MONTEREY — While swimming laps, pretending to be in the Olympics, I overheard a comment, and not about my peculiar breast stroke. A gaggle of young guys were cannon-balling into the deep end, having old fashioned summer fun. Underscore, old fashioned.
One dude belly-flopped and groaned. The pal in the pool offered solace with: "Ah...don't be such a girl."
Female gender is still being used as an insult. It's pretty common. I've heard professional sport coaches use something very like, to chide their team. I suspect that, if asked, these same individuals would hotly deride the idea that they're prejudiced against women or girls. They may, in fact, not be, and that's the problem.
Huh? That doesn't make sense. If there's no hatred, intent to harm, what's the problem? Glad you (sort of) asked.
Giving birth hurts
The idea, generally accepted, that one gender is inferior, weak, more apt to falter or fold under duress is not a compliment. It's also not true given the statistics on both ends of the life cycle.
Human females perform the act of birth. After 20 hours of labor, I can attest, even if the outcome is favorable, the process is not for a wuss, a gender neutral put down. For the record, giving birth makes running a marathon seem like a stroll.
On the other end of the spectrum, women live longer. Life expectancy for someone born in 2012 is 81.2 years for females and 76.4 years for males. Girls outlast guys. We know this. Furthermore, this number isn't attributed to genetics so much as behavior that involves "risky" choices. Which means that women have the edge on good judgment as well.
It's not that women are disliked but cast in a light that is unflattering, often unrealistic. When females diverge from these narrow views, that's when the trouble starts — or continues.
In the Rio Olympics, Hungarian swimmer Katinka Housszu won a third gold medal in four days in the 200 meter individual medley, setting a record as well. However, she was barely recognized for this feat by the NBC announcer. Instead, he turned his attention on her husband/coach, Shane Tusup, touting him as, "The man responsible..." for her accomplishment. Not to impugn her partner's role, which was significant, but this verbal misstep indicates the overvaluing of the male vs. female. The underlying expectation that women should swim out of the limelight and into the more appealing shadows and allow a guy have the glory is absurd. Katinka was the one in the water.
It's easy to generalize, especially since some statements are, at least, partially true. Sure, there are whiny women. I have been known to complain, carp, criticize in case you haven't noticed. But then again, so do quite a lot of men. Anyone writing a column is upset about something and saying as much. Is discussing dissatisfaction something to decry?
Putting things in print changes how it's received due to the size of the listening ear. But one need not blog to be bold. The answer to the Zen koan, "Does a falling tree make noise if no one is there to hear?" is...yes!
There are many phases and attitudes that reflect this not so hidden antipathy. "She throws (or runs, or fights) like a girl." "She's such a bitch." "What's with her hair (pants suit, shoes)?" "She's fat." "She looks old." To name a few. Some unmentioned terms are far more egregious.
With few extreme exceptions, these observations are not extended to males. Nor should they be. They reflect the attitude that women who debate are not "feminine." Women who choose not to fight are weak. Women who do not tickle the onlooker's fancy are ridiculed. with regard to competition, women are seen as inferior, although the recent Olympics prove otherwise.
When that boy in the pool said, "Don't be such a girl!" I considered swimming over, saying something on the order of, "You wish!" But, by then, I was on the other end of the pool, finishING my 1/4 mile. Besides, I could imagine the exploitive, expletive that might get deployed. I wasn't in the mood for a fracas just then.
Now, I am.
Melissa E. Mishcon is a Berkshire writer.