OK, two men have made comments to me recently indicating their beliefs that women have been screwed by both nature and culture. I really didn't think about these comments too much when I first heard them because they're the kinds of things people, especially men, tend to say frequently. And like most women, I've generally bought into the whole idea that women have gotten the short end of the stick, particularly in terms of biology. But when I really think about it, I realize it's just not true. Women are not worse off than men, either biologically or culturally. And when I think about it, it makes me angry that people are so willing to accept these kinds of ideas.
Nature's the trickier area to tackle. I can sort of see why men might think that nature has screwed women over because of things like menstruation, childbirth and jiggly boobs that make it difficult to run without the aid of a jog bra. On the surface, these do seem like detriments. Certainly, I've spent most of my life thinking of them as detriments to being female.
When I first started my period, I know I wholeheartedly agreed with the idea that women were screwed. It seemed horribly unfair to bleed without being wounded, and even worse was the air of secrecy and shame surrounding the whole event. It's true, menstruation is messy and often inconvenient. One really can't help those two aspects. But it's also frequently embarrassing, and that's unfortunate. I don't understand why women feel like they have to be embarrassed by a natural process that every woman goes through. But most women, especially Southern women, tend to consider a woman's period a secret on par with Dick Cheney's location during times of national crisis. Words like tampon and pad are always whispered or referred to by code words. In fact, many of the girls I grew up with referred to their periods as "George," for reasons that are still unknown to me.
But there's no reason for any of this secrecy. Rather than acting like spies in an enemy camp, we ought to throw parties when we have our periods because most of the time a period is a very good thing, compared to the alternative. And though it may be messy, I'm grateful to my period for making me less squeamish around blood. I think that a girl's first period should be a time of celebration, rather than an initiation into the world of shame.
Childbirth is also messy and inconvenient, in addition to being painful. This seems like a biological situation in which women bear all the pain and men enjoy all the benefits. But that's really not the case. Women have much more opportunity to influence their children than men do, probably because of the whole pregnancy, childbirth and being around while the kid is growing up thing. Also, as a group, women are better parents than men, maybe because they have more invested in the children, what with the pain of giving birth and all.
Boobs are a whole other problem, though. One just can't avoid the fact that boobs get in the way of physical activity, especially running. But there is the jog bra now, the invention that ensures equality for women even more so than the pill, so there's no reason to sit around and mope.
Now what has biology bequeathed to men? Something to dangle between their legs where it can be easily damaged or "come to life" unexpectedly? No thanks. Biology has definitely not gone easy on men.
Culturally, women have it so much better than men. It's true that women have had to overcome and are still overcoming stereotypes and a patriarchal value system. And there is still a pervasive double standard that women must contend with.
But I'm thankful for one thing women have in our culture that men do not: the ability to cry. As a female, I can cry almost anywhere and anytime, and no one thinks any worse of me. When I'm mad, I can cry. When I see a sad movie, I can cry. When I feel like crying, I can cry. This ability saves my sanity all the time. I feel really sorry for men, who must be strong and stoic all the time. And if a man does cry, women might think that he's very sensitive and emotional and just love him to death, but it's guaranteed that other men will think he's a wuss.
I guess it just seems to me that all of the things that are supposedly detriments to being female really aren't all that bad once you think about them. Our patriarchal culture wants women to feel "screwed" and powerless because that keeps us in our place, but in truth we are neither screwed nor powerless unless we allow ourselves to be.
But that's just looking at the situation from a global standpoint, not an individual one. I really don't believe that the average guy who says things like "Women have been screwed by biology" (or culture) are trying to oppress women or anything insidious like that. They simply have to make that argument to themselves about why it would suck to be female, so they won't feel so screwed for being men. And I want you men to be happy, so believe whatever you want about how terrible periods and childbirth must be.
The only time this gets to be a problem is when women start believing the lies that men tell themselves. That's when we need to remind ourselves of all the positive points of being female. We don't want to get caught in the trap of believing in a weaker sex or an inferior sex. You may note that I'm not saying men are an inferior sex, but neither are women. *