A few years ago, at a Japanese restaurant, I asked the sushi chef why I’d never seen a woman doing that job. He nodded solemnly and explained that, regrettably, it is impossible. Women cannot be sushi chefs because they have higher body temperatures than men, so when handling raw fish, women cook it a little. He was completely serious.
I thought of this the other day when I read an article about why women are not permitted to drive in Saudi Arabia. An influential Saudi cleric grimly explained that it was because if women get into accidents, they might damage their ovaries, resulting in deformed Saudi children, which is bad for the whole country. Because it is safer in the back seat, simple patriotism dictates that only men drive.
See how the use of illogic and selectively marshaled facts can be a powerful tool for explaining away simple bigotry and make us all feel better about inequities in society? It’s a tool that should be in wider use. The French, for example, made a serious mistake by trying to justify with complex sociopolitical arguments their culturally insensitive ban on head scarves in public schools; they should have simply pointed out that they were helping Muslim girls avoid the needless tragedy of “hat hair.”
• It’s okay that American women still earn only four-fifths of what men earn in the workplace, because the disparity keeps them angry and aggressive. That gives them a needed competitive tool, counterbalancing their natural tendency toward consensus-building and other docile, passive attitudes that inhibit corporate advancement.
• It’s okay that some people are too poor to have health insurance, because that gives them a stronger incentive to take better care of themselves instead of subsisting on pork rinds and Twinkies, as such people are wont to do.
• It’s better for society that gay people are not allowed to get married. Their extraordinary, disproportionate contributions in creative, passionate fields such as choreography, fashion design and entertainment would be diminished if they were forced, like the rest of us, into the passion-deadening yoke of matrimony.
• It’s okay that the richest 1 percent of Americans own 40 percent of the wealth, because they already know how to handle it. If all their money were suddenly redistributed, most of us would just blow it on hookers, Cadillacs and Pabst.
• Racism is okay, because without it, an entire genre of jokes would be lost, depleting mankind’s fragile humor reserve, an all-important tool in maintaining our precarious hold on sanity in an existentially terrifying world.
Now I know what you are thinking. You are still stuck on the first paragraph, wondering whether women really are warmer than men. It bothered me, too, so I did a little research.
It turns out that women’s core body temperature, on the average, actually is a fraction of a degree higher than men’s. But, interestingly, on the average, due to gender-related differences in peripheral circulation, women’s hands are a fraction of a degree colder than men’s.
I think I am going to go back to that sushi restaurant and ask my fish guy why, in light of this new data, men are permitted to be sushi chefs.
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