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10.8.05

The Undefinable Difference

Hugo Schwyzer's most recent post illustrates one of the things that bothered me about Iron John: an insistence that men are different, combined with an unwillingness to name or otherwise clearly identify what characteristics make men different. Schwyzer is responding to a question asking what he likes about men. He begins his answer in roughly the direction I would go: I like people who exhibit qualities X, Y, and Z, and I've found men as well as women who have those qualities. But he goes on to imply that there's some undefinable difference, some je ne sais quoi about his male friends in particular:

Are there female friends in my life with whom I have shared similar experiences? Of course. But there are some days when it just feels so damned good to be out with the guys, sharing our suffering and our stories and our just-ran-for-four-hours-and haven't-showered-since yesterday morning smell!


For those of us who don't see much inherent difference between the sexes*, this kind of explanation isn't terribly helpful in understanding the other side's perspective. Any attempt to grapple with the claimed difference slips away through the "of course there are plenty of women like that" escape hatch.

Then again, that very slipperiness may be part of the point. As I mentioned in my post on Iron John, the "mytho-poetic" view of gender comes from a poetic, not a (social) scientific, standpoint. In this age of science, poetry (like the other humanities) defends its turf by claiming that its truths are not accessible in any other way, that -- like Gnostic enlightenment -- they can only be felt and experienced, never explained and reasoned about.

*My own list of things I like about men in particular would be limited to superficial things like "some beards look cool" and "I love the guys who sing the really really deep bass part in a capella."

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