I have a theory about women.
It’s actually my mother’s theory, but I subscribe to it, so I’m going to pass it off as my own. Besides being way smarter than me, my mother is also nice enough not to mind my hijacking of her ideas.
Kevin always says that, in the parental department, I hit the Lotto.
You remember the brouhaha, a couple years back, when Lawrence Summers, then at Harvard, dared to suggest that there might be innate differences between man and women that were partly responsible for women’s underrepresentation in the top echelons of scientific academia? Well, I think he’s right.
Women are underrepresented in the top echelons of many professions. World-class chess players, mathematicians, chefs, and musicians are disproportionately male. How could this be?
There’s no question that part of the answer lies is how we, society, treat women. They tend not to be groomed for world-class jobs of any stripe and, even if they go in that direction of their own accord, they can end up being discriminated against. There is evidence, for example, that when orchestra auditions are blind, more women are hired. But the better women are treated – and we’re treated much better now than we were three decades ago – the less satisfactory that answer is.
Cognitive neuroscience is giving us increasingly detailed looks at men’s and women’s brains, and the differences are remarkable. We’re different in how we respond to stress, communicate, process language, pick mates, and perceive pain. Pretty much every cognitive process that gets investigated proves to work differently in men and women. Neuroscience has yet to prove my theory about women, but I predict it will, and in my lifetime.
Here it is: Women are underrepresented in the top ranks of demanding professions because they are more distractible that men.
Men evolved to focus. They were hunters and, if they got distracted by a rustle or a bird or an idea, the saber-tooth tiger got away. Women evolved to multitask. They were procreators and, if they didn’t get distracted by a cry or a smell or an absence, their children died, eaten by the saber-tooth tigers their distracted husbands didn’t kill.
Women evolved to multitask.
It seems that pre-adolescent girls perform quite similarly to boys in subjects like math and science, and that it’s only after puberty that the remarkable differences emerge. The culprit, I think, is estrogen.
Once we hit child-bearing years, we’re hard-wired to look up from whatever it is we’re doing whenever we hear a noise. That doesn’t bode well for our success in careers that require decades of rigorous training and single-minded focus.
The things that women seem to be better at – communicating, negotiating, empathizing – make us better suited than men for some kinds of jobs, but they’re generally not the rock-star jobs like chess champion, hot-shot academic, and, well, rock star. And commodity trader! Don’t forget commodity trader.
Which is not to say that women are never the musical, culinary, scientific, and intellectual rock stars. They’re just underrepresented in the ranks of the overachievers. This is why I understand the desire for male progeny. It ups the odds for rock stardom in the family.
It is this desire, I think, that is motivating my squash plants.
I planted some half-dozen squash in two varieties: butternut and Sasquash. Sasquash isn’t its real name, of course. It’s just a very big variety of winter squash that my friend Christl grows, and I wasn’t about to let a little thing like not knowing its name stop me from planting the seeds she gave me.
All of the squash plants are growing and some are downright thriving. They have long stems and big broad leaves and little curling tentacles that keep trying to throttle the pepper plants next door. And now they have flowers. Tons and tons of flowers. Open flowers, closed flowers, flower buds. Bazillions of them.
I used to think bazillions of flowers would, with time, equate to bazillions of squash. Now I know better. Squash have both male and female flowers, and it is only the female flowers that turn into actual, genuine squash. The rest of the flowers just fall off and die, unless you batter-dip and deep-fry them first.
Even the female flower isn’t a sure thing. For the squash to happen, the flower has to be cross-pollinated. This is usually done by bees but, if it happens that both your beehives died over the winter, you can hedge against the scarcity of pollinators by doing the job yourself. All you need is some patience and a Q-Tip. You find a male flower, pollinate the Q-Tip, and visit the female flower.
This morning I went out to the garden, armed with patience and Q-Tips, and made a very disconcerting discovery. In all my bazillions of squash flowers, I could find only one female. One.
What the hell is this, China? How can I be so completely overrun with males?
Those of you who take issue with my theory of sex differences will no doubt believe these are my just desserts. A potent reminder of the value of females. If any of the rest of you happen to know why a squash plant would generate such a male-heavy crop of flowers, I would appreciate your letting me know.
I look forward to having my child-bearing years safely behind me – any day now – so I can concentrate on my gardening.