Monday, July 14, 2003

I am a big fan of K’s blog and wish that he would find time to write. My Persian is not nearly as good as his (for obvious reasons), so I always learn something new when I read his blog.

K, however, is overwhelmed and busy and a much slower writer than I am, so I will have to wait. Until then…


For a long time (at least for the last 20 years since I worked on a construction crew with mostly men), I have been asking myself how individual men can be so nice and kind, but, as a group, can turn into such assholes? Groups of men have always scared me. They often seem to imitate the behavior of the worst among them. Sorry men.

Iran is filled with groups of men and groups of women.

How can a society that is so divided along gender lines be successful? I think it cannot. Please note that I am not saying that you cannot have a successful business or a successful religion. I just don’t think you can have a successful society if men and women are rigidly divided. (Maybe I’m just bitter because I can’t go to the water park with K’s nephew and could not go swimming this morning because the pool was reserved for men.)

Men and women are meant to interact on more levels than just the family level. They should work together and play together and be together. Islamic societies, with their rigid social divisions, cannot be successful. (This, of course, is my own amateur point of view) It is not the West that is keeping these countries down, it is their own social norms.

I was thinking about this very topic when I received an article via email: a talk with Robert Sapolsky about his work with primates. (From Edge 118)

For the humans who would like to know what it takes to be an alpha man-if I were 25 and asked that question I would certainly say competitive prowess is important-balls, translated into the more abstractly demanding social realm of humans. What's clear to me now at 45 is, screw the alpha male stuff. Go for an alternative strategy. Go for the social affiliation, build relationships with females, don't waste your time trying to figure out how to be the most adept socially cagy male-male competitor. Amazingly enough that's not what pays off in that system. Go for the affiliative stuff and bypass the male crap. I could not have said that when I was 25.

* * *

When it’s just the “girls” and me out walking, we are constantly “chatted up.” (You women out there, imagine a much lower key version of walking by a construction site.) This happens just as often when I am walking with a woman in her early 20s as it does when I am walking with a woman in her early 60s. Another thing happens. Men try to figure out if we are willing to get into their cars with them. For instance, K’s 20-year-old niece and I were crossing the street. First a bus driver with an empty bus flashed his lights and signaled to us. Then a young man in a Range Rover did the same. Then a middle-aged man in a Paykan (the popular & stinky Iranian-made car) did the same. After getting “flashed” by four cars, we made it across the street where K was waiting for us. The flashing stopped as soon as we were with a man.

K wanted a coffee, so we went to the Hotel Homa, which is pretty chi-chi for Iran. The coffee was great. The women were gorgeous. The men were well-dressed. The children were fat. After our coffee we went for a walk. Suddenly we heard some noise and saw two groups of young men running. One guy flew up in the air in a total Buffy the Vampire Slayer kickboxing move that hit another guy right in the head. The other guy, Hossein, was on the ground before the kickboxer landed. Hossein looked dead. His friends panicked. They shook him, slapped his face, and dragged him to the drainage ditch to pour water on his head. We all thought Hossein was dead. I think the worst part of the whole experience for me was that I have had a lot of first aid training (starting when I was six and taking swimming lessons) and knew what to do (at least until professionals arrived). There was no way for me to help or even to offer help. I was as afraid of Hossein’s panicking friends as Hossein’s attackers. “Everyday Iranians watch Rescue on television,” I said to K, “you’d think that they would have picked up some tips about what to do when someone has a head injury.”

BTW, Hossein did finally regain consciousness. Who knows what happened next?

This is the third fight we have seen. This may just be bad luck: no one else we have spoken with has seen as many fights as we have.

Two of the fights were scary and super, super fast; all involved young men and boys. The first fight we saw involved a couple of boys who were fighting in the street. The second was a group of teens with stones and knives, the third was the kickboxing match in Tehran. When we told an Iranian friend about the fights we have seen, he was shocked, “Where have you been,” he asked?

Another story about men.

Most men I have met here are incredibly lazy about work inside the home. One Iranian (a man who lived in Canada for 22 years and is now back in Iran) actually told me that women wouldn’t have it any other way. “We bring home the bacon, after all. Working at home is easy compared to working outside the home. You don’t have to deal with bad bosses or boring work. I think most women would rather just be working at home.”

“You have not been talking to many women,” I told him. The women in the room agreed with me.

(It’s no wonder he is still single.)

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