As I slogged down Science Hill I saw it in the distance — the heinous orange road sign that troubled the feminist in me out of her standard post-lab hyper-caffeinated daze —
How SEXIST, thought I. Although all visual evidence affirmed the veracity of said signboard, I didn’t understand why it had to be so intrinsically discriminatory. When would reflective billboards take a hint from the post-Backlash era and break the Glass Ceiling on Prospect Street?
Then, I realized that even if the road construction were being performed by women, there’s NO way the sign would say “Women Working.” It would say something like, “If you can’t see what we’re doing, you’re not paying attention.” Duh, we’re working. Just try not to do anything stupid while we’re doing it.
Overall, it’s a great time to be a woman because we’re in an age of Girl Power. In the last several years, I’ve been continually impressed by the level of empowerment of ladies’ room graffiti: “Sister, you’re beautiful.” “You don’t need HIM!” “Girlz Rule!” Growing up, I had Sally Ride and Madeleine Albright and The Spice Girls to show me that women can do it all. But just because these females are fierce and powerful, are they the same as men?
On some fundamental level, I buy the ancient wisdom that there is just something different about the way that (most) men and (most) women perceive and navigate the world. How could I not? I’ve read study after study from psychologists and sociologists documenting significant effects of gender on any number of variables; I’ve seen arguments from biology, linguistics and prime-time TV which, for me, pretty much ends any doubt.
My own recognition of gender differences troubles me, though. I fear the gender split becoming a kind of Plessy v. Ferguson of sex ideology — haven’t we already learned that separate is inherently unequal? For example: If Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus, the males among us have the possibility of water and cute green creatures with antennae-eyes; females just have a ginormous ball of noxious gasses. That split’s not so fair.
On a personal level, I worry that I — a fairly aggressive, well-educated woman in a liberal and supportive environment — of all people should be trying to break down gender stereotypes. Instead of what I actually do: being a bad driver, crying at Grey’s Anatomy and having zero visuospatial orientation skills?
At times, I have tried to help this worthy cause. After taking Porn in the Morn freshman year and writing a final paper on intersexuals, I briefly abandoned all acceptance of a dichotomous approach to gender. Incensed by the duality of everything from locker rooms to shoe stores to preschool playtime, though, I decided that I couldn’t deal with that level of rage in my life. So, noting that these splits work pretty well day-to-day, I gave it up.
At the very least, I feel that I should do all I can not to perpetuate the overpowering heteronormativity of our society. As a theater student at a liberal arts institution, my life for the past four years has often been like one long episode of “Will & Grace,” albeit with better hair and more realistic expectations about the costs of real estate in Manhattan. Just because I’m straight doesn’t mean that anybody else should be or that they should have different opportunities because of this. Everybody’s a person, whether they’re a 0 or a 6 on the Kinsey scale, so we should do away with all this classification. And yet, no matter how many different sexual orientations my friends have, there are still some pretty typical male/female divides. Take my gay guy friends, for example: at the end of the day those boys are just boys with tighter pants and better taste in men. They’ve still got more body hair, more online porn and less multitasking ability than any of my female friends.
Boys are gross creatures. Nothing has made this clearer to me than sharing a bathroom with what seems like a trillion of them this semester. They just don’t operate the same way we do. They leave shaving remnants in the sink, they projectile-hack toothpaste all over the mirror, they (much to my roommate’s horror last weekend) pee in the shower stalls. These are nice guys, too. But they pull shit that neither I nor any of my close female friends would dream of doing.
Whether it’s our embattled bathroom or the Democratic presidential nomination, it’s clear that gender still divides us. But are men and women different in a way that matters? To answer a basic question, we need a basic answer. So some Seussian wisdom: Mars, Venus, vagina, penis — I don’t really care… just put the damn seat down.
Sarah Minkus is wearing a Union Jack minidress.