Many years ago, in our youth, my sister and I spent some time moaning to my mother about man trouble. We enumerated the several flaws of the respective subjects with gathering speed and animation, growing increasingly purple-faced and sweaty. She listened with what I thought was an inexcusable degree of calm, until we ran out of steam and just sat like small wild-eyed dogs, tongues lolling with confusion and exhaustion.
She took a long, slow, deep breath. “You have to understand, my sweethearts,” she said kindly, “that men are retarded.”
We nodded expectantly, ready to be enlightened. But it turned out that that was it. She was done.
Now, I detest gender stereotypes. I have no problem with a man who loves building things out of wood, or a woman who loves to sew, but I thought it was truly obnoxious that, in second grade, as part of extra-curricular activities, all the boys had to go to woodshop and all the girls had to go to needlework. At the time I owned a small wooden toy loom, upon which I spent countless blissful hours weaving the most horrible little bits of misshapen cloth, but I did that because I liked it, not because I was expected to.
I also detest people who are impressed by behaviour that lies outside gender stereotypes. It makes my skin crawl when women gush about a man doing the dishes, as if this is kindness beyond the call of duty, or when men are awed by a woman who drives well, as if she has to overcome some awful mental health issue to do so.
At the same time I can’t stand the knee jerk rejection of any behaviour that happens to overlap with a gender stereotype, as when a woman will never ever allows somebody to buy her a meal, as if her very sense of self would be destroyed by it; or when a man won’t allow a woman to cook him a meal even though she wants to.
In other words, I’m not hugely keen on rote behaviour of any sort, or blanket statements that purport to apply to fifty percent of the world’s population. Plus, most of my best friends are men.
So, after a fair amount of living, I think back to what my mother said all those years ago, and, much as it pains me to have to correct an elder, I must disagree. And because I know how much I appreciated her bothering to share her pithy wisdom, I like to think that other people might benefit from my humble experience too. So hear this, all you exasperated, hurting women out there, but more particularly all you starry-eyed fillies in love: It’s not entirely true that men are retarded.
Oh, they’re infantile, intemperate, blind, have double standards, look for instant gratification and scapegoats, lack the ability to parse their emotions, have the most blatant double standards, are consumed by their own sense of injury, can’t get any perspective, sulk, throw tantrums, have double standards, suffer delusions of grandeur and several other sorts of delusion, don’t know how to listen, are smug know-it-alls, make kitchen tables look intuitive, have double standards, storm around like titans with egos as fragile as eggshells, are inconsistent, don’t know the value of friendship, have double standards, are weak, are terrified of what people will think, and haven’t the faintest idea what they themselves think. Oh, and they have double standards.
But no, men are not retarded; it would be more accurate to say that they are really, really retarded. I don’t know whether they’re from Mars or from Venus, but I wish they’d go home.
Voila! Forewarned is forearmed.