A report in MoneyWeek magazine tells us that women consistently judge inflation to be running 1.9% higher than men. We don’t know whose opinions are more accurate, but there is always a gap between the sexes…a distance that can seem as inconsequential as a mountain brook some days…and as broad as the Amazon others. Some days we hop gaily over it. Other days it is unbridgeable.
As far as we know, no major plan is afoot to bring the distaff half of the American race closer to its male counterparts. Candidates for public office offer solutions and ameliorations for just about everything else, from the price of gasoline to the weather. But no candidate offers to put even a dollar into a program to make women more like men…which, in the male mind, is to make them better.
The subject is often discussed – why American women are the way they are. Men grumble about it: Women can’t stay on schedule. They can’t stay on the subject. They can’t stay on budget. They can’t stay at home. They won’t stay in their lanes or their places. They are pushy, demanding, aggressive, argumentative and domineering. You don’t have to be a misogynist to see that there is room for improvement.
With such a large and visible annoyance in front of the voters, you’d think some ambitious rogue in quest of a Senate seat would propose something. “If we can put a man on the moon,” he might point out, “why can’t we turn our wives into more agreeable companions?” “Why can’t science do something for them?” “Why can’t our women be slim and sexy, like the Italians and the French? Why can’t they be more submissive and suggestible, like the Thais or Malays? Why must we put up with shrews and nags?”
Of course, something could be done – at least theoretically. Hundreds of billions are spent on education already; much of it could be diverted to retraining and re-educating women. In terms of human happiness, for all we know the money would probably yield greater returns. Women could be taught to hold their tongues, for example. Or to smile admiringly when their husbands were talking, like Pat Nixon or Nancy Reagan. Typically, when a communist regime took over, it condemned bourgeois elements either to death camps or re-education. Those camps must have been successful; once they were in place and fully functioning, here was scarcely any internal resistance. Could not the same programs work for women?
Of course, a scalable, public attempt to make people better is always a humbug; rarely are the results positive. In fact, the only public program we can think of that produced favourable results was Lady Bird Johnson’s effort to beautify America. Under hectoring pressure from the beautifiers – and faced with large fines – people stopped throwing trash out of their windows.
But what really stands in the way of a Manhattan Project to improve women? When people want to do something absurd, neither logic nor humility get in the way; just look at the Republicans’ war in Iraq or the Democratic Party platform. But proposing to improve the weather or the people of Mesopotamia is very different from proposing to improve our own fair sex. In offering to reform the Middle East, the Bush Administration was speaking nonsense in a vacuum. It could blab all it wanted about weapons of mass destruction, bringing democracy to the Middle East, or securing the flank of the great empire. The words passed over voters’ heads, and even right through their skulls, without striking a single brain cell. Scarcely anyone in America had ever seen a terrorist…and no one had any idea of the threat posed by the Iraqi government. People could imagine whatever they wanted.
Not so, women. We are too close to them. While the world of geo-politics is all make-believe, the world of women is very real. It is with us everyday. We live among them. They are our wives, our mothers and our daughters. We know far too much about them to imagine that we could improve them; we wouldn’t know where to start. And while every word written or uttered in support of the War on Poverty or the War on Iraq is palpable claptrap, every word ever written about women is true. They are adorable, they are sneaky, they are charming, they are perfidious, they are winsome, they are abominable. In fact, almost nothing you could say about women would be untrue. They are infinitely varied. Infinitely fascinating. Infinitely unfathomable.
Besides each man has his own women. And each one is indecipherable to him. Make her better? He has no idea what is wrong with her. Whatever the problem, she has already explained to him that it is his fault; and he suspects she might be right.
We can complain about them all we want…but we know we couldn’t make them better. Our clumsy hands could scarcely hope to shape the clay into a more fetching form.
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