Thursday, August 8, 2013

What Women Know

Elizabeth Zelvin

The women’s movement and changing times during the past fifty years have made many stereotypes about gender differences obsolete. But some generalizations about the difference between men and women still contain a germ of truth. I started thinking about this (not for the first time!) after posting on my Facebook page two brief rants, one about the availability (or not) of women’s shoes in wide widths and the other about the availability (or not) of earrings for unpierced ears. Both posts drew comments from a number of women who understood, and each drew one comment from a puzzled or disbelieving man who simply didn’t have the same information.

I included these in a short list I’m titling (however controversially) “What Women Know.” If you want a mystery tie-in, see Item 1 on bloodstains. Items 2 and 3 come from my experience on Facebook. Items 4 and 5 are based on life experience both personal and professional (as a therapist); I’ve drawn on my observations about food, body image, and eating disorders in one of my mysteries, Death Will Extend Your Vacation. If you can think of others, please comment. If you disagree with my premise, please say it nicely!

1. Cold water, not hot, takes out bloodstains. (Male mystery writers sometimes, but not always, know this too. For women between 12 and 60, it’s inevitable.)
2. It’s very hard to find really pretty shoes in a double-wide width.
3. It’s almost impossible to find delicate or dangly earrings in a clip-on earring (for unpierced ears).
4. Women who eat like truckdrivers and remain slim and beautiful may be throwing up behind closed doors to stay that way. (I wish more male novelists knew this rather than classifying bulimia as a desirable trait in a woman along with blonde hair, long legs, and slim ankles.)
5. Almost no one respects personal boundaries when it comes to body size. Women constantly hear, “Oh, you’ve lost weight!” or “Oh, you’ve gained weight!” from the slightest acquaintances.

Rather than generating a longer list, I offer Alan Jay Lerner’s lyrics from the song “Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like A Man?” from the 1964 musical My Fair Lady, based on the play Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw. I believe four or five of the six items mentioned are still true in the postfeminist world—even in postfeminist households.

Would you be slighted if I didn't speak for hours?
Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?
Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?
Well, why can't a woman be like you?

If I were hours late for dinner would you bellow?
If I forgot your silly birthday, would you fuss?
Would you complain if I took out another fellow?
Why can't a woman be like us?

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