So often, too often, we as the human species enjoy categorizing things. Maybe it’s a complex from when Adam and Eve were told by God to name everything in creation. Point being, this obsessive need to label and separate seems to stay with us. Try looking inside the fridge shared by college roommates (of either gender) and you’ll know what I’m talking about.
My problem with labeling is that there always are too many exceptions to too many rules. As a 7th grade teacher, I see this play out in the classroom all the time. It’s so easy for me to try to separate my sea of students into the “smart” ones and the “dumb” ones depending on their grades and test scores. But this fails to take into account their creativity and skills that lie outside of my classroom walls. Maybe they don’t enjoy reading and writing so much, but I’ll be damned if some of them aren’t better at drawing and solving math equations than I am. Or a million other talents they have that may not even be able to be acknowledged or assessed in the limited world of academia.
And this type of limiting labeling is everywhere. As a self-proclaimed feminist, obviously, I see this extreme labeling in the ongoing “gender wars,” where we all have to subconsciously pick sides- either men and women are equal with different (VERY different), societal roles, or they should be equal and are not. Or are not and should not be. Any way the situation is spun, it seems like a lose-lose-lose situation for both sexes, because, as all labels are guilty of doing, they separate and inevitably create scenarios where certain specimens are favored above others. And many times the labels given to women are flat-out harmful. Shakespeare’s Juliet famously wondered “what’s in a name?” Well, a lot, especially when that name/label provides the name bearer with a less-than complex.
Take for example the oft-repeated diatribe that women are the “weaker” sex. Weak. Let’s textbook define that word, shall we? I actually found three definitions at dictionary.com that I favor:
1.Not strong; liable to yield, break, or collapse under pressure or strain; fragile; frail: a weak fortress; a weak spot in armor.
- Lacking in bodily strength or healthy vigor, as from age or sickness; feeble; infirm.
- Not having much political strength, governing power, or authority.
Call me a pessimist, but none of those words are positive. Fragile. Prone to collapse and yield under strain. Lacking vigor. This doesn’t sound like really any of the women I know on a broad spectrum. Last time I checked, none of my female friends or family were made of marshmallow fluff, and many of them have gone through several years of post-secondary education, held a full-time job, and pushed a human life form from their bodies. Not exactly the work of the weak. And yet the misnomer persists. Maybe it has something to do with the more applicable accuracy of definition number three, but that’s a whole other topic for another day.
Anyway, in my travels across space and the interweb, I ran across an article written by Lowri Turner in Mail Online. Her goal was to determine once and for all if women are truly the weaker sex. And I was truly flabbergasted by the results. All I learned from the article is that men and women are each prone to have higher areas of bodily weakness. Men seem to be more susceptible to cancer and heart disease, while women tend to have weaker bones and less muscle. At the end of the article, women were declared to actually be the weaker sex because they are also more prone to have lower mental health and weaker immune systems, thus having more potential bodily defects in total.
I’m really having a hard time swallowing this article for a number of reasons. I’ll give two, even though three is my lucky number.
First, in the section where mental health is discussed, the author CLEARLY states that men are twice as likely as women to have schizophrenia, and four times as likely to have autism. Why do women end up losing the brain battle? Because they are more susceptible to depression, such as the post-partum and menopausal variety. The author seems to simply decide that the higher rate of female depression outweighs male mental issues. Besides the fact that this litmus test seems to be very subjective (why should depression be considered better or worse than schizophrenia and autism?), it also feels insulting. The author could have focused more effectively on the fact that when it comes to I.Q., men and women are on pretty equal footing, with the average I.Q. being ninety-two. What says frail and fragile better than a beautiful mind?
Also, Ms. Turner fails to take into account strengths that lay outside the realm of the body. Like many folks, the idea of the “weaker” sex comes from the “biological and absolutely irrefutable truth” that women are physically weaker than men. Women = more fat for cushier baby births and men= muscles to protect their soft wives and their soft babies. It such a magical equation. But besides the fact that we live in a world that scorns soft, pudgy baby bodies, there’s also that teeny, tiny problem that the big, strong man isn’t always, well, around. He may have gone fishing, or not know he’s a father at all, or a myriad of other reasons why fathers go MIA. The point is, sometimes those soft moms have to find another source of strength, like my mom did. And that source comes from within. When we constantly label women as the weaker sex, we’re doing so because of physiological differences. Rarely do we take into account the type of character that is essential for both genders to acquire in order to be more than just homo sapiens (pardon the label), but to be a true person. Life puts people of both genders through hellfire; how we prove our strength is how we treat ourselves and others while we go through the refining process. I don’t care how many dozens of eggs you can eat every morning, Gaston, or how many pushups you can do, Mr. Wayne- it means little without strength of character, and that is the key ingredient we seem to be missing when we go flinging around the “W” word like it was glitter at a Ke$ha concert.
Really, labels do have their necessity and place. The canned food aisle, for instance. Can you imagine wanting to buy corn but coming home with green beans instead? However, one place where I would like to see them less is in conjunction with gender. The more we break away from tired words, names, and labels that only serve to create barriers and bring us down, the more opportunities we’ll have to find ourselves outside of the norms and expectations that limit us.