not in Primary anymore

the other sex: “weaker.”

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:

Weak:

1.Not strong; liable to yield, break, or collapse under pressure or    strain; fragile; frail: a weak fortress; a weak spot in armor.

  1. Lacking in bodily strength or healthy vigor, as from age or sickness; feeble; infirm.
  2. 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.

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6 Responses to “the other sex: “weaker.””

  1. Otto

    Men arent physically stronger to protect their spongy wives, men are physically stronger so that they can secure larger food sources, build large structures, and then possibly fight off attacking rival villages. Most of these things are no longer valid except in africa and maybe mongolia (maybe). I agree that women arent weak, nor are they just weaker than men. I do believe that Ms. Turner is correct with her hypothesis in that women do suffer from “mental” and emotional maladies that prove to be a weakness for women, since “generally” women’s depression episodes are more debilitating when not treated with a subscription. How many men do you know are downing antidepressants because they can’t function. I know a few, and all of them suffered trauma from battle in Iraq, but they would never just casually say in a conversation that they are on antidepressants like so many women that I know. And the number of women i know that are on antidepressants because of debilitating depression far exceeds the even the number of men I know that are depressed, much more on antidepressants because of debilitating depression. Men are designed, or encultured, to just function with or without depression. I have no idea how women are designed or encultured. To me, the argument is a toss-up. Labels will always exist, even the harmful ones.

    Reply
    • pinkrose89

      I don’t know about you, but I have never had any of my mental maladies treated with a SUBscription. They have been treated with PREscriptions, though. The only things I have SUBscriptions for are magazines.

      Reply
  2. New Iconoclast

    This is great, simply great. All too often, we tend to take “weaker” as only relating to the physical, and after all, the “we” doing the taking is mostly men, because that makes us come off looking best. Sister iconoclast and I are complements in many ways; she has strengths that I lack and vice-versa. These are both physical and mental things. Having a true “helpmeet” has helped both of us have a better understanding not only of what “strong” and “weak” can mean, but also of why questions like “Which is really the weaker sex?” are completely irrelevant.

    Also this: flinging around [any given] word like it was glitter at a Ke$ha concert. Can I steal this? 🙂

    Reply
    • sweentasia

      New Iconoclast, that’s cool that you and your wife help make each other stronger; that’s what it’s all about, hokey pokey-style. The fact that there is even the term “weaker sex” just shows that folks are constantly trying to label and compare things when really, apples and oranges don’t compare well, nor. They’re both fruits, sure, but I wouldn’t call one a weaker fruit. Anyway, feel free to steal the Ke$ha comment at will. It’s all yours 🙂

      Reply
  3. New Iconoclast

    Otto asks, How many men do you know are downing antidepressants because they can’t function

    Me. (Although technically, I’ve never met either Otto or the OP writer.) No combat experience, only peacetime military; no major trauma; no PTSD; just brain chemistry. I’m as open about it as I would be if I took insulin for diabetes. And I seem to have passed it on to at least some of my kids. There are plenty of us, and many more of us that should be. Not medicating isn’t a sign of strength. One of the results of that behavior can be seen in the suicide rate.

    Besides, the OP’s point was not that men don’t get depressed, it was that the article’s author made an arbitrary judgment call that female depression was “worse” or more of a “weakening factor” than male autism and schizophrenia. That’s questionable at best; it’s certainly not quantifiable. It was done to support the pre-determined conclusion of the author.

    Reply

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