You know, there are so many things wrong with this, I don’t even know where to begin.
“This” being Christopher Hitchens’s recent piece in Vanity Fair about why women aren’t as funny as men. The key sentence: “For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing.” Because we bear and raise children, women are both more nurturing and take life more seriously than men, and thus lack both the mean-spiritedness and the frivolousness required of humor. That’s a gross over-generalization of Hitchens’s piece; but then, Hitchens’s piece is pretty gross, so I guess it’s appropriate.
I don’t even know where to start. And no, I’m not going to start with the absurdity of “For women, reproduction is, if not the only thing, certainly the main thing.” I have better things to do than shoot that particularly slow and stupid fish in that exceptionally small barrel.
So I guess I should start with the obvious: It isn’t true. Flat out, plain, R-O-N-G Rong. Other bloggers have been busily coming up with lists of counterexamples, so I’m not going to bother. (Google it yourself if you like; I’m putting some of my personal favorites in my illustrations.) Instead, I’ll just say: He obviously hasn’t met my friends. Or my co-workers. Or my family. Or my girlfriend. Or the commenters on this blog. Or… well, you get the drift. It’s as if Hitchens spent 2700 words carefully pondering the question of why birds don’t fly.
And of course, there is the slow, stupid fish in the tiny tiny barrel — the assumption that all women are focused on baby-making above all other forms of human endeavor, a focus that drives everything that might interfere with it clean out of our pretty little heads. (And that no men are like that at all.)
But what really kills me is the assumption that we are all — women and men alike — either completely nurturing or completely mean-spirited; utterly serious or utterly frivolous. You have to be one or the other — you can’t be both. You can’t make chicken soup for your sick girlfriend and then make mean-spirited snarky jokes on the Internet; you can’t spend all week taking care of mentally ill homeless people with AIDS and then spend an hour and half on Saturday night getting dressed up to go to a drag show. Nope. One or the other, please. Pick now, all of you. NOW, dammit!
This is the thing that irritates me most about this sort of simplistic “men are from Mars, women are from Venus” gender analysis. It’s the ham-handed division of the human race into two easily distinguishable camps, with everyone in one camp having A, B, and C qualities in unadulterated proportions, and everyone in the other camp having X, Y, and Z qualities in an equally pure form.
The reality is that, whatever gender-differentiated behavior trait you can think of — aggressiveness, competitiveness, co-operation, empathy, whatever — we all of us have all of them to at least some degree, and there’s an enormous amount of overlap between the genders. Even in the areas where women’s and men’s behavior is pretty demonstrably different — the tendency to get into physical fights, for instance — it’s not as if all women are lumped from 1 to 5 and all men are lumped from 6 to 10. It’s more like we’re on overlapping bell curves — with women bell-curving from, say, 1 to 8, and men bell-curving from 3 to 10. (I’m literally and physically pulling those numbers out of my ass as we speak, by the way. But I’ll bet you that my science analysis is still better than Hitchens’s. A small Russet potato could analyze the science in this story better than Hitchens did.) And leaning towards the male end of one particular spectrum (spatial relations, say) is no guarantee that you’ll lean towards the male end of any other spectrum (like verbal ability).
And maybe more to the point: I’ve seen studies that show that people — both women and men — who aren’t rigidly gender-typed, people who have lots of typical characteristics of both genders, tend to be happier and better-adjusted and more satisfied with themselves and their lives than people who adhere to rigid gender roles and expect others to do the same.
And I bet we’re funnier, too.