Women displace our real anxieties onto incidental details.
In search of an example, let's turn back to our sweaty girlfriends in the audience. Why are we just sitting there, literally stewing? Because no woman can imagine herself doing what a man would do, that is to say, walking up to the thermometer and saying "Jesus Christ! It's hot in here. Why the hell don't we turn the air conditioning on?"
A woman doesn't want to do that because she's afraid that inadvertently, she might make somebody else cold: what if one of the little things with the sweater wrapped around her is just getting over the flu? She couldn't risk making somebody else feel bad for her own selfish reasons. It has to be a collective decision, not an individual one. A man, in contrast, thinks "I'm hot, therefore it must be exceedingly warm in this room. It's probably at least 72.8 degrees." (Men like to sound scientific and precise even when they make stuff up.)
In contrast, women, caretakers that we are, will try to get a consensus going. Somebody in the back of the room will begin making up one of those charts where you have a spectrum of faces from the smiley one to the frowny one and she'll start telling people to circle whichever best represents their personal comfort level at the moment. She just wants everyone to be part of the decision-making process. "There's no one right answer" is her motto. She sweats all the time.
Of course, it doesn't have to be so complicated; one way that women could lower their body temperatures instantly and effectively and make themselves more comfortable is to remove the jackets they're wearing. This they will never do. To do so would be to reveal their upper arms. After a certain point-for each woman it comes at a different moment-upper-arm exposure is no longer an option.
I know that the right to bare arms did not apply to me after age forty-one. That's when I decided it looked like I had a couple of sausages tied around my neck.
The realization that I could no longer wear cap-sleeves was daunting and irreversible, but it coincided neatly with a growing hatred for my elbows.
Elbows offer a whole new body part for a woman to learn to hate, by the way, now that we've been encouraged to focus on the most ridiculous and minute parts of ourselves; witness exfoliating elbow scrubs or diamond-surface heel-buffers.
"I have wicked droopy elbows," said my young friend Sarah who, at twenty-eight, has very little else on her in danger of droopage. "When I straighten my arm, it looks like the curtain going up at the theater." As a young woman facing an uncertain future, Sarah might better spend her time thinking about equal pay for equal work, maintaining a career-family balance, and whether the weakening economy will be able to keep the West's infrastructure intact throughout her lifetime. Instead, she's worrying about the number of pleats on her funny bone.
It's not that I don't understand the impulse. I'm twenty pounds overweight and I worry about the shape of my eyebrows.
So she exfoliates her elbows. If you asked a man the question, "would you consider exfoliating your elbows?" he would laugh so hard his organs would seize up.
And maybe, just maybe this whole exfoliating thing has gone too far. One thing I just saw in the store was a terracotta loofah. It was like your ordinary loofah, which in non-spa bathroom language we call "a sponge" and which in the kitchen vernacular is a "brillo pad," only this was made out of baked clay, or what we might call "a brick." And I thought to myself, "All right, this is a new low. Can we really be talked into anything by being told it is part of the beauty regime? Will women really do anything to ourselves with any object, however inappropriate, if we're told it will resurface, smooth, vitalize, and rejuvenate? Is there nothing we won't buy?"
In the world of retail, the terracotta loofah marketing pitch, I imagine, went something like this:
"Hey Benny, let's see if we could talk broads into bringing a brick with them into the bathtub. "Hey Benny, let's see if we could talk broads into bringing a brick with them into the bathtub. We got them wearing scotch tape with toothpaste on their teeth during the day as 'whitener'--that was Frankie's best moment, don't you think? The scotch tape in the mouth routine? But look, I just heard that Home Depot has 185 boxes of misshapen earthenware with holes in it. Maybe we could tell them it's a loofah, and we can tell them it's all-natural."
"Harry, you really think that they'll rub themselves with a brick? These are working girls now, we're talking about-girls who had a college education, girls who came from good homes."
"Hmm. Maybe you're right... Nope! I got it! We'll tell them it's biodegradable. They'll start buying them as presents for each other. And the great thing is, when they drop them in the bath, they'll break! So they'll have to buy new ones! It's perfect."
"Harry, you're a genius. Let's get a million of ‘em. And now let's go ask some younger women out for a drink."
And we women fall for this stuff because we think it's going to make us better. Not just prettier or cuter or more attractive, which, after all, could even be considered legitimate reasons for rubbing a brick on your ass.
No, the sad thing is we actually think they'll make us better people.
This, my dears, is no way to go through life.