In 1964, Rex Harrison pondered the question: why can't a woman be more like a man, through the music and lyrics of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner in the classic musical, My Fair Lady. Sit back and enjoy this clip:
As I think back about my own journey to womanhood, it has included popular thinking ranging from believing that women should imitate men to never imitating men and finally to men trying to imitate women! I grew up between Barbies, Billie Jean King and Baseball. As a young girl, I remember playing with Barbie Dolls before graduating to more of a tom-boy status in junior high school. I started junior high school in 1973, in a suburb of Detroit called Southfield in the same year that Bille Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in an exhibition tennis match dubbed 'Battle of the Sexes." This so-called a battle of the sexes was a tennis match that would determine the superiority between men or women. The winner of the match would be perceived to be the superior sex. What a dumb idea? Didn't it just mean who was a better tennis player? Never mind the fact the Billie Jean King was 26 years junior to Bobby Riggs. Nevertheless, I was really impacted by this event. That same year, I set up a challenge softball game at my junior high school pitting my own girl's softball team vs the boy's baseball team. And in the spirit of the game, I even called a special columnist for the Detroit News who came and wrote two columns on the game which I organized at my school. Our male gym teacher was the pitcher and he did not make it a secret that his opinion was that we girls, "..didn't have a chance!" Well, he was right! We were creamed and ended up losing 30 -3. So much for being "equal!" at baseball anyway! Why did we want to be like men? Why did men and women constantly compare themselves to each other rather than celebrate the differences?
Fast forward ten more years to my early days in the corporate workforce. The businesswoman's de rigueur was a skirted or pant suit styled like a man's suit. Completing the look was a broadcloth cotton button-down women's blouse with some order of tie. The shirt essentially was a man's dress shirt although sometimes they were more contoured to fit the female shape. And the tie was omnipotent however many colors, styles were worn. Particularly popular were the grosgrain medium thick width tie which was tied into a bowtie. I even had some classic men's ties which I tied into a perfect Windsor knot. I began my business career thinking that I needed to imitate men both in dress and demeanor. I heard Rex ask each day of me, "Why can't a woman be more like a man?"
Fast forward another ten years to me as a mother of two boys and how quickly I noticed the striking and inborn gender differences as I lived with boys for the first time. I grew up with one sister. I have two early memories of my oldest son as a toddler when I was first struck by the genetic gender differences. One incident involved driving with him when he was around 18 months to 2 years old. We were driving down the street and he began excitedly jumping out of his car seat, screaming and gesturing to something outside the car. "Digger," he said to me, "Digger Truckie," Now, I grew up with a sister. And I have driven past many, many construction sites, repair work, etc and NEVER been excited by them or given a thought to stopping to watch the trucks and men work! OMG -- how was I going to parent this kid! Another early memory I have is driving my son and his friend who were both around 2 1/2 at the time. I was driving them home from preschool listening to a Barney tape in the car when one of the boys announced, "doody." Both boys immediately started laughing and giggling uncontrollably. The other one said, " wee wee." Another roar of laughter came from the back seat and they could not stop laughing. Then came "tushy" and the whole thing continued the entire ride home! I had to laugh at these boys entertaining themselves by saying these words. Again, I thought of my childhood. While certain that my sister and I said these words, I never remember hysterically laughing about it. Why would a woman want to be like a man?
Fast forward to 1992 after so many years of trying to be superior or the at least the same, we all began to recognize that there are simply inherent gender differences. Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus as John Gray first wrote about noting that they were of different orientations. He noted the gender differences between men and women in communication style, emotional quotient and personal values to each other. He offered tips on how couples could use this knowledge to improve their relationship.
Today, the gender difference pendulum has swung even further the other way as attorney-journalist Dan Abrams wonders "Why can't a man be more like a woman?" in his book, Man Down. Abrams explains step-by-step why women are better than men in just about every way imaginable, from managing money to flying planes to living longer. After experiencing more than 18 years of parenting boys, I would have to agree with Dan's premise. Parenting two boys has taught me so much about boys as I have observed my own boys grow to men!
As a woman, the current path for me is clear. I want to raise my sons to appreciate the unique qualities of women and the same of men. For example, I know that because I am a women I can "see" things that my own two sons cannot "see." this list includes clothes on the floor, dishes in the sink, school papers all around and so on. But I want them to "see" more than genetically programmed to do.
Who knows which way the pendulum will swing when it comes time for my own boys to grow up, join the workforce, get married and have children? Will men want to be more similar to women? Or will it swing back the other way? I wonder what from the past will be kept, adopted or forgotten as men and women evolve further. What do you think?