In general women are only two-thirds the size of men and have only two-thirds the body strength. (The strength gap can be narrowed, however, by committed strength-training.)
Most women also, by nature, as a normal part of our existence, bleed for two to seven days every non-pregnant month for up to forty years, 50% of us in pain, and this is considered so embarrassing by all of human culture that we almost never mention it. If we do, it is usually in euphemisms, and almost never around men not related to us. And there are wardrobe malfunctions considered so bad, soooo bad, that not even the gutter press would photograph them--unless Britney, at her drunkest, was really that careful.
Women are also at risk of death when we give birth. The risk goes up if there is no good medical care around. Giving birth is often excruciatingly painful.
And that's female life for you. We belong to the cleverest, arguably deadliest species on earth, but we belong to the smaller, weaker half. We live our lives in pain and blood that has to be kept secret. And when I think about it, this makes me very cross. I would like to know why it has to be this way, and I hope God will tell me. And, yes, I read Genesis, but I didn't see anything there about "smaller", "weaker", or "painful bleeding every month for thirty-odd years".
Various male spiders and insects also have reason to complain, as their disadvantage is that the females of their species actually gobble them up. But the major difference between the spiders and us is that they don't have the capacity to complain. Or the brains to reflect on their lot.
As you know, I love to write about being rooted in reality, in part because I find it rather hard. Reality can be painful. Of course, it's often not as painful as we fear. But the numero-uno reality of female life is that we are two-thirds the size of men and most of them could just lean over and strangle most of us if they felt like it and there's not much we could do about it. Fortunately for us, then, there is this amazing thing called CIVILITY.*
Civility is totally awesome. Civility is what teaches the stronger that it is wrong to oppress the weaker. Civility is what teaches men that it is wrong to strangle or pillage women whenever they feel like it. Civility is what teaches women that it is wrong to strangle and bury our infants whenever we feel like it, or to seduce each other's husbands. Civility is what prevents older siblings from pushing their younger siblings down the stairs, as I was sometimes very tempted to do.
Civility, since I am the Queen of the blog, is whenever a person realizes that they have some advantage over someone else and doesn't use it or, better, uses that advantage to assist the weaker person. The first example that comes to mind is that if I am wearing a low-cut dress to a dinner party and the priest shows up, I get my shawl. The second example is of a priest in Krakow who hefted my huge red suitcase onto the rack in my Warsaw-bound train carriage. As a woman of civility (some) I know that cleavage can be distracting and even annoying to men in orders, and as a man of civility the Krakow priest knew that it would be easier for him than for me to get that suitcase on the rack. (Not easy, mind you: easier.)
The more civility we have, the better I like it. I think this new casualness most of us wallow in works against civility, and I was very glad that my grandmother was not addressed by the staff in her nursing home as "Gladys" but as "Mrs [Family Name]." I don't know if this policy was directed by the understanding that my grandmother's generation finds automatic first-naming offensive or by the recognition that elderly people are at risk of being spoken down to, like children. I hope it is the latter, because if I become old, I do not want to be "Now, now Seraphic"-ed by strange whippersnappers in blue.
I think it is fantastic that the Continentals still have polite forms for "you" and still use them. No doubt it gives the Continental young something to look forward to in adulthood: the right not to be called "tu/Du/Ty" by adult strangers. And I also think it is fantastic that many Continentals still make all those polite gestures that another generation of mothers have told their sons well-brought up men are supposed to make. There's a woman in southwestern Germany I've never met, but for whom I have tremendous respect just because her son has perfect manners. (This son forgot to tell her I exist, however, not that I'm still bitter about that after seven years, Last Ex-Boyfriend.)
Well-bred Polish men still kiss women's hands, and it's extremely charming. It makes me want to take Poland away from the modern West and homeschool it. ("But what is going on out there?" "Never mind. Recite to me again that beautiful poem by Mickiewicz." "But, Seraphic, why are you crying?" "I'm not crying, kochanie, recite to me the beautiful poem.")
Civility is the strong serving the weak, which is a victory over fallen nature, which prefers that the strong oppress the weak, from each according to his/her strength to each according to his/her weakness. Civility recognizes that might does NOT make right. Civility tries to make up for the shocking inequalities saddled upon us by fallen nature.
And that is why, my little cherubs, I like it when men open doors for me and let me go first, and why I feel like a real jerk when I absentmindedly show up to church in a low-cut dress. It is the humble tribute of the strong to the weak. It is the Three Kings kneeling in humility to Baby Jesus. The real glory of the strong is their care for the weak. That goes for all of us.
*I know many of you will argue that before civility there is natural love. However, there are two problems with natural love in this fallen world. The first is that we cannot all assume that our big strong fathers, brothers, husbands and sons will always be around to protect us from uncivil men, or that they actually can. Look at the poor caryatids: architectural reminders that when the other men win, women suffer. The other is that our big strong fathers, brothers, husbands and sons who are uncivil are more likely than any other men to treat us badly. Uncivil men and women seem to think they have the power of life and death over those smaller than they who live in their houses.