Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

Gloria Steinem once famously said that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.

Point taken, but let’s play with it a bit.

Let’s ask whether a woman needs a bicycle.

Depends on what you mean by “need,” doesn’t it? I mean, if all a woman does all day is swim, or even walk around, eat a bit, and poop from time to time, I wouldn’t suppose she would need a bicycle, either. But, of course, if that were all she did, she would surely be very bored. If she had a bicycle, though, and she lived in my neighborhood, she could go over to The Cloisters, a museum of medieval art, and look at the pictures, or the sculptures, or the wonderful tapestries, almost all of  which, including the museum that contains them and the roads leading up to it, were created by men.

But as far as that goes, let’s ask whether a fish needs a bicycle. Well, obviously, as things stand, it does not. But let’s suppose that fish had a bit more capability than we usually give them credit for having. Let’s suppose that the fish were capable of creating a bicycle. They had the imagination, let us say, to imagine a way of creating an object that would fit with their anatomical characteristics and could be used to take them from place to place on the ocean floor. They could create a bicycle with panniers, in which could be carried a variety of things from far afield that they otherwise would not be able to carry to one place. Then the fish could go to one place on the ocean floor where Romaine lettuce grows, another place where heirloom tomatoes grow, a place where cucumbers grow, and even a place where red onions grow. Then, they could all be put together making a nice salad.

Does a fish need a salad? Well, not really, obviously, but it could be a pleasant change of pace from eating the plankton or whatever crap floats around in the water, and which must get pretty boring. More than that, though, is that the fish had a project. An idea was imagined, a vague plan was conceived, ideas were implemented and refined, as contact with reality taught them what they needed to know, in the course of which much about reality, and about their own capacity to engage with and manipulated it, was learned. But fabricating a bicycle would have been very hard for a fish, what with the mining that had to be learned and done, the engineering that would have been part of the design, the manufacturing itself, and so on. It would have had to be the work of many fish, each of whom had a specific job, which was designed to come together with the other jobs, and performed by fish each of whom had their own reason for participating in the project. There would have had to be, in other words, organization, up to and including an HR, that is to say FR, department, and we haven’t even started talking about marketing.

And look at all the capacities that all this has developed among the fish: imagination, planning, technical skills, self-governance, even the development of a sense of time. These are different fish than we started out with. Did they need any of that?

But let’s take the matter back home? Gloria Steinem, as we have said, enlightened us that a woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Was that an important message to convey? I would suppose that she thought it was. But what went into its conveyance?

Begin with the typewriter on which it was typed,, and think of the technology, developed and produced by men, that went into that? I don’t even know where you start, but I do recall the name Johannes Gutenberg, who invented movable type. The means of mass communication? Television? Mass publication of printed material? All dependent on electricity. I looked up electricity on Wikipedia. In the section on History, there are thirty names mentioned. They are all male.

All told, it took the efforts, creative and mundane, of millions of men, over many centuries,  to provide the means through which Ms. Steinem could amuse us with the message of  their uselessness.

The question is, does a fish need Gloria Steinem?

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