Differences between sexes—not genders, which is a word belonging to linguists concerned with matching the form of modifiers to their nouns or verbs. It was commandeered for use in social discourse by prudes who didn’t want to say sex. But I like to say sex. There, I’ll say it again: sex—can be useful, annoying, highly pleasurable, inconvenient, infuriating. But not ignored.
I’m all for equality of the sexes, or at least equal opportunity. But let’s not confuse equality with identity. Women are not the same as men. You may have noticed this if you’ve looked at both. Aside from anatomical and physiological distinctions, which I wholeheartedly applaud, there are other, more subtle differences. For instance, no woman is ever satisfied that anything is in the right place. If you live with one, you know what I mean. No matter how long the furniture has been where it is, you need to try a different arrangement every so often, just in case it might be better. And not just furniture; the same thing goes for appliances and anything even remotely moveable. If the microwave is in the corner, it needs to come out about two feet. If the spice rack is two feet out, it might be better in the corner. I don’t know why this is, but I’m pretty sure no man behaves this way.
Women are sort of like this with paint, too. After some years (exactly how long is a mystery buried deep in the X chromosome) they decide it’s time for a home makeover, and the whole house needs to be repainted. We’re going through that now; my wife has picked out a whole bunch of new colors. Never mind that to my eye they look an awful lot like the old colors; male wisdom is knowing when to close your mouth and open your checkbook.
Women don’t like the same movies as men, and they refuse to be fair about it. I’ll go to a chick flick with my wife from time to time, but no way is she going with me to a movie with car chases and stuff blowing up.
Ladies don’t blow their noses, either. It’s something I’ve never understood, and if anyone can enlighten me, I would appreciate it. They hold a Kleenex up in the neighborhood below their eyes and make this dainty little pfft, pfft. There’s barely a sound, not enough wind to ruffle a duckling’s down, let alone accomplish its intended purpose. Jeanine agrees that it’s not very effective, so why bother at all? It’s really more of a blot than a blow, but then why pretend? I just don’t get it.
The other day I talked about sex and told you everything husbands need to know about their wives. (If you missed it, here it is again: shut up and sign the check.) I distinguished between sex and gender, so today I thought I’d address the notion of gender.
The English language doesn’t have any; we don’t care about masculine or feminine with respect to inanimate objects. Maybe a few English speakers do, but they are a very small minority. In other languages it matters. Sometimes it’s helpful for understanding, like in German. With their horrendously convoluted sentences, it makes it easier to figure out what adjective goes with what noun. Sometimes gender is perfectly logical, if superfluous: “dress” is feminine in every language I know. So is “flower,” which seems appropriate to me, if not necessarily logical.
Sometimes gender seems completely arbitrary. In German and the Romance languages, the word for “hand” is feminine, while the word for “foot” is masculine. Unless you are talking about an animal’s foot, which is feminine in all cases. Arms are masculine, at least in French, Italian, and Spanish, but legs are feminine. Come to think of it, maybe that makes sense….
“Bed” and “pillow” are both masculine in France, but feminine in Spain. In French, Spanish, or Italian what you sit on (“chair”) is feminine but what you stand on (“floor”) is masculine. Unless it’s an armchair, which is masculine in France, or a dance floor, which is feminine in Italy.
In France, the sun is masculine and the moon feminine. In Germany, it’s the other way around. Imagine trying to translate a French poem about the sun chasing the moon across the sky. Germans would interpret the metaphor a bit differently from the French. But isn’t that always the way?