Men and Women on Valentine's Day

February 14, 1992

From Anita Hill's accusations of harassment by Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas to Gennifer Flowers' claim of ** an illicit affair with presidential candidate Bill Clinton, from the date rape trial of William Kennedy Smith (acquitted) to that of Mike Tyson (convicted), it has been a rough year for relations between the sexes. On Valentine's Day, it is fair to ask: Can men and women get along?

That is a far different question from the old male cry of "What do women want?" The question has usually been asked with the heavy implication that no one could ever provide a rational or lasting answer -- mostly because the answer would have to come from women who, from the male point of view, were often irrational and fickle.

Nowadays, though, the questions being asked publicly about relations between the sexes are no longer restricted to the point of view of one sex. Women's voices have joined the debate. Moreover, there is increasing recognition that terms like "irrational" or "fickle" have been traditionally defined largely by men, resulting in an incomplete picture of human nature. But even though the questions are getting better, the answers remain elusive.

In addition to the reaction to Tyson's rape conviction, this week's news pages have carried a number of other reports from the front lines. The American Association of University Women released a compilation of studies of gender-bias in schools, and announced that the education system short-changes girls in ways both subtle and overt. Are the problems institutional? In part, yes, but they also reflect biases that pervade the culture's views of men and women, boys and girls. Meanwhile, physical differences -- or rather the lack of them -- are posing other kinds of problems. The New York Times reported this week that the International Olympic Committee and the International Amateur Athletic Federation are in disagreement on whether femaleness should be determined by genetic testing or simply by a visual inspection.

Could it be that men and women are more similar than different, that what makes us human is more important than what defines us as male or female? There are degrees of differences, and not all differences are bad. Valentine's Day brings not only a respite from the headlines, but the chance to celebrate the differences that give life its spark.

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