All About Sex


Havre de Grace. -- Thursday was the day we were all supposed to take our daughters to work, but I didn't take Sarah. It was just as well. For one thing, she was in school. And for another she would have been exposed to language unsuited to 11-year-old ears.

The day was a beautiful one, but it began badly. I planned to move the cows and calves out of their winter pasture that morning, and went out in the pickup to feed them some high-quality hay first. A hungry cow can overdose on fresh spring nTC grass, so I like to have their bellies full before they move.

I stopped the truck on a flat place on the top of a hill and distributed the hay. Then while the cows were eating I walked through the herd to get a close look at the calves. Just as I was telling myself what an unusually attractive group they were, the truck ran off.

It started slowly, and with a desperate sprint I almost caught it. But then it picked up speed, bounced on down the hill, and crashed through an old wire fence into a gully filled with brush.

The cows watched with interest, and then stared at me until I stopped swearing. It would not have been the perfect moment to demonstrate to a child the joys of farming.

Sarah, it's true, already has a good idea how I spend my time. She knows farming can be difficult as well as rewarding. She knows that on a farm there are likely to be times which are hot, cold, dirty, wet, exciting, humbling, funny or scary. She's seen birth and death close up, and knows that each isn't always the way it's presented on television.

As a writer herself, she also understands some of the demands and rewards of my other line of work. She's discovered that words can be just as wayward and intransigent, just as spooky and hard to organize, as a herd of half-witted weanling calves. So she probably didn't miss much by not formally participating this year in the Ms. Foundation's daughters-to-the-workplace exercise.

But that's not to say the exercise itself isn't valuable. It is. And as to the current controversy over whether or not boys should be included, I find myself in concert with the Hon. Ellen Goodman. I think we should keep this day just for the girls, and let the boys come to the office some other time.

This subject touches on a knotty problem which feminist theory, from what I read, hasn't quite resolved. There's on-going ideological conflict over whether women should be treated exactly like men, or treated differently -- but better. Ms. Goodman and I favor the latter approach, although for disparate reasons.

Bravely waving the tattered flag of affirmative action, Ms. Goodman says the girls should have a special day because the boys have received too much attention. I think girls should have a special day because they're special. But no matter. We've reached common ground, no matter how we got there.

There was a time not so long ago when it was the hope of most parents, and of society, that a child would grow up first of all to be a good man or a good woman. That idea fell out of favor for a while as intellectuals embraced the ideal of an androgynous sort of personhood, but there are signs the old concepts of womanliness and manliness are making a joint comeback.

That's healthy; you don't have to be Charles Darwin to suspect that a culture which glorifies asexuality might not be on the evolutionary fast track. On the other hand, in the workplace it does make some practical sense to blur the role of gender.

Many jobs once done only by men are now done as well or better by women. This has proved helpful to employers, by broadening the labor pool, as well as to female job seekers. But while hardly anyone wants to reverse the current trend and send women back to the kitchen, the long-term social impact of what we've wrought may turn out to be more complicated than we realize.

There is already some indication that certain vocations, especially the law, politics and journalism, are beginning to acquire the pink-collar reputation that used to go with work as a kindergarten teacher, telephone operator or nurse. This means that as they attract ever more women, they gradually begin to lose their appeal to certain men. As this happens, the process accelerates.

At the same time, with so many desirable new careers opening to them, fewer women are likely to want to become bricklayers, steeplejacks or members of combat infantry units. Some will, most won't. And gradually society will find itself drawing new, and necessarily fuzzy, gender lines.

Anyway, back to the runaway pickup. We extricated it from the brush heap and found it more or less intact. Some chrome has been knocked off and there are some small cracks in the metal. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, if Sarah decided to take up welding?

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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