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Saturday, July 22, 2000

United Delays; Flaming Cheese; American Women

Sitting here now at 6pm, listening to the sound of mechanics working on the underside of the plane. We were supposed to depart at 4:45pm. The flight from LAX to New Orleans is three and a half hours, plus a two-hour time shift, so I'm looking at arriving near midnight. Michelle is expecting to meet me at her gate when she arrives via Continental at 11pm. I joked at the time that we should have a contingency plan since I was flying United.

Ha ha.

We didn't make one.

I had a good lunch today with my friend Andrew* before he dropped me at the Carlsbad airport. We went to a passable Greek restaurant on a coupon that delivered a complementary plate of flaming cheese. We were impressed by the waitress who used the word "ratio" when responding to Andrew*'s inquiry about the relative quantity of potatoes in the moussaka, and this made us reflect on the pitiful state of the world in which this should impress us.

The question came up: what in particular is it about American women that gives them the reputation as being the worst in the world? My answer: they expect far more than they expect themselves to give. Andrew* phrased it as having a hard time finding women who are "serious", and that they have an overinflated sense of self-value.

In any event, there is definitely something about American women, about the culture which surrounds them here, which prevents them from living up to their potential. The feeling I get is simply that life is too easy for women here, partly because life is too easy for everyone here, and partly as a byproduct of pervasive fears sown into society through the meme of political correctness. Surely most women would scoff at this claim, tell me "hey buddy -- you have no idea how hard my life is!" But that's just it--difficulty comes in orders of magnitude and what most American women think of as being difficult doesn't even reach the ankles of many of life's challenges.

What, exactly, is expected of women here? Nothing, really. In the past, they were expected to be good wives and mothers, good cooks, gardeners, house keepers... a perfect wife had a keen sense of aesthetics and of fun and could take whatever hubby brought home and turn it into a good and enjoyable life for the whole family. This was the ideal. Now all of that is in the shit-can, and you probably winced just reading it. "Perfect wife." Did you wince?

So now it's career, whatever that means, as long as it's not being a wife, but nobody really expects women to have careers either, or at least not to excel in them, since everybody knows but no one is allowed to admit (even to themselves) that women just don't obsess over tasks the way men do. Again--you scoff. And again, it's orders of magnitude. Sure women obsess, but not in the same way or to the same degree. Walk into any business, and count the ratio of men to women. Then come back after hours and count again. By and large the women go home at the end of the day, while some of the men stay behind to finish something or just to get more done than they had time to do. (You may be saying to yourself "well, that's just because bla bla bla.." in defense for why those women are being perfectly reasonable. And I won't argue -- my point is not that it's better or worse to stay or go, my point is simply that, on average, the men have a harder time breaking away, setting a thing aside, and going home, for better or for worse.) Try this experiment: Create some irrelevant problem that seems like it ought to be easy to solve but is in fact much harder than it looks. Present it to some men and some women. Once it becomes apparent that the solution is going to be a pain to find, most or all of the women will drop it as irrelevant -- why should they waste their time solving some arbitrary problem with no bearing on anything? Whereas some or many of the men will feel compelled to solve it--once engaged, to just drop it would be like giving up; it must be conquered. The same applies to pursuing answers in general. Once engaged, a man's curiosity will lead him to waste a great deal of time to find the answer, even if he doesn't need it by the time he finds it, whereas most women can easily drop the issue as irrelevant and move on to the next thing. Obviously there are pluses and minuses to both tendencies.

It's easy to see how evolution would prefer these distinctions, and it's easy to observe them in action... And yet we're all programmed to pretend no such distinctions exist, and so on the surface we apply one standard to women while underneath we expect something else entirely. So in the end, we expect nothing of women, because we are not allowed to expect them to be women, and we can't fool ourselves into thinking they're men.

This isn't, of course, to say women don't often end up doing as much or more work! She comes home from the "career" and ends up doing all the stuff men suck at because, e.g., she's the only one who cares whether the house looks nice. But neither of them are allowed to admit it, because making the house nice is somehow considered more demeaning than, say, working all day behind a desk in some office on the middle floor of a large corporate building (go figure). So it's their dirty little secret, that she does more of the stuff around the house, and she gets no credit or recognition for it, and most of all she's certainly not expected to do it. She's not expected to do anything at all, because she is Woman, sacred cow of the late twentieth century America, protected and subsidized in penance for some horrible past in which we respected both gender roles instead of just one.

So does this mean I'm looking for a traditional, old fashioned woman? Not necessarily. My point is not that all women should or must play that role, nor that I necessarily want them to. They should do whatever they want, but they should do something! There was a time when a woman in a woman's role was expected to do it with gusto. Not any more! There was a time when a woman in a man's role had to do it with gusto (she had to obsess over it as much as her male counterparts) to be taken seriously. Not any more! Now we are politically correct, and we have to take everyone seriously regardless of their level of devotion or competence, especially if they happen to be a woman.

Maybe I'm just looking for Gusto.

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Simon Funk / simonfunk@gmail.com