So I was in the swimming baths – Beckenham Spa if you want to know, which you do, nosy – and I was doing a few lengths of my pretty average breast stroke in the medium lane, and there’s a guy doing his pretty average front crawl, about the same pace as me, but after a while he decides
I’m in the wrong lane. My front crawl is so superior and stellar that, by rights, I should be in with the champions, in the fast lane.
So off he goes, to the fast lane, where he continues his sub-par thrashing about, where there is a woman doing what I would describe as proper swimming: front crawl, high elbow, easy breathing, not too much splash, cutting through the water with the smooth efficiency of a German stereotype
and she finds herself being obstacled by Mr Sub-Par Thrasher, who absolutely refuses to cede any lane space to her because, well, he’s got some balls, and she hasn’t, and that’s that.
All the other men in the fast lane were also:
- Not very good at swimming
- Not going very fast, and
- Not letting her go by.
So, after a while, she decides to sack it off and goes to the middle lane with a float to do some still-pretty-nifty legs-only lengths.
Which brings me to Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg, which is basically 200-odd pages of gentle encouragement for women to, politely, not put up with men in the fast lane who want you to drop down a lane or, better, get out of the pool altogether.
Sheryl Sandberg is COO of Facebook, and probably up there with Stakhanov, Sisyphus and Sonic the Hedgehog as one of the hardest working S’s in the world, ever. Her idea of flexitime is taking a couple of hours off to have dinner with her kids, before working until the wrong side of midnight.
She thinks that if women were better at advancing their own and other women’s causes in the workplace, and men were prepared to do half the housework, you would soon be close to getting 50% of top jobs held by women. She thinks that would be desirable for both women and men.
It is fair to say that Jordan B Peterson doesn’t agree.
In his book, 12 Rules for Life, he takes the view that most women in really high-powered jobs back away from the demands of a career at the very top when they start having a family, because their priorities change.
Peterson takes the long view that this is how men and women have always been, and it won’t change, so there.
Without wanting to align myself as a wishy-washy centrist, I’d say that the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Sandberg outlines, with devastating honesty, the toll her work has taken on her family life. She talks about her daughter holding onto her leg at the airport telling her not to get on a flight (to do a talk about women in the workplace).
She admits, “The days when I even think of unplugging for a weekend or vacation are long gone.”
Obviously, most people aren’t up for that level of work devotion when there’s telly to watch and stuff. But perhaps more men are, as Peterson suggests, by their very nature, driven towards that kind of lifestyle, and to make those kind of choices.
Which brings me back to the swimming baths, and some questions:
Why didn’t the female swimmer simply swim more aggressively so that she asserted her rightful dominance as the best swimmer in the pool?
Is it simply human nature for men to want to dominate literally every situation except childbirth and the washing-up?
Clearly, I don’t know.
But it would be nice if just one geezer doing his bog-standard Sunday morning lengths could notice a woman who is better than him and, if he can’t admit she is better, at least revert to chivalry, and doff his swimming cap, and let her pass.