Have you ever noticed that any version of this joke (which could include men of various ethnic groups, a rabbi and a priest, a turtle, a camel, etc.) never starts out "woman walks into a bar"? Let me be clear: I am not offended by this. Having gotten the vote long ago (well, not me personally, my foremothers), and not being considered in law to be chattel of my husband, I am content with the current state of things and am no kind of feminist. The point is that that archetypal joke is a remnant of a cultural reality that existed in Western society until rather recently. Men walked into bars; women were home cooking. Some of this sexism was bad – women not considered equally competent to hold "male" jobs; women in the workplace seen as available for casual physical contact and suggestive comments, and unable to complain about it. That sort of thing. It's good that we've gotten beyond that. But we've lost things, too. Mild flirting, one of the harmless pleasures of those bygone times, "gentlemanliness" such as men opening doors for women. We've lost those. We are so desperately afraid of offending that we have, tragically, lost our sense of humor.
Whatever you may think of conservative politician and commentator Pat Buchanan, one must pay attention to what he writes in The Death of the West: “political correctness is cultural Marxism, and … its trademark is intolerance.” Fascinatingly, in our desperate urge to offend no one, we have become unspeakably intolerant, with cancel culture destroying lives, truth and humor.
We have lost what the early feminists fought so hard for: the right for women to be equal citizens, under the law, in the workplace, in society, and, significantly, in language. Since the 60's, on a strange and twisted road, women's rights gave way to the sexual revolution, which gave way to open sexual displays of every kind, including homosexuality, and now, today, to the glorification of transsexuality. The new victim in Western society is the misunderstood "trans person" who does not feel like inhabiting the gender into which he or she was born. Children in US, Canadian and British schools are being treated to shows where trans strippers dance in the library, where second graders are taught the words non-binary, transgender and LGBTQ, with its rainbow flag. On a recent visit to Toronto, I passed numerous elementary and high schools with the rainbow flag flying prominently beside the Canadian flag. In my humble opinion, do what you want in private, as long as it doesn’t involve children. It's private. People are so much more than their sexuality, but that seems to have become the single most important personal characteristic to display. Regarding racism, Martin Luthor King said in his famous speech: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." Hopefully, in the context of race, we are close to that. But when the flag of sexuality is flown, the content of our characters is not on the agenda. Fly the rainbow flag and shut your mouth.
Back to the man walking into the bar. Ironically, the hard battle for women's rights has come to a place where women are erased. Johns Hopkins University recently published a glossary in which "lesbian" is defined as "non-men who are attracted to non-men." Men with full male genitalia who call themselves "trans" because they "feel like women," wear a bit of lipstick and compete in women's sports, winning competitions in women's swimming, weightlifting and running, with other women's sports beginning to suffer as well. Men's testosterone gives them increased strength, endurance, power, size and muscle mass, less fat and bigger and denser bones, bigger muscles and stronger internal organs. It's no contest. Men, whatever they call themselves, can beat women. Fully male-endowed men can put on a woman's bathing suit and go into the women's changing rooms at public pools, terrifying little girls. G-d help those who speak out: they are transphobic. A lovely new word for our quickly-updating lexicon.
In 2022, US Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson was asked by a senator who was part of the vetting process if she could define the word woman. "I can’t,” replied Jackson. "Not in this context. I’m not a biologist.”
Well, dear readers, I am not a biologist either. (I actually wanted to be; but I did poorly in my studies, for chemically-related reasons. It was 1969). But even I know the answer to the question, what is a woman. The answer is one letter of the alphabet, repeated twice: XX. That is the chromosomal makeup of a woman. Men are XY. This is immutable and unchangeable, determined at the moment of conception. The rest, as the sage Hillel said, is commentary. The second, oft-forgotten part of Hillel's pronouncement is – "now go and study." We need to do a brave, historical, cultural study of how we have arrived at this insane, soulless, humorless place. Women are non-men. We are our sexuality, and little else. We must not speak out or we will be cancelled.
Did you know? Men can get pregnant! Don’t you dare say otherwise. Women have been erased. And here’s the second half of that story: men have been erased, too. We have lost, along with our sense of humor and our right to speak truth, the wonderful gift that G-d gave humankind: male and female created He them. And, as the French say, vive la différence.