Thursday, May 26, 2005

Back to the gender wars

Well, perhaps wars is overstating it. I'm just a bit astounded at how, without even meaning to, I've fallen into casual, small-talk chats twice today that ended up with women (including me) shaking their heads in amazement about things done by those wacky guys we love. I hate those conversations, in which we women are arrayed against the forces of those men, and we are uniform in our judgment of them.

Perhaps it's time for an example: This morning, I had a meeting at a big law firm. (About which I won't say more for fear of being dooced.) As I was waiting for the folks I was meeting to arrive, I chatted with the receptionist. In case you don't follow New England weather, the truly miserable weather of the last few weeks has become the default topic of many of us here in the hinterlands. Rainy and cold -- ugh. So anyway, the receptionist and I chatted away about the forecast and its implications for gardening and the painting of my garage. I was trying to read the giant Newsweek apologia about the debacle of last week, but the receptionist kept chatting, so I continued throwing out half-thought-out responses. The conversation went something like this:

Receptionist: I haven't been able to get a thing done outside at my house this spring.

MC: Me neither. We've been trying to paint our garage ever since it warmed up, but every weekend has been lousy.

R: Oh, that's no fun.

MC: Definitely not. Although my husband probably doesn't mind it, especially if the Sox are playing someplace sunny.

R (with knowing glance): Oh, I bet he's praying for rain on the weekend.

MC (trying to read): Yeah, I bet he is.

R: He wants to watch baseball, you want to get things done. Aren't men funny?

MC (huh? Newsweek has previously based entire articles on nothing more than "sources said"?) Mmm hmmm.

R: It's always the same -- the battle of the sexes.

MC (what the hell????): Umm, I guess so.

And, at that, my meeting began... and two women and I ended up making small talk before the fourth attendee -- a man -- arrived. I only know them in a work context, and only vaguely at that, so we tend to chat about harmless, very stereotypical topics like Shoveling Snow. Or Dealing With In-Laws. Or Going on Vacation. And so within about five minutes, we'd circled around from the weather to movies to the latest Star Wars, at which point we began discussing how glad we were that our respective husbands found friends to accompany them to the movie, and what we did instead.

"I stayed home and read magazines," I said. Which was true. But egads, how I hated being one of those women, who isn't interested in scifi movies (although I loved Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back) and who lounges on the couch with small fluffy dogs rather than accompanying her husband on manly outings. Just as I hated commiserating with the receptionist about those wacky men and their love of baseball.

What's next? A giant shopping trip, in which we rhapsodize over shoes? A group pedicure session during which we talk about other women behind their backs? A few hours watching Oprah and plucking our eyebrows??

I feel like I'm not being particularly eloquent here, but what I'm trying to say is that it makes me uncomfortable when my life and significant relationship -- which I tend to think of as egalitarian, modern and (most importantly) right for me and Darren -- fits smoothly into those age-old stereotypes. And it really irritates me how easy it is to retreat into those worn tropes: "Men are juvenile and can't be trusted with anything, women accomplish things and plan ahead." Resistance isn't futile, is it?