This is an offshoot of the original Liam & Janet blog. That blog has become overrun by Liam's inability to keep his mouth shut when something annoys him. The serious rants there seemed incongruous with the humor columns. The plan for the humor columns continues to be to post a new one every Friday, plus occasional extras when the mood strikes.

Monday, June 14, 2010

On Stereotypes

[This was my first essay for I hope you like it! I'm sorry for the boring title, I honestly couldn't come up with a good one.]

A friend asked me an interesting philosophical question, recently.

"Are we trending towards a society in which it is not politically correct to admit that there are innate or typical strengths and weaknesses to each of the genders?", she asked. Of course it was a she. A man would never ask such a question. Well, not a REAL man.

I am not such a man, and so I immediately posed the question to a few of my friends, who looked at me with a concerned look, shaking their heads with a rueful sadness that says "After two divorces, he still hasn't realized how much more content he'd be if he'd just admit to himself that he's gay?"

I think the question is an interesting one, because it isn't really about equality, it's about preconceived notions and prejudices, and the assumption that because something is generally true, it will therefore be always true. Consider a game of Russian Roulette. With a standard six-shooter and one bullet in the chamber, it is generally true that pulling the trigger will NOT result in a projectile, but it is foolish (and more than a little bit messy) to assume this is always the case.

Let's take the statement "men are stronger than women". I think we can all agree that this is demonstrably true on average, when speaking of physical strength (as opposed to comparing, say, the stoic "family first" attitude of a woman with the flu and a 104 degree fever, compared to the "bring me some soup, I'm sick!" whining of a man with the sniffles). And yet in college, I (no slouch in the strength department) routinely had my ass kicked in wrestling matches with one of my best friends, who was on the womens' rugby team at her college. And the fact that I kept challenging her to rematches shows the extent of the trouble our preconceived notions can get us into. Also, the lengths to which an awkward, geeky engineering school student will go in order to feel lady-flesh pressed up against him... mmmm, lady-flesh... where was I?

The truth is that there are some things that, as a class, men are better at than woman, such as physical strength and being attractive to members of the musical group "Village People", and there are other things that, as a class, women are better at than men, such as coming up with things women are better at than men, and keeping their egos in check long enough to admit that men might be better at anything than they, themselves are.

The key is in the phrase "as a class". I should point out that this may be the first time in the history of human writing that the word "class" has been used in close conjunction with the word "men", a subset of humanity who, as a rule, think nothing of chewing with their mouths open, telling jokes in mixed company that more cultured genders would consider improper to even admit to having heard, and emitting aromas and other expulsions as loudly as possible from various bodily orifices. I honestly believe the first man who figures out a way to squirt ear-wax with a nauseating squelch will be revered in the annals of guy history, and I also honestly believe that each male reader will have, in his head, just thought "he said 'the anals of guy history' " and laughed the "Beavis & Butt-Head" laugh.

In the end, the point is to accept people on their individual strengths, and not some imputed list of assumed strengths and weaknesses based upon one group or another of which the person is a member. For example, I am a computer programmer by trade, a profession which, as a whole, has demonstrated the raw grammatical and spelling abilities of a lobotomy patient, and yet I have written this entire article on my own. OK, bad example. How about this: I am a guy, and we're generally considered weak in the "attentive lovers" department, and yet... no, that's not a great example either. Well, I'm sure there must be good examples out there.

Consider other stereotypes. If you ask a woman about stereotypes, she will likely expound at great length about how women have been typified in the popular culture over the years, and about "glass ceilings" and "mommy tracks". Ask a guy about stereotypes, and he'll say something like "Mine's a Pioneer, but I hear Sony makes a good system. Just make sure you get a good set of speakers and a kick-ass subwoofer".

And sadly, I'm showing a stereotype of my age group, because these kids these days don't have "stereos" any more, they have their iPods and their MP3s and their youtubes and really, I just wish they'd get off of my lawn.

Is it political correctness? Good heavens, I hope not! But when all is said and done, I prefer to treat people not in terms of the strengths and weaknesses of their gender, but in terms of themselves personally. For every stereotype you can name, I can point you to an example of a member of the target group who does not fit that stereotype. For instance, my Mom is an excellent driver. And I couldn't figure out how to change the oil in my car if my life depended on it.

Then again, I already admitted I'm not such a man.

Copyright © May 5-14, 2010 by Liam Johnson.


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