Friday, March 20, 2009

A Question of Sex

A good memory of Canterbury University’s Rolleston House hostel is the rough and tumble of argument and debate, over cups of instant coffee. Topics ranged far and wide, earnest to light-hearted, the nature of existence, the flow-on effects of sputnik, the truth of the Bible, the merits of Marx, how to get a goodnight kiss, skiing, tramping, apartheid, nuclear war – in other words everything. One evening discussion focused on why Marilyn Monroe was such a sex goddess. I recall the topic but fail to remember any conclusion. But there was something about her.

One topic went over several nights. Whether it was better to be a girl? Would experiences be very different? It was a sharing of ignorance and prejudice. We took for granted the period’s sex roles. We would be the breadwinners. The pill was still around the corner. The opinion was expressed that women led a more secure and comfortable life. They didn’t go to war or fight fires. I am sure that if I heard a tape of that long-running discussion I’d be surprised, indeed appalled how smug we were. Newcomers were roped in to have their opinions sounded.

But the one thing upon which we agreed was that we were pleased not to have to bear children. By all accounts it sounded messy and painful. I piped up about my experiences with lambing; of turning a unborn lamb around with my small hand when it was trying to come out the wrong way. Briefly I basked in the limelight before accidentally de-railling the discussion. I mentioned that farmers believed that breeding sheep for wool had made their birthing more difficult. That got a scientist in the group musing about human evolution. His opinion was that walking upright had caused skeletal changes and the size of the human brain made it very difficult for the child to get through. The mention of evolution saw the hounds bound away after that quarry.

Of course he was right. Recently in a Geographic I read about the strains that humans suffer as a result of standing upright and walking on two legs. The article said that the moment of birth was the greatest gymnastic manoeuvre that any human does in their lifetime.

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