Monday, February 27, 2006

Dumb things I have believed.

When I was at university (1980’s) I read a lot. About everything. I was also for most of that time socially inept and inexperienced. The result was that I was seduced by a particular branch of feminist thought that apparently grew out of the “it’s all socialization” theory of male/female relations. You know, Nature vs Nurture, we’re all the same on the inside, etc.

The idea was that women deserved (and desired) to be treated as equals in every way. (Well, of course, I hear you say. Just wait a minute…) The idea was that traditional modes of male-female interaction were inherently gender-biased and oppressive. That women wanted exactly the same things out of life, relationships, and conversations that men did. That in order to show a woman true esteem and respect, a man should have the same expectations of her as he would of another man. That a man should address her in the same way as he addressed his male friends. That to woo, to court, to seduce – ie, to interact romantically in a traditional way – was manipulative and patronizing. That to acknowledge gender-based differences in tastes or moods or outlook was false and offensive.

It’s a neat theory, and the only problem with it is that the women who wrote this tripe forgot get buy-in from the rest of woman-kind about what they were now supposed to want.

There are all sorts of women, just as there are all sorts of men. Preferences and backgrounds vary wildly. I imagine there might be thousands of women who *would* like to be treated exactly like men are treated, in every way. The problem with adopting this standard is the millions more women to whom such an interactive style is singularly uninspiring.

What this meant to me was that in order to convey respect to women (and later to my wife), I made an effort to address them with the same language and with the same expectations as I would have with a man. I spoke directly. I did not hint, or use innuendo. When Hannah said "whisper sweet nothings to me" I had absolutely no idea what to say -- everything I thought of felt incredibly patronizing and false to me. I held Hannah to the same standard of emotional continence that I held my male friends to, and interpreted her moods/words as I would have interpreted those of a man. It sounds incredibly stupid to me now, but there you have it.

Lots of women *say* they want to be treated the same as men. They are wrong – that statement may apply to the workplace, but as for the rest of the time, usually they don’t even know how men treat each other when women aren’t around. I am reminded of Mel Gibson in the movie Lethal Weapon, peering into the face of the man threatening to jump from a tall building – with a crazy leer, he says “Do you REALLY want to jump?” I wish I’d had the brains and the opportunity to ask the authors I read, “Do you REALLY want us to treat you like we treat each other?” Do you want us to fart in your office, to embarrass you in social gatherings by revealing embarrassing intimate secrets? Do you want everything to be a competition? Do you want us to tell you that your parentage is unknown, that your genitalia is microscopic and non-functioning, that you’re ugly, that we had your mother last night and she liked it? I will answer for you: you do not.

Furthermore, women do want extra consideration from us for their moods and their words. You want the right to get a little over-emotional at times and say things you don't necessarily mean a hundred percent. You want us to discount some of the things you say when you're PMS-ing and just shrug off your fit of pique. Which is fine, but just remember it's NOT how men do it, and we're not in equality-land any more.

Ditto wanting the same things out of relationships – most women don’t even know what men want out of relationships because
a) we’ve spent the last 30 yrs educating society about how women think, but not about how men think; and
b) men learn early that their innermost thoughts do not win admiration and approval from women, so we don’t share them. Instead, we lie. We pretend we don’t notice other women; we pretend monogamy is our natural state; we pretend we’d rather have a romantic dinner than watch hockey; we pretend we *enjoy* thinking about the relationship; we pretend talkety talkety talky talk talk is how we *like* spending our time; we pretend we aren’t naturally aggressive, competitive, and selfish; we pretend like we’re happy to have 16 pillows and a dust ruffle on our bed.

Some truths are below; you may disagree, but you’d be wrong:

