Ladies and gentlemen
We still hear that at big soirees at the beginning of shows, and when people wearing very good clothes gather to give each other awards. In some circumstances, you have to say it ironically – say any gathering of science fiction and fantasy people, unless you do something like reverse the genders (and people are sitting in a way you can make that clear) you’re going to get in trouble, because people will take offense at being called that. (In science fiction and fantasy we’re Odds who are also used to being looked down on by our peers. We can take offense at pretty much anything.)
I’ll probably get called a gender traitor (again) because of this post.
That we live in an age where you get called a “gender traitor” is in itself a sign that we have entered Heinlein’s crazy years. No, think about it. You can be a traitor to a cause, but the fact that I was born with a vagina is not a cause. It is merely a biological fact, like the fact that I have olive skin, tan rather easily, that my hair went white when I was 28, or that I have a high likelihood – given genetics – of eventually going either via cancer or a heart attack.
Would you call me a traitor of people who grayed early, because I dye my hair? Would you call me a traitor of people who have heart attacks because I have low blood pressure? Of course, you might call me a race traitor because I like redheaded men (no, my husband is not, but love transcends mere physical attraction.) That would be stupid too because olive skin is not a race, but rather a characteristic of the Mediterranean sub-race of Caucasians, broadly identified (but not covalent) with cultures that speak either Portuguese or Spanish. However stupid is the mark of the day, and our polity seems to have gone insanely howling into the night.
Once upon a time – metaphorically speaking, in a garden far far away – there were men and there were women. Actually it probably started before that, before our fall into sentience, before our ascent into reason, before we tried to be “like onto gods, knowing good from evil.” At some point back there – well at all points back there starting with the point at which life on Earth invented genders as a good mechanism of genetic recombination – there were males and females. There is a fascinating book on sex by Doctor Tatiana something or other. No, not that type of book on sex. This is about how males and females of any – and all species – compete with each other to gain the advantage of the other in the reproductive stakes. The goal is always to pass on your genes with minimal effort and as broadly as possible.
For instance, the male praying mantis is sort of losing at that game, since in most cases (not all females actually do this) he gets eaten while he’s copulating. (His hind quarters just keep going even as his head is bitten off.) So he won’t be passing his genes on with any other female. On the other hand, little appreciated is the fact that he also leaves part of himself in there, preventing the female from copulating with any other males. He also, incidentally, gives her a nutritious snack, which increases the chances of his offspring being strong.
Humans are not just animals. In some frameworks, you could consider us animals who have gone thoroughly insane and started defeating instinct with… other things. On the other hand, since I doubt very much that cars, or even carriages or even the domestication of horses, much less steam and electricity are instinctive (though it could be debated. No? Show your work. There are quite complex instinctive behaviors in other animals. Incidentally, older son and I need to remember not to have these debates in front of normal people, btw. It tends to make them try to run into the night. Which is difficult when you’re in a doctor’s waiting room) we’ve done pretty well out of going collectively mad, in that for a tropical animal, we now cover most of the land masses in the world, one way or another.
However we are built on the framework of the animals, back there, through which we emerged. It’s like when I write a novel, and then rewrite it completely – traces remain of the original framework if only because it’s very hard to re-think everything from first principles. So, while someone approaching the novel for the first time might not see it, the traces are there, at worst in a scene that doesn’t quite mesh, at best in a line of dialogue that seems oddly out of place, here and there. Or imagine that you took apart a sweater to make another (in the village of my childhood this was NORMAL. When a sweater started to go, you unraveled it – sometimes you dyed the thread in between – and then you made it again. Yes, we do – even I – forget how wealthy we are now, and how people not so long ago had to make and scrape. And even they were incredibly wealthy compared to most humans throughout history.) By the fourth or fifth time, sweaters acquired this … lumpy and patchy appearance, because the thread had worn unevenly. It was a new sweater, but you saw traces of the sweaters that it had been.
So, humans, like animals, have evolved strategies requiring the genders to compete, at the same time they cooperate in the passing on genetic characteristics. The ultimate goal, of course, is to pass on as much of our genes as possible, while the species goes on.
Starting with the pre-humans, if what we see from the great apes translates (it might or might not. There are… differences) this meant that our ancestors lived in bands, and within those bands divisions of labor developed, according to the strengths of each gender.
