Along with a snoring she-troll in a fluffy yellow robe, I'm sitting on the sunset porch of Promontory Hot Springs, after a long dunk in the hot seawater pool in the women's bath-house when the door to the men's bath-house opens with a wham and out is booted a shouting woman, naked as a snake, propelled in such a way as to stagger down the three ritual steps of the bath-house, where she slips in some mud, wind-milling her arms to stay upright. Oblivious to her bareness, she continues to curse imaginatively, scoops up a handful of mud and flings it at the door, which opens again quickly and an armful of clothes shoots out like a Major League pitch and hits her square in the face. She slips again and falls on her ass in the mud, the obscenities unabated by yards of fabric.
No time to escape. She turns in our direction and says, "Those dirty bastards threw me out!"
"I suppose they could have just explained that it was the men's bath-house," I shrug.
"Who the hell has the right to say that we have to use one bath-house or another?" she immediately demands. "I'm nobody's prisoner to be told where I can bathe or where I can't!"
"Are the facilities better in the men's house?" I ask, even though I know the answer is 'no.'
"Is 'better' all you can think about? 'Better' is not what this is about! It's this enforced segregation of genders that is wrong. Women and men should be free to mingle whenever they want!"
"Ganner's Bath House up the coast has a communal area, doesn't it?" Yes, I'm baiting her.
"Ganner's is not the spa I favor! Promontory has the best facilities on the Coast! Why should I have to be segregated at one spa and not another?"
"I thought 'better' wasn't the issue."
"The issue is making women separate from men! I believe in equality between men and women, not an enslavement of women by men!"
"I wasn't enslaved by men when I bathed in the women's house; perhaps things have improved since the last time you were here?"
"Every time women are kept apart from men is an affront to the movement for equality in all things!" The woman shouts, pulling her dress over her head.
"Equality? Do you mean that you think men and women are the same? That there is no difference?" I'm wondering how much more teasing she can take before she comes up onto the porch and takes a swing at me. I'm also wondering how the troll can sleep through this.
"Both humans, both the same!" the zealot screams, pulling up her knickers. "The only difference between men and women is genitalia, an external manifestation, a matter of skin! Separation of activity and gender division of work, those are just insidious subjugations of women perpetrated by patristic despots!"
Patristic despots in a bath house, what will they think of next. You know, there really was a time not too long ago when women and girls were not permitted to attempt some sorts of employment, education, and recreation. And the reasons for denying them went no farther than gender discrimination. I'm sure that at one time, the "men go out and bring food back" and "women take care of kids and household" was arranged primarily because the woman had breasts with which to feed her infants. And maybe too because the man tended to be larger and stronger for dragging home the woolly mammoth roasts.
People form habits, and habits get turned into customs, and customs become solidified sometimes until they harden into rules and laws and prohibitions and demands. And then too, people feel a need (is that built in?) to defend their habits and customs, and defenders can get pretty nasty if their habits are threatened. Unfortunately it's true that there's been a lot of struggle for women and girls to be permitted to hold meaningful positions outside the home, and they still tend to be undervalued in many cases. I like to think we're all working on that as we can.
So is the difference between men and women just one of skin and the shape of parts, and a few hormones thrown in for good measure? You think I'm going to say something profound here, like that there is a kind of polarity to the sexes, a mystical spiritual archetype that says the woman is structured both in body and soul to be a vessel of creation, and the man to be the outpouring of creation, or maybe that how men and women approach Life is reflected in those spiritualities, but you're wrong. I wouldn't say that on a bet, because then there would be a furor over which is more important, necessary, and in charge, the vessel or the outpouring, which is dumb because neither is worthwhile without the other. If there were no more women, there would be no more men. If there were no more men, there would be no more women.
What I don't get at all is why some women insist on having to take part in everything that men do, like this harridan at the bath house. I'm inclined to think that she was ejected less because of gender than of temperament.
"Don't you believe in equality?" the expelled woman shouts at me.
"No, I don't," I tell her. "No two people are the same, so they can't be equal to each other. Every day is distinct, so I am most likely not even equal to myself as I was yesterday."
"Then you're nothing but a pawn of the system," she roars triumphantly, "a mindless tool of the oppressors! Someday you will regret your submission to a patriarchal imprisonment!"
The she-troll opens her eyes and says, "You're full of shit. We have separate bath-houses because men are disgusting and oughtta have to live in a separate town. Now get lost before I come down there and pound you." She closes her eyes again and recommences snoring.
Oh, sure. If you're a troll, that's all you have to say. Now that's inequality.