author: George Smith illustrator: Lee Rapp
IF, AS JOHN GRAY POSTULATES, men are from Mars and women from Venus, it’s surprising that we get along as well as we do. After all, even the Roman deities who lent their names to those heavenly bodies were polar-opposites. Venus, the goddess of love. Mars, the god of war.
There’s nothing misogynistic or outrageous about a theory claiming the sexes to be hard-wired differently. Of course, in our modern world, there’s a lot of crossover – plenty of grey. How else to account for all the Mister Moms of the world, and the legions of career-oriented women making their way in previously male-dominated fields of endeavour? Ward and June Cleaver are of a species in decline.
Even in the face of the growing number of men and women, who embrace their non-traditional roles, the premise that we are genetically programmed to perceive the world differently along gender lines remains a compelling one. But it would be foolish to overlook how environment and upbringing coact with the Mars/Venus factor to form us.
Not long ago we babysat two grandchildren, aged five and three, for a weekend. It had been years since we’d had full responsibility for kids that young. How to keep them happy and us sane for two whole days? On a friend’s suggestion, we took them to the Dollar Store giving each $10 to spend. With minimal exposure to TV and video games – the sort of influences likely to shape a wee nipper’s likes and dislikes – they were clean slates, so to speak. But let loose among the endless displays, where did they immediately go? He to all the plastic weaponry and action figures. She to the Barbie-type frilly, girl displays.
Nature or nurture?
The next morning, we went to the Golden Arches for breakfast and some PlayPlace time. Easily the smallest kids there, they could have been killed by a rampaging crew of five 10-or-11- year-old boys going bananas on the colourful plastic structure.
At the other end of the behavioural spectrum, were three girls about the same age as those ruffians. They took our grandkids by the hand and gently helped them navigate all the nooks and crannies of the play area without fear of being flattened by a fleet of pre-adolescent Mack trucks.
Again, nature or nurture?
Which brings us to our current situation. After years of enduring a dreadfully painful knee that had transformed her from a five-miles-is-nothing power walker into a 15-minutes-and-out hobbler, my wife Joy decided that a new knee was her best bet for a return to the good old days.
Though confident of the eventual outcome, we knew that this would be no picnic for her or for me. You see, throughout our marriage, I’d grown accustomed to being the pampered one and my ability to transition from recipient to dispenser of all that TLC was dubious. My inner Venus would have to rise to the occasion.
I tried to make light of the situation, joking that if Joy needed a hospital bed at home, we could set one up in the kitchen so she’d be closer to the stove. She didn’t laugh.
So, well before the surgery date, I decided to practice being nice. I set the table, squeezed the toothpaste tube from the bottom, wiped my toast crumbs from the countertop and even lowered the toilet seat after each trip to the john. How nice is that? But meals would be a problem during Joy’s convalescence. Cooking anything beyond grilled cheese pushes the boundaries of my culinary prowess.
Of course, Joy, who, just might be the reincarnation of Agnes Baden-Powell, prepared and froze some real meals in advance – relegating me mostly to the role of designated heater-upper.
Before we could even think seriously about food preparation, we had to consider all the equipment required to facilitate Joy’s recovery. How would the idiosyncrasies of our home accommodate things like walkers, shower benches and raised toilet seats? Until you’re actually faced with it, you can’t appreciate how much advance planning is necessary. A kindly neighbour, who’d been through the same procedure, lent us much of the hardware we’d need. But there was plenty left to purchase. And if you’re like Joy and me, it’s hard to buy anything remotely significant without Googling it to death. It’s a compulsion that’s time-consuming and frustrating. Still weeks away from the surgery, I could already detect cracks in my veneer of patience. Not a good sign. I continued to put on a happy face, but could I become the model of forbearance and compassion that I knew Joy would be if our roles were reversed? I prayed that my inner Venus would prevail. Long story short, she did. Venus came through. Florence Nightingale, step aside.