I’m in college and sitting around with my boyfriend John, his brother Mike and their friend Jeff. John and I haven’t been together long and this may be the first time I’ve met the brother and also the friend. The TV is on and the boys are talking, seeming to mostly ignore me, but also checking me out as the new girlfriend. Eventually conversation turns to Mike saying: “I swear on the the three women I’ve had sex with..”
“There is no way you’ve had sex with three women.” John interrupts.
“Yes I have.”
“Bullshit.” Jeff retorts. “Amy Lawrence, one.”
“And Jennifer Farnsworth, two.” John picks up the list. “There isn’t anyone else.”
“Yes there is.” Mike turned a shade of pink and was pursing his lips at their doubt.
“Who?” both John and Jeff insist.
“Ellen Chadwick.” Mike nods, a small smile on his face.
“With the huge calves?” John asked.
“Her calves aren’t huge” Mike protests.
“Oh my god, they are! They’re tremendous.” Jeff interjects. “Very intimidating.”
“Her calves are very large.” John loops me in with an aside.
“I got that.”
The conversation goes on, establishing time and place (last summer, after work) and ends with John still skeptical that Mike actually slept with Ellen of the huge calves. But I was frozen from the moment her calf size was brought up. It had never occurred to me before, but did people identify me by the size of my calves? I was wearing shorts and it took all my willpower not to look down at my own legs, or shift in my chair, for fear the boys would realize that Mike was not the only one of the brothers who had slept with someone with large calves.
So my calves. Not very small. And they are larger now than they were then. This has become a problem of late, because I would love a comfortable pair of boots and very few boots are to be found that fit me. When I mentioned this conundrum to my brother he observed, “Yeah, you totally got Dad’s calves. I wish I had your calves.”
That comment had nearly the same effect on me as the long-ago calf assessment of poor Ellen Chadwick. I had never stopped to contemplate my brother’s calves, but his assessment of mine was spot-on. My father’s calves are also huge, very manly and DNA has bequeathed them to me. Now that I’ve looked, I wouldn’t mind trading calves with my brother, his are a bit less robust, more likely to fit into some cute boots.
But something else has made that conversation above stick in my heard all these years. It was the simple pulling apart of a woman and classifying her. Someone recently pointed out to me that we fixate on “parts” in our culture. How it’s kind of odd to see just an arm, or just some abs, but that we have broken down the body into pieces so of course we just display bits and pieces of the body.
I’ve put in my time around guy talk. Hanging out with boyfriends, drummers, chefs and drivers at Pizza Hut, Park Rangers, coworkers at Whole Foods. I’ve head versions of the above conversation over and over again. And, you know what. That conversation bugs me.
Women talk about the men they sleep with, don’t get me wrong. But there isn’t that level of parsing and partitioning of the person they shared a bed with. I feel like this is one of the ways men and women aren’t equal. Men still have the power, by and large, so they can feel free to divide women into bits and pieces and classify them. Whereas women just don’t.
That’s not to say that they never remark on the physical attributes of the men they sleep with, descriptions can be helpful, but I haven’t ever heard a woman boil down a guy to “weird daisy tattoo on his back” or “long earlobes” or “third nipple.” There tends to be a taking in of the whole person, even if it is someone they intend not to sleep with ever again. Maybe this is because women are more verbal, but I think it’s because we’re still in the position of less power.