender and sexuality have always been an interest of mine. They are a major part of individual identity shaped by an unknown blend of biological programming and social engineering. Our lack of understanding ripens both characteristics for personal theories, observations, and stereotyping perfect for water cooler debate and endless musing (another favorite pastime of mine).

Because this inherent complexity is so obvious, I get immediately riled up whenever someone spews their gender and sexuality theories, no matter how widely held, as common knowledge. A recent NPR interview of Helen Simpson is a perfect example. Helen appeared on Morning Edition to discuss a recent essay where she wrote a man’s inner monologue containing the struggles and concerns of a woman. The premise itself doesn’t hit any nerves and could have easily fit into the type theoretical musing I look forward to. Sadly, Helen quickly lays out a gender role worldview from the onset of describing her piece.

OK, I’ll reverse everything in this story. We’ll have the man worrying about whether he’s a good father, whether he’s feeding the children right, whether he can go part time. And we’ll have the woman being the one who leaves the bathroom in a state, and belches and farts, and so on.

The biology that women never release any sort of gas is indisputable, but what about those crazy men who argue that they do have concern for their children and life-work balance?

But in my experience, it’s not generally the man who kicks off those [work-life balance] conversations…

Of course! Obviously men don’t worry about work and family matters because they are never the ones to bring it up in conversation. Ever. This raises questions about what to do about the poor children raised by single dads and gay men. Who’s to care for them without a woman around?

At least Helen is an equal opportunist. She paints women with an equally broad stroke when talking about worrying as a particularly feminine trait.

…my husband said to me in the past, and I’ve had lots of women friends whose husbands say the same: ‘Oh, stop worrying. Don’t do so much worrying, everything will be fine.’

But then I’ve found, when I actually have stopped worrying,… everything’s rather started to slide.

Actually, the worrying — that’s the real work, annoyingly.

Got it! So worrying is intrinsic to women’s productivity and, by the way, that’s where the real work is done so those lazy, non-worrying men can shut the hell up and go back to neglecting their children while investing 12 hours a day toward their careers.

While Helen Simpson does caveat her views, she does so in a matter-of-fact manner which she uses to construct factual sounding arguments. Limiting her anecdotes to personal gender and relationship struggles would have illustrated the same points just as well by letting readers relate rather than casting them into predefined rolls.

Our society has done well to discourage the reckless painting of large groups with broad strokes. Why should gender or sexuality be any different?