In the house where I raise my five sons, someone is always waiting to ask, “If you had a superpower, what would it be?”
I usually reply by scoffing. “My superpower? I’d be The Finder.”
The Finder: able to locate missing library books and remote controls when no one else can. She’s the hero who steps in when all is lost.
Living with a superhero makes people careless. Superheroes’ girlfriends tend to have terrible personal safety habits. They always wind up walking down dark, inner city alleys in the middle of the night. Living with The Finder has the same kind of effect on my sons. Because I know where everything in our house should be, they don’t know where — or how — to find anything.
Most homes have a Finder and, most of the time, that Finder is the head female of the household. I think the best theories for why we live this way refer to longstanding, tiresome social norms that link women to the bits and pieces of our home environments. We still shop, organize, and tidy.
Other theories are “neurological.” They refer to physical differences in male and female brains. These explanations argue that, even as embryos, we were biologically programmed either to be able to see the salt shaker as soon as we open the cupboard or to know to call for someone else to reach in and hand it to us.
Regardless of where The Finder gets her powers — from her brain-meat or from her socialization — she is typically not a gracious superhero. She doesn’t produce the missing cell phone and then look off into the distance saying, “No need to thank me, son. Finding is its own reward.” The Finder can tell people where they left their hoodies. But she might tell them in a way that makes them wish they’d never asked.
I don’t snap at my boys because I hate having to find things. I snap because they’re tacitly saying that looking for things is beneath their status but perfectly appropriate for someone as lowly as me.
But haven’t I read somewhere that boy brains are simply “wired” to spot prey and threats from afar, like Stone Age hunters scanning the horizon for food? It’s not fair to expect mighty hunters to pick through of a small, domestic area like some grubby Stone Age mamas foraging for bugs and berries.
Sex-related superpowers have been well researched. Some researchers claim to have found structural and functional differences between male and female brains that explain gender stereotypes in language development and spatial abilities. By now, the differences are so well-known they feel like common knowledge.
This common knowledge persists despite new, better research showing it to be mistaken. For everyone talking about the worlds away differences between Mars and Venus, there’s someone warning us not to understand life on Earth in terms of neuro-sexism. Yet we still hold to exaggerated, outdated myths about our differences. Why would anyone want to hoard these old neuro-sexist chestnuts? Instead of rejecting them as stifling stereotypes, they’re beloved.
The prevailing advice from neuro-sexist theories is that we should all stop criticizing each other for having different sex-related superpowers. We can’t help ourselves. Men’s brains can’t empathize. Women’s brains can’t stop crying. Everyone knows that. We should stop expecting things from each other that our sexes make us helpless to deliver.
As the only girl in my family, I can’t accept neuro-sexism, no matter how well ingrained it’s become in the world outside my home. To me, it all sounds like an excuse not to grow, not to treat the people in our lives a little better. And I honestly don’t believe any of it’s true. We don’t need gender double standards in order to live together in peace.
Despite the case made against sex-related superpowers, I’ll concede that there are a few traits that are fused to one’s sex. But they are not superpowers. And they usually turn out badly for boys. Boys are more likely than girls to suffer sex-linked diseases like hemophilia and muscular dystrophy. And then there’s the sex-linked condition that runs in my family...
© Jennifer Quist, 2013
Photo: Sara MacKenzie
Jennifer Quist lives, writes, and harangues her five young sons with Feminist polemics in central Alberta. Her debut novel, Love Letters of the Angels of Death, will be released by Linda Leith Publishing in Fall 2013.