See, the insanity of the sixties (and seventies) was this odd idea that despite all the external differences, despite all the different hormonal brews that course through our veins, gender was a societal construct and that without it men and women would be exactly alike and express in exactly the same way.
There has been a lot of mumbo jumbo developed in favor of this idea and I think in some kindergartens in Sweden children are now officially “it.” Which is … insane. Because even before puberty, the stuff coursing in a little boy’s veins is quite different from the stuff coursing in a little girl’s and TRUST me, it matters. More importantly, little boys and little girls are the result of different evolutionary pressures, of different selection processes.
We’ve talked about, before, how women tend to work towards cohesion. It’s an instinctive thing. Put most women in a group and they try to maneuver to be just like most other women.
I can only imagine – and it’s hard to, without descending to the level of a just-so story – that throughout most of our pre-civilized stages, women or pre-human females – being weaker and considered somewhat of a “commodity” were often kidnapped by different bands, and that the ones that survived were the ones who were best at adapting – at mimicking the behavior of the new band.
There are other explanations, too. In a hunter, gatherer culture women tended to gather in bands, and both collect whatever comestibles and watch toddlers. If you’re “in” with your group your toddlers are more likely to be watched carefully by other females than if you are an iconoclast who just had a big argument with more than half the women and called them all poopy heads.
(So, Sarah, how come we got you? Recessives, children, recessives. Same reason two brown eyed parents can, and sometimes do, throw a blue eyed child. It’s amazing how long the things can stay buried, and how much counterproductive ones – like my temperament – manage to survive. This is a germane point. Whenever I talk of males and females and the processes that shaped them and what resulted, I’m talking of “on average.” There are always weirdos and sports, like myself. And some women are hairier and stronger than most men [I’ve threatened a male friend with finding him one of these.] However, to quote Heinlein, “that’s not the way to bet.”)
Anyway, we’re not just animals. So you take that brew, and you translate it to a highly sophisticated culture – say the early twentieth century – and you get ladies and gentlemen, with the virtues of each clearly defined.
Gentlemen were – for various reasons, among others because women’s lives were often cut short by pregnancy or at least severely handicapped – the motor of civilization. You can have women’s history day as much as you want to, but almost all the big, public work of civilization and technology, of construction and invention was done by men. The way people grub in the dirt for things that women – outliers – have done in the public arena, bringing out stuff like Ada Lovelace’s mathematical work and blowing it all out of proportion — is humiliating. It is also stupid.
Women were as much instrumental in building civilization as men – of course – but their work was of a different kind. “The hand that rocks the cradle” is a line that people love to mock, but that doesn’t take its power away. Women formed the very young mind (whether the woman was the mother or a paid servant is a discussion for another day) and instilled both the behaviors and the gender norms into children. Without them, the gentlemanly virtues wouldn’t exist.
By and large, the roles of each gender in civilized society were the refinement of those things that made men reproduce (and raise offspring) better in pre-historic times: they were strong, determined, innovative and – this is very important – protective.
Women on the other hand were consensus builders, networkers, keepers of knowledge and records, teachers and diplomats (with the attendant dose of backstabbing.) For a woman to be a “lady” implied a refinement of the APPEARANCES necessary to evoke gentlemanly behavior in public. A lady was therefore refined, acted as was viewed as a pattern of perfection by men – that is, demure, quiet, innocent and always “well mannered” (that is fitting within the group.)
To some extent all men aspired to be gentlemen and all women aspired to be ladies. It was the way to climb socially and therefore get better treatment for your kids.
Yeah, women like me probably couldn’t hack it – though I understand great grandma whom I’m said to resemble both in appearance and mind, managed to walk the line and APPEAR the grand-dame in public. (The fact that she was also a holy terror who kept her many sons and PARTICULARLY her daughters in law in abject terror, and the fact she ran the family business were backroom things, not to be talked about.)
Yes, the gender order was oppressive. Yes, people like me and many of you, and a multitude of people who fall on the far ends of the spectrum either way would be out of place (I’m sorry to tell you guys this, but most of us would be out of place anywhere. I know. It’s sad) and yeah, I’m glad it broke to an extent. In a technological age, there is no reason for women not to do public work, the same as most men. It’s not like we’re required to hold a pig under each arm while leading the horse, something for which men have a physical advantage.
