Stephen Hawking has confessed that women are a mystery to him. Photograph: Murdo Macleod
When I was young, I really struggled to learn to tie my shoelaces. Though I was intellectually on track with my peer group in most other respects, it was not until I was 12 that I conquered the double knot – and only after much shame, trial and error, and pairs of Velcro trainers.
It was this formative experience that made me feel great empathy for Professor Stephen Hawking, leading elucidator of the universe, when he confessed to having his own intellectual kryptonite. Women, he said in an interview with New Scientist, were a "complete mystery" – one that he now devotes much of his time to contemplating. Time, I assume, that he might be applying to M-Theory – an actual mystery that Hawking is uniquely qualified to investigate.
But all is not lost. Because just as Hawking was able to explain the universe to those of us who were mystified by it in A Brief History of Time, it is my pleasure to be able to explain women to those who are mystified by us in a A Brief List of Five Obvious Points About Women Using Helpful Scientific Similes.
1. Much like individual fundamental particles, women and men are different, but also the same. Which is to say: women are unique, complicated, intellectual, emotional, sexual. We respire and we digest. Sometimes we are lovely. And sometimes we are horrible. This has less to do with our intrinsic womanliness and more to do with the fact that we are human.
2. Much like quantum physics, communication between men and women can be complex and confusing. Maybe it's because of the way our brains are wired; maybe it's because of the particular ways we are socialised to communicate. Probably it's a combination of the two. Regardless, the challenges of communicating with the sex opposite to yours can most often be overcome by being clear about what you are communicating, and asking questions about what you don't understand. Much like doing science.
3. Much like black holes, women do not destroy everything. Unfortunately, there are a lot of conservative people in the world who still believe that women – and particularly, their sexuality – are dangerous and destructive. Realising that this is wrong is a great first step to understanding that women are not so baffling after all. Allying with those who are working to combat the rampant human rights abuses that arise from this kind of ignorance is even better. Think of it as getting your PhD in women.
4. Much like physicists enjoy arguing, women enjoy sex. They just don't get precisely the same kind of enjoyment from it that men do. Still perplexed? Ask the women you have sex with to talk to you about it. Or ask a woman who you are not going to have sex with, but who is sympathetic to your mystification, to explain it to you. Read a book by a woman about sex. Examine a useful diagram in an anatomy textbook. Do not watch pornography online: when it comes to understanding women's sexuality, internet pornography is about as useful as a as an arctic geography textbook is for understanding multivariate calculus.
5. Much like scientists think creationists are lazy-minded, women aren't keen on men who make sweeping generalisations about our "mysteriousness". It's one thing to say that you have trouble understanding particular women you interact with, or to admit that you find romantic relationships challenging. But to say that we are all a mystery could be taken as someone positioning himself to dismiss and marginalise us; to imply that our opinions and ideas don't matter because we're intrinsically inexplicable. And that would be a disgrace. In future, if you are going to make a sweeping generalisation about women, try phrasing the sentence with the word "people" in place of "women". Does it make you sound daft? Maybe a little bigoted? It's OK. Few experiments work the first time.