Estrogen Power

One of our friends is a surgeon so revered in the patient community that, every time I hear his name, it’s uttered with awe and reverence.  This always strikes me as a riot, and sometimes I can’t help opening my big mouth about it.

“I guess I know him a bit differently,” I’ll drop into the conversation.  Then, after a dramatic pause, I add: “I once saw him thrown out of a soccer game.”

Boy, that gets everybody’s attention fast.  So, I’m usually begged to tell the whole story, which is this:  Once, several years ago, I was standing by the surgeon at an early-morning soccer game featuring our sons’ team when a foul was called on my son.

“Bullshit,” the surgeon said loudly.  The word, perfectly enunciated, lingered in the crisp air like a fat balloon.

The referee looked up and stalked over.  He planted himself in front of the surgeon and the two proceeded to stare at each other from about an inch’s distance.  Their eyes were bulging and neither would break the stare.  I considered bringing a little levity to the situation (“Hey, guys!  It’s only a kids’ game!  Calm down!”), but thought better of it.  There was alpha-male blood in the air.

“Get out of here!” the referee shouted, thrusting his arm into the air.

Their gazes continued to lock for another several seconds, till the surgeon spun around and strode off the field.  He went to the parking lot, I later learned, where his wife reported progress at the game to him by cell phone.  By the second half, he returned to the sidelines in disguise, but kept his mouth shut.  By this time, of course, all the boys on our team considered him a folk hero.

Anyway, I bring up this story not solely to embarrass our friend — but to make another point.

Like everybody else, I’ve been riveted by the story of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. Joseph Crowley, the arrest, the allegations, the chatter, Obama’s unusual faux pas, the beer summit at the White House.  So far, I thought Judith Warner’s blog in The New York Times was the most insightful analysis, drawing on the back stories and assumptions both men brought into the fray — until voila, the perfect storm.


I want to add another analysis to this, which is exciting, since I rarely analyze much of anything.  That is: Forget the allegations of racism and classism.  The two guys — much like the surgeon and the referee — were just two men involved in a pissing match.  Somebody called somebody else’s bluff, the staring began, the jaws clenched, and nobody would back down.  In the end — and this is my sincere and considered analysis — they were both acting like immature assholes.  It didn’t matter whether they were white or black or gray.  They couldn’t let go, couldn’t dial it down, couldn’t apologize.

I’ve now forgotten what the outcome of the soccer game was so many years ago.  But I do know it never escalated to a national or international event.

As for Crowley and Gates, maybe their imbroglio produced the “teachable moment” Obama called for.  Or maybe they were all looking for the wrong lesson there.  Maybe all three guys should have stayed at home and let their wives or girlfriends work it out at the White House.  Women understand the art of apologizing and backing down better than men — then easing into a fruitful discussion when tempers have cooled.

When I was younger, I used to think that was because we shamefully avoided conflict and we should try to be more like men — aggressive and occasionally overbearing.  I don’t think that any more.  I’m more inclined to think that less testosterone means you’re more inclined to use your brain at times like this.  Estrogen: It’s the thinking person’s hormone.

(Copyright 2009 by Ruth Pennebaker)

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9 comments… add one
  • Cindy A Link

    I’m with you all the way on this one, Ruth. If women ruled the world, there would be no war. And everyone would have clean socks.

  • Craig Link

    I bet you are not far from the truth in the scenario.
    I should have been taking about half of mom’s prempro when she was on it. Put me in touch with a whole new side. I might even be able to sit through Steel Magnolias, who knows?

  • Karen Link

    I think Dr. Gates was pissed because he was not recognized. Maybe the Cambridge Police should be forced to watch PBS.
    It was a “do you know who I am moment.”

  • I think you are exactly right. Race had nothing to do with it. It was all testosterone. Thanks, Ruth.

  • M A Link


  • Here here.

  • Wow!! I call testosterone – with a heavy dose of human ego (which as we all know, is not necessarily gender-specific). 🙂

  • I dunno. I’m from Boston and I don’t really agree with all y’all. The Cambridge police can be really racist. I do think race played a part. It was strange to see the TV images of Skip. He was my professor in college and he really has aged a lot. I think he was probably exhausted and frustrated. That they arrested him is just … wrong. We should show more respect to our elders…

  • ruthpennebaker Link

    I do think it was a sad amalgam of many things — including testosterone and race and jet lag and centuries of back stories.  Even though the story was overplayed, I do think it reminded whites of what a different world we’ve inhabited most of our lives.

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