Ish: What Makes a Man, a Woman or Whatever Is In-Between

Deer Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas
Cartoon by Mickey Paraskevas

Men and women, on average, are physically different. Men tend to be taller. Women have wider hips. Men have more upper body strength. Women can have babies. Men have sex organs on the outside. Women have sex organs on the inside. Men go downstairs at night when a burglar is suspected. Women are safer drivers. Men are more aggressive. And women can feed the children breast milk. And women live longer.

This is not to argue that one or the other is better. It’s just that females are more likely to have plain looking feathers while the males have brightly colored tails that on request, can be spread out and expand into a knock your socks off full color plumage. I am talking about peacocks here.

I’m fed up with people who say there are no differences. And so, I am proposing a phrase that can solve this problem. The phrase is “ish.”

I will give you an example. Twenty-five years ago, I put an ad in Dan’s Papers advertising for a “delivery boy,” which is what we called people who delivered the paper back then. I got a call from a young woman.

“I’d like to apply for the job of delivery BOY,” she said.

“Usually I get calls from boys,” I said. “It’s heavy work. You have to move 30-pound bundles of newspaper around all day.”

“I can do it.”

“I had a woman try delivering the paper one year and she quit after the first day.”

“I said I can do it.”

“Stop in and we’ll talk.”

She came in, a determined, powerful young woman and she worked for me for nearly a year delivering the newspaper. Then she went on to other things. Today, we can’t even say “delivery boy.” It’s “distribution associate.”

Let me be clear. I am not saying there are differences between all men and all women. It has to do with bell curves. If you draw a bell curve of the shoulder width of all women on a piece of paper, and if you make another bell curve for the men, the two bell curves will have a peak that is a different height, but they will also, down on one side, overlap. We have girls who are boy-ish and boys who are girl-ish. It is what it is. Yet feminists declare this not to be true.

Why is that? I’ll tell why. As long as we stay blind to the differences, we don’t enter the arena of dealing with the prejudices they evoke, which happens when one group observes that another is different and so decides that different group is inferior. By doing this, however, we lose the ability to celebrate our differences. We absolutely don’t trust one another, as it turns out.

Consider it. There is a Hispanic culture, a Jewish culture, an Irish culture. We hold big St. Patrick’s Day Parades, and on that day “we are all Irish.” And the Irish, on the bell curve, to use the stereotypes, have high levels of literary ability, alcohol consumption and red hair. Did I just scare you? It wasn’t the red hair or the literary ability. That’s the issue.

What we are left with is the Emperor’s New Clothes. We see a man naked running toward us. We see what we see. But, and this is hilarious, we are supposed to wait until this person opens his or her mouth to inform us whether he or she is a he or a she.

Consider Bruce Jenner.

Caitlyn Jenner, as he now calls himself, is in fact a man who loves to dress up like a woman, put nail polish on his fingers, and, again, if stereotypes would be used, gossip with the girls and go out shopping. And I call him “him” because God made him fancy on the outside, not fancy on the inside. And that makes him a him.

But he is not a “him” in his head, he will tell you. He’s been asked why that is. And this is the answer he gives.

“My brain is more like a woman’s brain,” he says. And so that explains it.

His saying that he has a woman’s brain drives feminists crazy. A woman reporter, Elinor Burkett, writing in The New York Times, reminded her fellow feminists that when Lawrence Summers, who was at the time a very popular President of Harvard University, said the very same thing to explain why some women do not seem to do very well with mathematics, the outrage could be heard everywhere, and he was forced to step down.

Is there such a thing as a women’s brain? Well, you know what? There is. For a long time, nobody knew anything about the brain other than it was up there thinking. But now it turns out that scientists can look at a brain through a scanner and without looking further immediately tell you if it is the brain of a man or the brain of a woman because of the differences.

A brain is a physical organ like every other, and there are physical properties in certain areas that deal with mathematics or empathy or aggression or passivity that, when you come down to it, create feelings and traits that are as real as the physical traits we can’t help noticing. The environment can affect it, but it starts with genetics. And there is a physical difference.

So let us review. Men and women are different. But we’re supposed to refuse to acknowledge it. In fact, we get really mad if someone, such as me, were to mention it in an article.

And oh, it comes up in so many ways, particularly sexual ways, in the news.

About a year ago, actress Martha Plimpton referred to a Texas fundraiser for abortion-rights as “A Night of a Thousand Vaginas,” and after she wrote this, she was slammed by emails from transgender women who were being excluded from such a fundraiser by Plimpton’s comments because they didn’t have vaginas. They were women, too. What about them? It was demanded she not include “vaginas” in the title. When Plimpton stood her ground, she was attacked and told to use the term “terf,” which means “trans exclusionary radical feminist.”

Also in January, a theater group at Mount Holyoke College cancelled a performance of the excellent feminist play The Vagina Monologues after being told it gave “an extremely narrow perspective on what it means to be a woman,” by Erin Murphy, a student who headed up some committee or other.

Also in the course of Burkhart’s article in the Times, she tells of a plan in upstate New York to stop using the word “sisterhood.” And even using the word “woman” is being considered for banishment.

There is a video on YouTube about a barely post-pubescent 15-year-old boy who had his male organs removed so he could become a girl, because if he waited ’til later it would have been a bigger deal. In the video someone asked him why he did it and he says, “I’d just look down there first thing in the morning and just hate it, hate it.” He also says, she (now) is so much happier when she looks down there. “It just feels right,” she said.

I’m wondering if anyone knows what any of this means anymore.

Then there is this Nobel Prize–winning scientist in England, Dr. Tim Hunt, who was forced to resign because of something he said. He said he thought there ought to be laboratories where women work and other laboratories where men work, because having the males and females together was a big distraction and that tended to interfere with the science.

His comment went viral on the internet. He was asked for an apology. And this was his reply: “I did mean the part about having trouble with girls. It is true that people—I have fallen in love with people in the lab and people in the lab have fallen in love with me and it’s very disruptive to the science because it’s terribly important that in a lab people are on a level playing field. I found that these emotional entanglements made life very difficult.”

After that, he says he was forced to resign by the university.

So who opens the ketchup bottle, who drinks beer, who farts in public, who knows the way, who fixes things, who goes down the stairs in the middle of the night to see if that noise was a burglar? When women do that, I think they are “mannish.” And when men polish their nails, put on lipstick, shave their legs, I think they are nuts.

I think a woman should get equal pay and the equal rights and encouragement to take on any job she wants, “mannish” or otherwise. And I also want to celebrate our differences. Preferably in person, if that’s okay with her. (Him.) Let me know.

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