In 1992 a man called John Gray wrote a book called Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus. The book dealt with the differences between men and women, and one frequently overlooked consequence of the book’s message is that men and women are different. There is a sense in which we already know this, no one had to actually tell us that they are different. Men’s and women’s twiddly bits are not only different shapes but in different places, women have babies and men don’t, men and women run different races in the olympics, they tend to read maps differently, they both box but not against each other, or play rugby or hockey against each other, because, you know, they are different, in lots of different ways. They have in fact evolved to be two completely different sexes with very different roles to play in the procreation of our species to the point that if they weren’t fundamentally different, we wouldn’t even be here to talk about it.
The fact that men and women are vastly different hasn’t, however, stopped women from constantly droning on about equality and it has to be said that some of the other ways in which men and women are not equal do seem to be just a tad unfair. Women can, for example, wear male clothing out in public with impunity but men in dresses is not coming to a high street near you any time soon. Men are meant to scrape their face with a lethally sharp knife every morning whilst women paint powder on their cheeks and slather coloured wax on their lips. Men are supposed to give up their seat to a woman on buses and trains, stand up when a woman enters the room and hold doors open for women, but there is no reciprocity in this behaviour and there is nothing that women do for men as part of social etiquette. More seriously, victims of both domestic violence and sex crimes are far more likely to be women than men, and the aggressors in both cases are far more likely to be men than women, so that whole difference thing is not solely a one way street and it isn’t only about sex and sports.
Differences in biology and manners notwithstanding, though, there is a sense in which we would expect a fair and just society to offer men and women equal, or at least approximately equal, opportunities in life. Outcomes won’t always be equal; you can’t beat me over 400 metres, for example, and you can’t expect equal numbers of men and women to win an election, but women should expect to be given the opportunity to run the 400 metres or stand for election. Which is why women are frequently heard pointing out the discrepancy in the number of male and female MP’s in parliament, or how few top companies have women on their board of directors, or how few top women judges there are, or tenured professors, or medical consultants, all of which are, coincidentally, and of course completely irrelevantly, fairly high paid jobs. Which makes it interesting that we do not similarly hear women complaining about how few female coal miners there are, or how few women ditch diggers there are, or how few female postal delivery people, or rubbish collectors there are. Can anyone tell me, when was the last time that bloke putting the cones out on the motorway at three O’clock on a rainy Sunday morning was actually a woman? No, thought not. But you never hear women complaining about not being allowed to do that do you?
Which tends to give the impression that women are not actually looking for equality, for any sensible definition of equality, they are looking for more seats at the top table, more high paying jobs, more lucrative careers, more opportunities to make lots of money. The trouble with this approach is that it makes the women look less like warriors in the front line of a fight for social equality and more like greedy money grabbers out for a fast buck, and whilst that might not be a fair assessment of the whole of their fight it does leave it tainted with an indecorous odour and it gives men a perfectly valid reason to stand on the sidelines and mock.
The question then, is, what, if anything, can men do about this?
The answer, believe it or not, is in the book I mentioned at the beginning. In Men are from Mars, Women are From Venus, John Gray gives an example of a man and a woman turning up late for work one morning, both offering the same explanation. His point is to highlight the difference in the response the man and the woman are looking for. When the man rolls in and says, “I’m sorry I’m late, my car wouldn’t start because my battery was flat,” he wants you to suggest a good place to get his battery charged. When the women comes in with the same problem, she wants you to say, “Gee, that must have been awful!” The man wants a solution to the problem while the woman wants you to sympathise that it is indeed a problem.
Therefore, the next time you hear a feminist say, “Only eight percent of tenured physics professors are women,” you don’t have to offer to pay for ten women to study physics at Yale, you just have to say, “Gee, that’s terrible.”
The way to end the feminism debate is not to do anything at all, but just to sympathise with women that the world is an awfully unfair place.