Vive la difference
I've received fascinating letters in response to today's treeware column, about what would happen if men lived without women, and women without men. Triggered by CBC-TV's reality show The Week the Women Went, it was a reflection on the speculative situation set up by Philip Wylie (Generation of Vipers), whose work is credited with inspiring both the Superman and Spider-Man characters.
Imagine a world suddenly – very suddenly – without men.
Planes would drop out of the sky as pilots disappeared. Cities would grow cold and dark as power generators stopped. No fire trucks would come to deal with the inevitable disasters. Legislatures would empty. Wars would end.
Now imagine the flip side.
Babies would fall out of vanished mother's arms. Things would get dirty and dusty. Men would eat out of cans. Liquor stores and bars would be booming. Drag queens would always have dates.
In the short term, women would suffer.
But, in the long run, men would turn on each other.
These were the parallel worlds that Philip Wylie described in his 1951 what-if book, The Disappearance. For protagonist Bill Gaunt, a university professor, in one instant his educated stay-at-home wife Paula vanishes, along with their daughter, granddaughter and housemaid.
He scarcely notices, at first.
For Paula, after Bill vanishes, the effect is immediate. A driverless car smashes into the front of the house – and nobody comes to help.
Two years later, the women's world is under control whereas the men's, despite its distinct physical advantage, descends into deadly conflict and chaos.
The book is long, wordy, perhaps over-written. But to me, back in 1974 or 1975 when I found it at the St. Clair branch of the Toronto Public Library, utterly compelling, especially as my feminism was being formed.
(Lots of excerpts here.)
At the time, I was sharing digs with two guys, one of whom would become my first husband. I so raved about the book that they ended up reading it as well.
They were not impressed, not at all.
At the time, I felt stupid -- a lightweight -- for liking a book so much that they found florid and ridiculous. Now I know better. Much better.
Since then, I have read many great books, most of them forgotten. But I have will ALWAYS remember The Disappearance, although I have not re-read it in or even seen it in some 34 years.
Seems I am not alone. So far today, I have received more than two dozen emails from women who remember the book very well. I have invited them to read this blog entry and post a comment if they like.
I don't know for sure if what Wylie described would come to pass, whether a world without men would be better than one without women. They certainly would be very different places, that's for sure.
Men would be more competitive, more driven to win, I think. Women would get organized. I base this on our essential make-ups, rooted way back in prehistory when women had to co-operate back the home cave to stay safe and raise babies while men were out hunting or fighting off enemies. It's true you have to be organized to do that but in a more hierarchical, almost pack way.
That's my half-baked socio-anthropological theory anyway, and I'm sticking to it.
That said, I totally get what one mail reader wrote to me in an email today:
While I agree that it is a woman’s influence that keeps some men “in line”, it is also true that some women would be lost without the support and peace of mind of being with “their man”.
That is no doubt true for many women (and vice versa). But women, I think, are far more adept at finding nurturing and support from other women and are more likely to survive being on their own than a man with no comparable network.
I know that, as a woman on my own, I can pick up the phone and talk to any number of friends, (female) cousins and sisters about what really really matters. If I need help, they are there with advice, a sympathetic ear, a hug, a shoulder to cry on.
Do men do the same for each other? I am not so sure. Otherwise, why would so many men tell me that they prefer talking to women than men?
As for women on their own coping with wet basements and cars that won't start, well, it's nice to have a guy around to take care of that stuff but we girls ain't stupid. We can cope if we decide we can. I know that from personal experience.
That said, it's nice to have a man around to hold you, love you and make you feel protected. I have to admit that it's even better if he can replace your dimmer switch, swap out your old laundry room sink and taps and shovel your snow.
I am lucky that I have the best of both worlds, one filled with many wonderful women (and male friends, for that matter) and one private one with a special man.