Blindingly obvious: Think, act, relate differently...

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(David Wegener) Illustration #1: As I was growing up in Bloomington, I was a huge fan of sports, of Indiana University and of the high schools in our area. My parents received the only Bloomington paper, the Herald Tribune, and I would read the sports section nearly every day, nearly cover to cover. After college, I went away for about eight years and then moved back and continued to read the sports section of the H-T.

One thing I always enjoyed reading were the profiles of high school athletes. When someone was having a good season, one of the high school beat writers, Rex Kirts for Bloomington South and Phil Coffin and a succession of others for Bloomington North, would write a brief article. Early on, I recognized that these were articles that the athlete could send to interested colleges who might recruit them. But that was not always the case. And it was pretty obvious that Rex and the others would ask similar questions of each profiled athlete. Increasingly, girls were featured in these profiles, just a trickle in the 70s, but by the 90s there were about as many articles on girls as on boys.

As I read things over the years, one thing stood out as blindingly obvious. The things the female athletes said were very similar and it didn't matter what school (North or South, or Edgewood or Brown County, etc.) or which sport, "individual" sports (track, gymnastics, etc.) or team sports (softball, volleyball, basketball, etc.). The girls all said something very similar and it was very different from the what the boys said.

When the sports writer asked, "how has the season been?" or some such banality, almost every girl would say something like this...

"Really good. We've all gotten along really well and there haven't been any fights. Last year the team had a lot of problems with girls backbiting and gossiping, but this year ... This year is different. Coach got us all together at the beginning of the season and put a stop to all that and now it is really fun to be together and we all get along really well and we're encouraging each other ..."

A boy would never say something like this. Never, ever, ever. What would he say: If it was an individual sport, say pole vaulting, the guy might say, "I worked really hard in the off season, lifting weights and working on my technique. Then during the fall, I ran cross country and that built up my endurance and so this year I've been really primed for a good year. I got injured toward the end of the indoor season, but I was able to recover and come back strong. The rest even did me some good cause I think I was working out a bit too hard. Now I'm peaking at just the right time and ..." In a team sport, he might say, "well, the coach put in some new plays this year and that has really helped. Our timing is really good. And the new weight lifting room has really helped. We got in there every day over the summer and worked really hard and now it's paying off. Not so many injuries like last year and we're stronger in the fourth quarter and ..."

Why? Men and women are different. And this in a liberal, midwest university town.

Illustration #2: After I graduated from college, I worked for about a year as a house-parent for six guys who are mentally retarded or at least that is what we used to say. Developmentally disabled was what we were supposed to say. I lived with them five days a week, Monday to Friday, getting them up in the morning, getting them breakfast, getting them off to work around 8am. Then I was free during the day until they came home around 4pm, and I got them dinner and eventually to bed. They worked in a sheltered workshop near the apartment where we lived and right next door to our apartment was another apartment for six girls. When I lived there, Frieda ran things in the girls apartment.

The guys and gals were of different ages, 20s, 30s and 40s mostly (one teen-age girl), with differing disabilities. One guy I had was schizophrenic, in addition to being mentally retarded. "Jack" spent a lot of time running around the court-yard talking to his imaginary friend, Jacob, whom he sometimes had to beat up. Another fellow, "Hector" had a certain syndrome in addition to retardation. Sometimes he would become very agitated and throw fits but most of the time he just listened to his radio. I had to learn the signs of when a fit might be coming and try to nip it in the bud.

Anyway, in the late afternoons and evenings, a curious thing started to happen. A few of my guys (the higher functioning ones) would go over to Frieda's apartment after work and talk to her and a few of the girls would come over to my apartment and talk to me as I prepared dinner. Inevitably, the same issues would come up. "Madge" would march in, madder then a wet hornet and screech, "'Celia' has been ragging on me all day and I'm sick of it." Her eyes would bulge out in expressions of the injustice of it all and that she hadn't done anything, not anything to merit this kind of treatment. Soon, "Margi" might slouch through the door and walk slowly, heavily over to me and say, "I'm so tired I can barely stand up." How was your day, I might ask. "Okay, but some of the other girls were being really mean. Celia for one ..." Eventually she would give me a smile, but a tired smile. Celia, the source of all evil in the universe, might come over from time to time and be very pleasant. Madge (the teen-ager) would hold her tongue as long as she could (which wasn't long) but eventually would erupt and accuse her of meanness or insensitivity and Celia would open her mouth as if to say, "who, me?" Psychological warfare at its most basic. It was exhausting.

How was it with my guys? Almost never did we have to deal with relational problems. They were like ships passing in the night. They knew each others quirks and a few of them were genuinely afraid of other guys in the apartment. "Wilson" would be very mild and reserved but then out of the blue he would go berserk and rip off his shirt and throw the TV on the floor and attack someone or ask if he could drive the car to Dairy Queen. The other guys wouldn't do anything. They would just try and stay out of his way. Afterwards, when I had gotten things calmed down, the other guys wouldn't complain about Wilson's behavior. That was just the way he was. Try and avoid him as much as possible, even if he was your roommate. "Big Eddie," who was non-verbal, would just walk around and mutter to himself and listen to this conversation and then watch a little TV and then listen to a description of the sins of Celia and then go to his room ... "Alex" would sit in his chair, talk to himself, whistle and wait for dinner, maybe falling asleep. Sometimes he would talk to me but very rarely would he relate in any way to the other guys.

This always reminds me of the story of two little boys, maybe four or five years old, "talking to" each other in the sand-box. Billy, as he fills a bucket with sand, says, "We're going on vacation today, to Michigan." To which Tommy "responds," while smoothing out a track for a match-box car, "we had wieners for lunch today." Back to Billy, "I'm very excited to go to Michigan." And on to Tommy, "I hate wieners ..." I guess you could say they were having a conversation but only if you're really generous. The only actual interaction might be if Billy starts to build a castle in the wrong place, too near the track, and so Tommy might have to say, "don't build it there."

These stories make many of us smile, but not all of us. Some people hate these stories (believe me, I know) because they reveal at a very fundamental level that men and women are different. Think differently, act differently, relate differently. Again, it is blindingly obvious. How you react to these stories, laugh, smile, get angry like Madge, etc. tells me a lot about what you believe about sexual orthodoxy.