Plotting a geography of gender

Guyana Chronicle
November 1, 1999

FREUD's age-old question "What does woman want?" has been answered in myriad ways over the last five decades by

Simone de Beauvoir, Betty Friedan, Germaine Greer, Eva Figes, Kate Millett and other founding mothers of post-modern feminism. Woman's needs, desires and wants have all been catalogued, placed in a socialist context, analysed through the prism of western patriarchy, viewed through the discipline of anthropology and telescoped through the epochs of human development with its class, caste and racial systems. And while extensive research reveals that several perceived gender roles are switched or reversed in many customs and cultures, the one basic distinction that determines man from woman is the ability of the female to bring forth life and to nourish that life.

Studies have revealed that man's upper body power and other physical attributes make him superior to a woman in strength. However, this is balanced off by the extra layer of fat with which women are blessed. This helps to insulate them from certain extremes of cold. It is also established that there are marked differences in spatial navigation between men and women. Scientific experiments show that females tend to rely on specific landmarks for moving to a given point. Men, on the other hand tend to rely on a more primitive sense of motion using remembered vectors. What is interesting is that the study showed that both men and women tend to get from Point A to Point B just as efficiently, and neither sex gets lost more often.

Men's enthusiasm for such brutal sports as football, rugby and boxing indicate to a great extent the male instinct for adversarial combat. When one peruses the histories of war, the perception is very clear that men thrive in situations of battle. Mortar fire and the weapons of war attract them strongly and some are almost reckless in their style of fighting. Yet, over the last decade, more women have embraced contact sports such as football, boxing and wrestling. Just recently, a legally sanctioned mixed-sex boxing encounter saw the woman winning convincingly. And we can never forget the fact that women prime ministers Indira Gandhi of India, Golda Meir of Israel and Margaret Thatcher of England did not shrink from the decision to engage their countries in war when such action was deemed necessary.

The writer Nancy Cott is so right when she states in an essay: "Feminism is nothing if not paradoxical. It aims at individual freedoms by mobilising sex solidarity. It acknowledges diversity among women while positing that women recognise their unity. It requires gender consciousness for its basis, yet calls for the elimination of prescribed gender roles. These paradoxes of feminism are rooted in women's actual situation, being the same (in a species sense) as man; and being different with respect to reproductive biology and gender construction."

It seems that the civilisation must move to a level of consciousness where the fundamental differences between men and women are not automatically equated with inferiority or superiority. In this Utopian scenario, ordinary men and women will not have to tread so carefully in the realm of the sexes for the geography of gender will be sensitively mapped and signposted.

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