Annika and the feminists, trying to keep pace with the boys

Posted: Jun 04, 2003 12:00 AM

Now that Annika Sorenstam has competed at the PGA's Colonial and the racket has calmed, let's revel for a moment in those things that separate the genders.

Men have traditionally been defined by their ability to exert their will upon nature. In the early days, this meant hunting, gathering, seducing, procreating and providing safety and defense. This was the embryo of society.

A patriarchal society tended to keep this role - masculine protector and provider - in place as an instrument of control. This became particularly clear during the rise in capitalism, when relegating women to the private sphere of society safeguarded lines of inheritance. By sequestering women, the patriarchal heads of families were able to maintain rigid control over their personal holdings. This need to protect personal holdings was ingrained into the culture and maintained through popular myths, which depicted women as emotionally erratic creatures that needed to be shut in for their own good, as well as that of society at large.

For similar reasons - fear of fracturing family holdings - divorce became taboo, as did sexual promiscuity. A woman's sexual drives were twisted inward and thought essentially destructive. Long after these particular historical circumstances began to fade, the social hierarchies that deemed women inferior remained. Until very recently, women who sought to cultivate a unique identity outside of the home were viewed as social usurpers and made to feel guilty for not accepting their roles as mere vessels for the man's seed.

Over the last 30 years, women have successfully broken free from many of those gender roles that once enmeshed them. This becomes clear as soon as you turn on the TV. The popular culture is now replete with images that equate sexual promiscuity with freedom and liberation. Shows popular with young women, like "Sex in the City," depict the travails of four women as they work, hang out and generally pounce on young men with the not-so-subtle élan of a hunter/gatherer. The major implication being that modern woman is not an object to be subdued and prodded. Women are in command and quite capable of initiating both sex and career with predatory ease.

I suppose this is progress, but it makes me chuckle when feminists attempt to prove equality by showing they can keep up with the boys. Just like it made me chuckle when feminists rallied around Annika Sorenstam's gender-busting round at the Colonial. I mean, how on earth do the feminists expect to achieve a uniquely feminine moment if they are dedicated to going about things as they think a man would?

It's silly for a woman to think that she can match the strength and endurance of a male athlete. This is not about the speed with which one's neurons fire. It is about the hard biological facts of human musculature. That is why the best female athletes can only offer competition to the most mediocre male athlete. That is why female athletes would starve if they had to regularly compete against guys. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Tennis phenom Serena Williams recently stated that she supported Annika, but had no desire to compete against men. "I'm here to play female tennis," she said. "I've never been involved in men's tennis." Very simply, what would be the point?

Women have already pushed into the mainstream of corporate and social structures. This has been a good thing. Perhaps it is important now to spend some time reveling in those biological facts unique to men and women. Why should we twist distinct parts of our personalities inward? We've come a long way in the march toward equality. The next step is not feeling ashamed of those things that make us unique.