But though I’m glad that women can enter the labor force and that women with excellent minds can use them for other than infant games (though please DO let’s talk about creating in intelligent women the idea that it’s noble and right to raise your own kids. The fact we’re outsourcing this to – largely, though not always – infantile brains will break the back of our society.) However – did it have to come about in the sixties and seventies? Did it have to come about when people were so eager to deny biological differences and to reject everything western, instead of analyzing what worked where and why?
Because western civilization was built on a division of labor – because the initial division of labor was simply male-female – because the public virtues were always “manly” and the private ones “womanly” when women first washed onto the public sphere they decided they needed to be more like men. So far so good. (I’m talking here of the VERY EARLY women’s work pioneers.) Because most of these women were ladies, they tried to be gentlemen.
This works well, because gentlemanly virtues is what Western Civlization in its public sphere is based on: fair work for fair pay; honoring your commitments; remembering those who helped you on the way up (which my dad taught me as “There are debts that aren’t monetary and that can NEVER be repaid. There are people who, when they call favors, you do the favors, and you don’t question it.”); and most of all fighting fair.
The problem is that the sixties and seventies while talking (flapping lips) endlessly about social construction forgot the basis on which the social constructions are built.
Women are not men. Some of us are – or try to be – gentlemen, but it’s a fine line, even for an outlier like me. Women were chosen by an entirely different process.
Most of the lady-like virtues were DESIGNED to be appearance-only. Women are VERY good at giving an appearance of respecting all the male virtues (when they understand them. These days they’re more likely to imitate the male vices.) In fact, they’re often better than men. The rub is that they’re not good at HAVING them – not without a conscious effort, and not without the virtues being held up to them as something to be/do.
Do I mean every woman is a sneaky back stabber? Oh. My. No. Of course not. But I mean that in a pinch our lines on that are more blurry than man’s. Consensus must be built, and we must look out for our offspring.
Women IOW don’t fight fair. We’re not meant to. Women who fought fair – being smaller and weaker than men – left no descendants.
All that is fine and dandy while you’re using it in the private sphere and keeping the men in the family in protective mode, even while you cajole, manipulate and generally run the place with an iron hand.
In business and in politics on the other hand… it sucks. It means that we slowly but surely push marriage laws so that they’re a trap for the man and a consequence free experiment for women. It means we make use of affirmative action even when there is no logical reason to. It means that we – even in fields like university attendance and novel writing – become the majority while steadily screaming that we’re being discriminated against.
It means we dismantle those very same western modes of behavior that made our civilization.
It also means that the gloves come off. The war of the genders becomes overt. Worse, instead of leading to more offspring, it leads to no offspring at all, as each is taught to hate and/or despise the other.
Do I want women to go back to the home and the kitchen? Well, if they want to. I think each individual should do what suits him, regardless of gender. Individuals aren’t statistics.
But I don’t think that women – or men – are tabula rasa.
If we’re to save what remains of our culture, we MUST establish modes of behavior. If you don’t want to be sexist, call them public and private.
In private anyone should feel free to act like a lady – we could use a bit more of not airing private laundry in public, and that’s a very lady like virtue. But in the public sphere, where we transact politics and business and the public decisions, everyone should be a gentleman. Contracts should be honored; each should take responsibility for himself; backstabbing, betrayal and unfair advantage should justly be reviled, no matter who does it.
Ladies – I know this will cut out much of your advantage, but – you must learn to be gentlemen in public. To be ladies, manipulative, deceptive and contriving, does give you an individual advantage, but it is destroying our culture.
And if it destroys our culture, the one that WILL replace it IS one in which women will be held in subjection. I don’t want that for any female descendants I might have. I don’t want it for anyone’s female descendants.
Ladies, be gentlemen. Play fair. Gentlemen, relearn the gentlemanly virtues.
In the home be what you very well want, but in public, dry your tears and stop your flashing of leg. In public life, we must all be gentlemen. Gentlemen play fair.
UPDATE: And today I’m Guest Blogging at Anthony Pacheco’s another member of the great Portuguese conspiracy in SF/F