One of the stranger subtexts of the recent Enron saga - as well as 9-11 - has been the search for meaning in the gender universe.
I'm not sure, but I think this means we're getting back to normal. When terrorist mass murder and precedent-setting corporate crime invite debates of gender superiority (hint: the Enron whistle-blowers were women; 9-11 heroes were men), we're back to being fat 'n happy, otherwise known as schtupid.
And, not impossibly, deserving of some of that bad ol' Middle Eastern contempt.
What used to be mildly annoying "gender wars," fought over such nonsense as whether men should open doors for women, has devolved into an apocalyptic conniption fit. The first hint that we were perhaps too well-fed came shortly after the terrorist attacks on 9-11.
Men's groups, whom I love and adore (I figured long ago that if only one group of people was going to like me, it may as well be men), began clearing their throats and beating their chests as they pointed out that, heyheyhey, those were fireMEN and policeMEN rushing into burning buildings.
This isn't entirely true, of course, but it's mostly true. More men than women died. Noted.
It was also pointed out that those who rushed the hijackers of Flight 93, which crashed into the Pennsylvania countryside, were men, not women. Appropriately insulted by the implication, women hastened to point out that some of the stewardesses on that same flight boiled water. (start italics) But, but, Miss Scahlet, ain't we always s'posed to boil water? (and italics)
Suddenly I'm obsessed with that nap I've been meaning to take.
Then comes Enron, and who blows the whistle? Not those dastardly brutish men who willingly tackle armed hijackers, but the fairer (nobler?) sex, women. Nobler, at least, is what we are to infer.
Maureen Dowd of the New York Times noted in a recent column that Hollywood's version of Enron is likely to follow the cinematic story line of the women against the men, while a recent discussion on "Politically Incorrect" (full disclosure: on a night when I was a guest on "P.I.") turned to whether women are more ethical than men. Of course, the facts got in our way on this one. Among those under investigation at Enron are a few of the female persuasion.
Are those women as culpable as the men, or were they hapless victims, duped by those tricky workplace gender dynamics and forced by the corporate creed to "act" like men against their weaker, more nurturing, wills?
Corporate America, after all, is a man's world. Women hold only 12 percent of executive positions in the United States despite their comprising half the workforce, according to a recent government report. If women want to play with the Big Boys, one easily infers from current wisdom, they have to prove themselves on the testosterone fields. Spit, grab and write dubious checks.
The consensus on "P.I.," by the way, was that women are just as susceptible to avarice and deceit as men are, whereupon the entire state of Arkansas gasped, "Who didn't know?"
Yet, Dowd wrote charmingly of women's superior evolution: "Only 10 years after Mattel put out Teen Talk Barbie whining 'Math class is tough,' we have women unearthing the Rosetta stone of this indecipherable scandal."
Translation: Women smart now. Men still dumb and bad. Except in case of fire or hijackings, then men useful. If expendable.
Certainly the woman, Sherron Watkins, who blew the whistle on Enron execs is more ethical than Kenneth Lay seems to be. But is she more ethical than millions of other men who would have done the same thing under the circumstances? And does Fortune reporter Bethany McLean walk a higher moral plane than, say, journalists Andrew Sullivan or Jonah Goldberg (two of my personal faves) simply because she got wind of the story first?
Such silliness explains nothing except why John Gray is rich and I'm not. For those who think a self-help book refers to the Yellow Pages, Gray is the author of the inexplicably successful "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus," in which Gray explores the different ways men and women think and communicate. Even as we bicker over who suffers more, who loves more, who nurtures more and, in my case, who cares less, Gray is on tour with his latest, "Mars and Venus in the Workplace."
All of which explains why I work alone and, just possibly, why hungry people everywhere hate our guts.