S*x is Still the Subject
We Can't Discuss

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by Robert Winter

Somehow we’ve managed to reinstate sex as The Great Unmentionable.  This time around, though, talking about sex in the sense of nude frolics is just fine;  what’s undiscussable is sex in the sense of gender.

Oh, we can approach it obliquely now and then—just like people used to do when discussing hanky-panky. 

Thus, when Georgetown linguistics professor Deborah Tannen came out with her popular 1990 study of gender differences in communication, You Just Don’t Understand, we not only had a fine and useful work, we also had a bit of titillation, because it dealt with a usually forbidden subject.  (This put her book in the category of the Greco-Roman nudes at the art museum, or Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, which get away with the truly interesting illicit stuff by also being something called "significant art.") 

Still, as enjoyable as You Just Don’t Understand was, there was something a bit sad about needing such a highly educated and trained professional as Tannen to announce, almost breathlessly, that men and women tend to talk differently.   I mean, doesn’t even the lamest hack fiction writer already know this?

Another curious wrinkle is that where sex was once considered an especially unseemly subject for women to discuss, now it’s men whose reputations can be besmirched by careless utterances.  To give one example, it’s fine for women to demand proportionately more toilets in auditoriums and other public facilities, based on their observation that it takes them longer;  but if a man were to suggest this, it would be in questionable taste—possibly sexist, and at the very least, patronizing.

If it's not okay for us guys to mention the gender-specific needs of women, speaking about our own distinctive gender-based needs in some quarters is almost sure to win us nomination to the Neanderthal Hall of Fame.  Women are the ones who need special understanding, we're told;   we men are considered to have had our way for so long that if society isn't 99% pure testosterone heaven by now, we must have fumbled our chance on an epic scale.

But is it really a your issues/my issues kind of matter? When we look a little closer, many of the things we men want, down deep, seem to be what both sexes ultimately want.  Likewise, a lot of men’s problems turn out, upon closer inspection, to really be problems for both genders.

What’s more, to avoid discussing our gender issues, from the standpoint of both sexes, is to promote a culture of what some family therapists call an "elephant in the room"—i.e., something huge and looming that isn’t spoken about, and therefore continues to exert an almost irresistible influence.


More Specifics

butnsqar.gif (1086 bytes) Perceptions of contradictory gender interests  have evolved into a major "fault line" in contemporary politics.


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We've accepted a view that today's corporate social order embodies male interests and values--when it's often profoundly testosterone-hostile.


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butnsqar.gif (1086 bytes) Our contemporary form of life may simply not be what men were designed for.


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butnsqar.gif (1086 bytes) Problems of the contemporary male tend also to be problems of the contemporary female.


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butnsqar.gif (1086 bytes) Gender issues are ultimately human issues--which we can't discount without diminishing people in general. butnsqar.gif (1086 bytes)

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