I was coming out of the men’s room when I heard it.
The women’s room had been occupied, but both of them were single-use. No one had stopped me, and I’d always believed all single-use bathrooms should be all-gender bathrooms, anyway. It was a typical L.A. restaurant, where one half of the seating is indoors, and one half is outside, and I was headed back outside to rejoin my friends. But I passed the coffee bar, I heard one young male barista ask another a question that will haunt me for the rest of my life.
“What is that thing that women can do that men can’t do?”
Immediately, I stopped walking. What was that thing? What could he possibly mean? It couldn’t be something like “give birth,” something “not only wrong but pathetically obvious,” in the setting-off-an-alarm-on-QI sort of way. Not all women can do that! Did he really mean all women, cis and trans, of all ages? Was he making a joke? Referencing a stereotype? Some old canard people trot out when they think they’re being edgy? Should I give him the benefit of the doubt?
Sometimes people accuse me of overthinking things. Sometimes people’s accusations are completely correct. I just knew that I could not move on until I knew what he was talking about. I thought back to Lewis Black’s old bit about being at the IHOP and overhearing a phrase so stupid that it made him understand why people had aneurysms: “If it weren’t for my horse, I never would have spent that year in college!” A few years ago I brought up that bit to a roommate who was originally from rural Virginia, and she said “I think I might actually know the woman who said that!” It turns out there is such a thing as a horse scholarship. (There are also catalogs called Prairie State Swine Semen that farmers use when they’re breeding hogs. She brought one home after Christmas.)
“What are you talking about?” I heard the other barista say, and I silently thanked him for that.
“You know,” said the first barista said back, with characteristic L.A. incoherence. “That thing women can do that men can’t.”
There were too many easy jokes I could make. Jokes about men, while a guilty pleasure, seem fatalistic to me, and get depressing really fast. I really want to believe that men can do and be good. I also took too many (i.e., one and a half) philosophy classes in college, and have spent too long on the internet, thus am always half-expecting anyone to respond to any maxim of mine with a counterexample.
“It’s that thing,” he said again, I leaned in, closer, expectantly. He chose that moment to turn on the blender.
“Goddammit,” I whispered, but he didn’t stop talking, and I didn’t stop straining to hear.
“You know… WHhhIIIIRRRRRrrrr muscle VVVrrrRRvvmmm upper body WHHHHIIIRRRRR flexibility or something…”
So it was something physical. That narrowed it down, but only slightly. I remembered an article about women’s flexibility, some pop science explanation of why women tend to cross their arms and lift from the bottom to take off their shirts. Maybe it had something to do with that? I pulled out my phone, and—not for the first time — looked up “the way women take their shirts off”. Nothing. Nothing substantial, anyway. And nothing I’d want to be looking at in public. It was entirely possible this article did not exist, that I’d made it up and read it in a dream. Oh God, even my sexy dreams are boring.
I looked up from my phone, and for the first time, the baristas noticed me.
“Do you need something?” said the question-asker.
“I…” I need to know what you’re talking about. I need to know what you mean. I need to know what that thing is. What is this superpower I have that you do not?
“I… no,” I said. “I don’t need anything.”
I had no choice but to walk on, silently furious that I still had no idea. They turned back to the drinks they were making, as if they had no idea of the mental damage they’d done. One thing these men could do that this woman could not? Let things go.
I went outside to rejoin my friends, both of whom were women, and both of whom are queer. “What is that thing women can do that men can’t?” I asked them. They had several ideas.
Stuff I Did This Week: My interview with Lisa Jakub, Matt Lawrence, and Pierce Brosnan about the 25th anniversary of Mrs. Doubtfire aired on the Today show! You can watch the full, extended interview here. I also did interviews with Entertainment Weekly and Variety about my memories of Doubtfire and working with Robin.
Fake BBC Show Title of the Week: Bubble and Squeak (SYNOPSIS: either a duo comedy set in a restaurant or a buddy cop detective series)