Riding Shotgun: Women

Plentiful, yet difficult to keep track of.

I’m not sure who it was (probably some stand-up comedian whose name has forever slipped my mind) that said the total wealth of man’s knowledge about the opposite sex could be summed up by, “Women: Sooooooft, smell good.”

I thought it was damn funny at the time. Still do. There’s even a book titled Everything Men Know About Women. Open it up and every page is blank. I guess that’s funny, too.

In countless magazines, television shows, movies and other facets of popular culture, men and women both declare, time and time again, that men know squat about the other gender. Our thimble-ful of knowledge has been the butt of more jokes than I will bother to relate.

Women, on the other hand, apparently have us down pat. Cosmopolitan spends several hundred pages a month dissecting our moods and desires. It, along with a dozen similar publications, fill the grocery store racks with what should amount to an Encyclopedia Masculenia.

Have you ever taken a look at these things? (I know you ladies have, I’m talking to the gentlemen in the audience.) I peruse them occasionally — anytime I need a good laugh. The qualities, modes of thinking and motivations attributed to the male gender are — well, they’re just a little silly. Most of the situations described are about as grounded in reality as the usual letter to Penthouse Forum.

This has led me to the conclusion that any book (and I’m talking to you, Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus) or magazine that says it knows how a particular gender works is chock full of delicious bull hockey.

Cosmo‘s conclusion, when you sum it all up, sounds pretty much like that nameless comedian’s: “Men: Football, action movies, bloooowjoooobs.”

Why is there an entire niche industry that makes its dough by proliferating the idea that we can learn all about the opposite sex in 12 easy steps?

A thousand generations before us seemed to do okay, if you discount all that oppression and such. And we’re supposed to have gotten smarter and more sensitive over the years. Why do we need to construct manuals? Are we stupid?

No, of course not. Well, okay, maybe some of us are stupid, but that’s not the reason.

We’re lazy.

Our super-ultra-neo-techno society is all about fast and easy: Fast and easy food, fast and easy entertainment, fast and easy money. So, why not fast and easy understanding? Surely if we can create a fast and easy way to get rid of those persistent mildew stains, we can create a fast and easy way to understand the opposite sex.

All right, maybe stupid does accompany lazy. The way we’re going, cloning isn’t going to be controversial, it’s going to be a necessity.

Come on, it’s not that hard. We’re not really all that different. Sure, we’ve got different tastes and different naughty bits, but our basic motivations are the same: Job satisfaction, companionship, entertainment, etc.

We can understand each other. We just have to put in the hours.

Now, as much as this piece seems to be heading for a run-down on how to pick up people in singles bars, it’s not. This column is about pop culture and entertainment.

I’ve never really had that much trouble relating to women. My best friend of five years is a woman. She’s already agreed to be my best man on the off chance that I ever get married. Finding a tux in her size is going to take some doing.

Unlike most men, I don’t eschew entertainment geared toward women. For me, there is no such thing as a chick flick. My favorite film is Before Sunrise, which has no bullets, blood, action and precious little conflict. It’s about two young people (Ethan Hawke and Julie Delpy) who spend a day getting to know each other in Vienna. The plot’s so simple, it’s a wonder it got made in the first place.

If you ever want to see a realistic way of getting to know somebody, check out this film.

Not too long ago, I found myself at a party consisting of myself and eight women. My empathy running only so far, I got real bored real quick. A copy of Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’s Diary was sitting on the coffee table, so I picked it up and started reading.

I’d seen the movie a few months earlier, and thought Renée Zellweger a joy to watch as a neurotic Brit singleton stumbling her way through her professional and private life. Not only was this book and its sequel The Edge of Reason laugh-out-loud funny (something not too many books are), but a great story about one 30-something’s struggle to find her own niche in life and love that can easily apply to either gender.

It’s already created its own lexicon, parts of which are seeping into popular culture, including the word “singleton.”

So, you don’t take to the idea of being seen reading it on the Metro? Cover it with a Tom Clancy book jacket.

Or, if you’re not a big fan of the written word, turn on the tube. I recently became a huge fan of HBO’s hit series Sex in the City — I’m one of about five in its heterosexual male demographic. This show is about as made-for-women as a program can get without being shown on Lifetime. My girlfriend doesn’t even watch it.

I, on the other hand, took a crash course in it when I rented the first two seasons, which are now — along with the third season — out on video and DVD.

The show follows the adventures of four single women played to the nines by Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis and Cynthia Nixon as they traverse through a metropolitan landscape of dating perils and professional pitfalls. Yes, there is a lot of sex, and most of the show does take place on the isle of Manhattan. So the title belies the content.

But for a half-hour show, it packs a serious punch, maintaining a good mix of frivolity and relevance. It’s also so consistently funny it brings tears to my eyes.

And while finding the right man has never been a big priority for me, I can still relate to most of the show’s scenarios. There’s a reason that this show is a topic of discussion around the water cooler every week for men and women alike.

If you want extra credit, check out the book of the same name — a collection of New York Observer columns by Candace Bushnell — upon which the show is based.

Some of the best movies I’ve seen lately have been those marketed to the other gender. My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding — the story of a Greek-American woman finding a place for herself outside of her insane family — is the most entertaining romantic comedy of the year, and has been bouncing around theaters for months now.

Possession, about two literary enthusiasts who fall for each other while tracking down clues of an affair between a pair of Victorian poets, is the best thing I’ve seen labeled “love story” in forever.

Oh, you marketing chumps. If it’s funny and entertaining and enjoyable for one gender, what makes you think it won’t be for the other? Try gearing the ads toward men. We just might like it.

As women are becoming more like men used to be in their professional and sexual lives, men are slowly moving toward the middle ground as well. We’re spending a fortune on cosmetic products, taking sensitivity courses and tuning into women’s sports.

Now, of course, you don’t have to act like the other gender to understand them. All you have to do is learn what they’re interested in, and entertainment is great for this. Talk to them about it. Find out what they think and tell them what you think. Find the common threads. Inevitably there will be some.

Without even realizing it, you’ll be understanding the opposite gender, or at least some specific examples of it. I know this column has dealt mainly with men understanding women. So for the other side of the story, log on for the next column I have planned:

Porn: Man’s best friend.

Don’t laugh. I will do it.

And, I’d also like to give myself a pat on the back for writing my first Crunchable piece that is completely profanity-free.

Fuckin’ A.

Oh, son of a bitch.

Article © 2002 by Steve Spotswood