Since the Pleistocene, when you tagged along on mammoth-hunting expeditions and complained about the flaps in your sealskin booties coming loose and the snow freezing your sensitive little tootsies, you have been among us. In those early days, when the survival of Homo sapiens hinged upon physical grit, your bullshit endangered our very lives. Dudes were lifting their spears, running toward woolly beasts—their feet weren’t warm either, mind you—while you were a safe distance behind, mumbling that you had something in your eye. Lest your feeble asses get the rest of the pack killed, they needed a word for you, a way to communicate what you are.
While we couldn’t have known it then, at this linguistic juncture our young species faced a conundrum as political as your fragility was burdensome. The hunters did the best they could. They asked themselves, what represents the smallest and weakest among us?
The ladies, they thought.
To be sure, woman humans could be quite swift; have impressive aim with a dart; spend entire days on their feet processing carcasses into hides, meals and tools; and survive newborn Homo sapien craniums tearing through their bleeding perinea. Heck, over in the Neanderthal camp, boss cave-femmes went hunting and cave-gents made clothes. But, smaller than their male counterparts as a rule, woman humans couldn’t shoulder as many supplies into hunt or drag as much bleeding meat back to camp. While powerful with finesse, endurance and childbearing, they generally weren’t to be called upon for tasks of brutish violence.
So, while packing for one fateful, perilous journey into the blowing snow, man humans looked over at you, clutching your upset tummy like the Italian soccer players who would be your descendants. One of them nodded your way and whispered, “Oog isn’t going, is he? He’s a fucking pussy.” Another agreed, “That little bitch is staying here.”
Such gendered pejoratives would suffice with little challenge until well into the next epoch. Now, however, like wisdom teeth and chest hair, they no longer benefit a species whose Holocene survival has less to do with mastodon-slaying, meat-gnashing and blizzard-hiking than with mental acumen. It turns out woman humans have that in spades—at least as much as do man humans—and they’re just kind of over being on the crap side of a gender-binary metaphor, especially when so many of them have been on the crap side of a gender-binary reality…