We all know at least one big, straight guy who embroiders for relaxation, and maybe more than one wife with a black belt in tae kwon do and no makeup in her gym bag. We all know some real men hate football; some real women love it. Academics call this gender nonconformity and they make it sound rare—or at least subversive. Fundamentalists fear and despise it (how will we know who's who or what's what, I suppose), and whether you're Liddy Dole (ladylike and marine-tough) or Bill Gates (cutthroat and mild-mannered), most of us are mixed human bouquets of personality traits, a lot more variegated in our gender styles than in the old days and still somehow anxious about how our new bouquet will be received and perceived.

We want our girls to be strong, self-reliant, and healthy individualists—though not so much so that they don't get asked to prom. Yet we all suspect, even if we don't want to, that for girls, strong, smart and healthy isn't always the most reliable indicator of prom-ability. We want our sons to be sensitive and affectionate, but not to the point that their friends make fun of them (or beat them up). And at what moment in our evolution did good manners and literacy become so much the sole province of gay men that whole sitcoms pivot on the notion that straight men understand neither women nor language nor art nor romance? (Italians and Jews and African-Americans complain to the networks when they're defamed; why don't straight men?) Even at our advanced stage, with women on the Supreme Court and on the basketball court, there is still the line. The line that we don't want to cross. The line that marks where acceptable ends and dangerous begins. The line that requires women athletes to wear makeup, long nails, and high heels whether it suits them or not. (You don't have to, of course; just don't expect to do many endorsements if you don't.) The line that keeps men from taking paternity leave and keeps us all understanding why they don't.

What's the difference between sexuality and temperment?


Next Story