Today at my club’s usual Wednesday “6@6” run – 6 miles at 6 a.m. – it was just me and one other runner. The other Wednesday regulars were either preparing for a marathon, or recovering from one, or nursing various injuries.
Along the way my companion, an instructor at the University of Michigan, told me about the class she was preparing to teach that day, on Shakespeare and the use of “humors” in his comedy. Back then it was popular “knowledge” that the body consisted of four humors: blood, black bile, yellow bile, and phlegm, and that one’s personality, as well as physical health, were determined by the amount, and balance of, these humors. For example, a “choleric” state was caused by an excess of yellow bile, while “melancholy” by black bile.
My running companion explained that Shakespeare used the “humors” to model his characters. Women were considered “colder” than men, and thus less complete. But if they got “too hot” they would be aggressive like men, which that age definitely did not like. (Thus, in Taming of the Shrew, Petruchio decides to tame Kate by removing some of her heat.)
You could say that I “saw the humor” in this, and wondered out loud why it was, then, that women had the babies, and maybe it was men who were actually the “incomplete” humans. Yes, we agreed, it was as illogical back then as it seems now.
I was fortunate to be raised in a household where the equality of men and women was a given. Never did I doubt that my sister, or any girls, were inferior in some fashion. And I made sure my daughters were raised the same way. Yet there was one big difference: my wife returned to work after our kids were born, and my mother did not. She had planned to leave work and be a housewife as was traditional to that period, but hearing her boss tell her not to expect her job back rankled. Yes, they could do that back then.
We still have a long way to go to give all genders and ethnicities the equality and respect they deserve, but we have made some progress over the last fifty years. I’m grateful that my daughters have less of a glass ceiling to break through. In running, too, much more attention is being paid to top female runners, as it should be.
Now lest I end this post with you thinking I’m some kind of enlightened being, or pompous ass (or both), there is another connection with all this to the morning’s run. For I’d done a tempo run the afternoon before, and was looking forward to an easy pace. But my companion took off at her usual healthy pace, and we ran at about a minute per mile faster than I’d wanted to. It was tough, but I stuck it out.
One reason was I enjoyed her company and wanted to hear more about her teaching experiences and challenges. But, alas, there was more. As much as I wanted to slow it down a bit, I just couldn’t bring myself to ask her to. I don’t care if you’re half my age, I’m Jeff the indestructible!
Yes, I have plenty of room for improvement, too. Maybe I should eat more Good Humors.