Between the Sexes, A Great Divide by Anna Quindlen

Intention: Quindlen writes of the huge separation between men and women in her piece, humorously ruminating on how the two genders can even get along. She then shifts to explain that although the two groups are very different, it is how they use their differences together that is really important.

She opens her essay by setting up a vivid and familiar scene: the first boy-girl party one attended. Relying on the memory on the reader and assuming they have an experience very similar to the party she describes. The reader likely can recreate their own first boy-girl party, imagining an old pop song that was playing in the background and filling in specific names from their own childhood. Quindlen found the ideal balance between proving enough information to give the reader a visual, but leaving it vague enough for the reader to personalize the scenario.

Quindlen has a very personalized tone, and much of it stems from her informal language and from writing in the first person, as well as the many anecdotes scattered throughout the essay. She discusses specific instances of the “great divide” she has had with her husband and son, and brings up a conversation with a female friend that reinforces the impassable gate between men and women.

The beginning of the essay sounds divisive and almost negative, but Quindlen brings a new angle to the piece towards the end, saying, “I must never forget, I suppose, that even in the gym, with all that space between us, we still managed to pick partners and dance. It’s the dance that’s importance, not the difference.” This brings the reader to her main point, that we need to accept the differences and acknowledge that it’s how the two sexes interact that one should focus on.  Although her essay is specifically discussing the differences between men and women, I think her message can apply to people of different races, religions, cultures, ability levels, and so on. The key to a peaceful society isn’t to make everyone the same, it’s to embrace what makes each person or group unique and work with them despite the challenges, to “dance uneasily in one another’s arms”.

—Maria Busken

Quindlen’s diction is mostly casual and comfortable, ringing like that of a friend telling stories at brunch. She speaks to the audience as a companion, subtly establishing herself as amiable to her audience. This furthers her argument by founding a “level ground,” a place where she and readers are equals. This makes her observations and overall argument about the inherent separation between the sexes far more palatable to her audience. We’re more likely to agree, at least partially, with an argument presented in a level and down-to-earth way– Quindlen’s arguments would be far more likely to fall flat had they been written as distant, highbrow concepts or standoffish criticisms. She shakes readers’ hands, says hello, welcomes them to kindly listen to her observations, if they would.

In such discussing such a nebulous concept, Quindlen grounds her points with specific examples and anecdotes from life. In one such instance, she describes her young son playing with a female friend. According to Quindlen, the gap between the sexes is evident even among children, embedded into the actions and roles of child’s play. Her choice of an anecdote is deliberate here, and hard to argue– readers hear only what Quindlen discloses, see only the subtleties she chooses to point out. The story itself is, by nature, hard to argue with. Quindlen leaves no room for refutation by selecting an example that perfectly corroborates her points.

Quindlen’s anecdote about going to dances uses both of these tactics– well-chosen narrative and appeals to a comfortable sense of pathos for readers. She calls on readers’ repertoires, bringing to mind the awkward days of adolescence when folks often do feel deep chasms of separation. This appeal to nostalgia is another means of setting readers at ease, subtly creating empathy between Quindlen and readers. She assures us of her point through direct experience and her own observations– she isn’t a detached academic or cynical observer, she’s been there right alongside us in everyday life. She’s experienced the divide first hand, and assumes that readers have too.

My qualms come mostly from this perceived experiences of the reader.  Quindlen’s examples read as fairly narrow, things of modern American suburbia that don’t transfer too well over class (or other demographic) lines. Many folks don’t experience sock hops and middle-school flirting, many folks inherit roles in their communities much more complex than “boy” or “girl”. Gender roles often seem like a luxury, a leisure afforded only in times of wealth– my family’s rural poor, sharecropping women  may have certainly observed a separation of the sexes, but not in the coy way Quindlen describes. To see a very small subsection of the American middle class as a model for all male/female relations feels, to me, short-sighted and boring. I see so much potential discussion on the psychology and rearing of sexes, but it’s an idea squandered when always narrated through small lenses like Quindlen’s.

–Olivia Short


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