The Two Spheres: Male and Female - A Simple Two-Body Problem?
Speaking of these male-female differences . . . about a year ago, one of my Korean students visited the Writing Clinic and asked me what was meant by the expression "the female sphere."
"You mean as in its difference from the male sphere?" I asked.
"There's a male sphere, too?" she said, looking concerned.
I realized that she was stuck on the word "sphere." Maybe she's a math student, I thought, so I decided to meet her on that level.
"Well," I began, "you're raising a question on the geometry of relationships, which are usually just tangential to deep mathematics, but a man and a woman sometimes strike a deeper chord, so here's how that sphere stuff works. The woman's role is to get married and pregnant, and as the fetus grows and grows, the woman's belly swells up and up and up, so much so that it looks about the size of a beachball - and that's the female sphere."
I noticed that the two TAs assigned to proctoring duty in the room were listening, so I spoke a bit louder for their benefit.
"As for the male sphere, a man's role is to work outside the home with other men. These males toil together all day, day after day, and every evening after work, they go out to eat together in a restaurant, where they not only eat, they also drink a lot of beer, so much beer that they begin to grow a beer belly. As they drink more and more, their beer belly gets bigger and bigger, and rounder and rounder, so much so that it looks about the size of a beachball - and that's the male sphere."
The trusting student nodded, writing it all down, but as the two TAs burst into laughter, she paused and looked at me with suspicion in her eyes.
"But it's true," I insisted. "Why else would we speak of 'a man's roll' and 'a woman's roll'?" I used my hands to indicate the motion of rolling.
"But wouldn't their 'rolls' then be the same?" she retorted, apparently referring to their identical beachball shape.
Oh, a clever one, I thought, but replied, "Certainly not! When a woman is in an advanced state of pregnancy, the baby kicks a lot, so the woman doesn't roll in a straight line. A man, however, rolls straight. That's the difference between men and women. A man rolls from A to B by the shortest route, a straight line! But a woman? She rolls hither and yon from A in the general direction of B, yet too often ends up at C, instead, so to keep women from rolling into trouble, they are best kept at home. Men, however, can keep on rolling straight to work.
By this time, the TAs were bent double with laughter . . . but I didn't have as many students seeking my assistance afterwards. Maybe those two TAs figured they'd better assign students needing help to some professor more actually helpful.