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By Pam Burke 

The root of the gender role debate


While the flying cotton from the wealth of blooming cottonwood trees is amping up the sinus problems of area allergy sufferers, it also sparked debate in my household.

For those who don’t know, cottonwood trees come in two types: chicks and guys. The more common ones, referred to as females, spread countless seeds — at least one with each fluff of cotton floating through the air — and the rare ones, called males, do not produce seeds at all.

My husband and I have both types on our property. (As a side note, it should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with my lifelong connection with the universe’s deep-seeded sense of irony that the only type I have around my house are the seed producing ones.)

As I sat in my yard the other night, enjoying the calm, quiet evening with cotton bits floating gently through the air to settle in white cottony, seed-filled drifts accumulating around me, it occurred to me that we may have this whole tree gender-labeling thing wrong.

If you remember back to biology class, the average male of virtually every species produces, willy-nilly, countless seeds for reproduction, or maybe you can count them if you have time to make your way from one to a bajillion. I don’t.

The average female, tough, with few species exceptions, produces one to maybe a baker’s dozen eggs a limited number of times per year.

We even call them seeds and eggs in casual reference. So doesn’t it make sense that the bajillion-SEED-producing tree be called the male and the other one the female?

Armed with this thought, I wallowed up out of the lawn chair and headed into the house to propose this idea to my husband, who loves a lively philosophical debate like this — which won't get any deeper than a kiddy wading pool.

“I can see your point,” he said, as he finished picking up around the kitchen, “but doesn’t the male tree do, well, nothing?”

“So let me get this straight,” I said. “Your only counter-point is that the common reference to the seedless tree must remain ‘male’ because the male of the average species is a lazy do-nothing.”

Oh, how we laughed and laughed, laughing with a warmth and familiarity of our many years together as we walked back outside.

“Well, I’m not going to argue with that,” I said.

“Although, I do have to point out,” I added, plunking myself back into the lawn chair as he headed up to the shop to work on a project, “according to the implied points of your own stance, I am the man in our relationship.”

“It appears I can’t argue with that,” he said.

(And that, kids, is how any old fool can win a battle, but lose a war at pam@viewfromthenorth40.com.)


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