  1. Many traditional modes of interaction *were* inherently gender-biased and patronizing.
  2. Many other traditional modes of interaction developed out of men’s and women’s natural and healthy instincts – ie, they were NOT pathological social constructs designed to keep women subservient to white male hegemony, they were how men and women wanted to interact.
  3. It was a good thing for women and society in general when women’s accomplishments, value, and potential began to be recognized.
  4. It was a good thing when sexual harassment began to be recognized and censured; a hostile work environment or sexual pressure should not be tolerated.
  5. It was a bad thing when the definition of sexual harassment was expanded to include many normal human behaviours; when we invented the rule of thumb “If you think you may have been harassed, you have.”
  6. In general, opportunity should be based on ability, not gender.
  7. If ability/aptitude or natural preference happen shake out along gender lines (ie, if more men want the death jobs (carpenter, garbage man, soldier, cop, firefighter, etc) and more women want the nurturing jobs (teacher, nurse, counselor, homemaker), this is not a bad thing.
  8. Women in general want to be equal in the workplace, but they’re all for gender differences in their romantic lives.
  9. [Ed Note: when I say “they” or “women”, I mean Most Straight Women, okay? Not you specifically, Woman Who Wants/Is Something Different.]
  10. Women are moodier, more excitable, more emotional than men. Men have fewer emotions, understand & analyze their feelings less, and are more able to distance themselves from their emotions in favor of rational thought. To anyone who may wish to deny this fact, I submit the following: I have had a mother, sister, wife, daughter, girlfriends, and female friends, gay and straight. I have had a father, brother, son, and male roommates and friends. I have enough data, and you are full of crap. To anyone who says, “Well, duh…” I must remind you that I sat in philosophy and social science classes where people (women) insisted that we all have biorhythms, the men have moods just like women, and that the entire PMS/moods/emotion issue was a lie perpetrated by Male Supremacists.
  11. Just because men find it easier to be rational as opposed to emotional doesn’t necessarily mean that men make better decisions, or even that being purely rational would reveal the best course of action in a given situation.
  12. Women do want sweet nothings, cards, flowers. They’re mad for hyperbolic romantic gestures.
  13. They want passion and adventure; they want to feel butterflies; they want a little danger (but not too much, just enough to raise their heart rate a little).
  14. Women want just the right amount of feeling cared for – eg, protecting is good, smothering is bad.
  15. Women want to feel that their man is strong, confident, and complete. And if/when she rags on him, she wants to hear an unspoken message something like "Ordinarily I wouldn't take this kind of nonsense from anyone -- if a man addressed me this way, I'd have knocked him on his can by now -- but somehow I have a soft spot for you." IOW, most women want a man who doesn't take a lot of crap -- even theirs. They want a man who weathers their emotions, calls them on it if they're talking nonsense, then smiles indulgently, and says "But you are so special. You have such spark. I adore you and I'm lucky to have a woman like you."
  16. Women want to be appreciated, adored, thought of as special, unique, and interesting. Outside the workplace, this is far more important to them than being treated the same as a man is treated. In fact, when it comes to romance, not only do they not give a rat’s hiney about being treated “the same”, they positively loathe it.
  17. People are individuals; it really doesn’t matter what Women In General, or Men In General want – what’s important is what *your* partner wants. Figure it out, and give it to them.


At Tue Feb 28, 06:39:00 AM PST, Blogger heatherfeather said...

this is an interesting post - i consider myself a pretty firm feminist but i want to be treated as a woman. what i want is to be treated as a *person* with the same inherent qualities that make me a human as a man has - the interactions and interests, whether they are culturally created or biologically based are what are going to differ.

women DO have different contexts and histories and genetics and perceptions. but the concept of "i don't think that i'm better than you, but i don't think that i'm worse" is really what i'm going for.

At Tue Feb 28, 06:40:00 AM PST, Blogger heatherfeather said...

and people don't believe me, but i really don't want flowers.

i want the gesture behind the flowers, but not the flowers themselves. books or music or doodles on napkins will work just fine.

At Tue Feb 28, 07:07:00 AM PST, Blogger jay are said...

indeed, very interesting stuff... I think you secretly DO want all the pillows and ruffles, tho.

and it's mostly like you said---know the one you're with and love her (or him) in that particular language.

At Tue Feb 28, 07:30:00 AM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

... i consider myself a pretty firm feminist but i want to be treated as a woman...

See, now there's a sentence to make men want to tear their hair out. At least, men born in 1965 and educated on the Left Coast. It's great that the message has evolved to include sanity, but back in the day "treated as a woman" was another way to say "oppressed"...

PS. Did you hear they're making a feminist version of the musical Guys & Dolls? It's called "Loathesome Oppressors and Women of Vision & Strength..."

At Tue Feb 28, 08:26:00 AM PST, Blogger Kylee said...

Wow you've been saving this one up huh. Working on it awhile.

I think there are extreme thoughts on the subject. All if it needs to be in moderation.

I for one want to be respected, not treated as a man..I am not one. I understand that even in my professional life I will be treated differently. I am a single mom. I need that difference to be clear. I just don't want to be patted on the head and be told..."don't worry your pretty little head about it..we'll take care of it".....thats the perception I get from some that I deal with in my work.

At Tue Feb 28, 11:04:00 AM PST, Blogger unca said...

what’s important is what *your* partner wants. Figure it out, and give it to them.
Well, yeah. Of course, what your partner (read, "wife") wants varies from month to month, day to day, and moment to moment -- so good luck fella!

At Tue Feb 28, 03:38:00 PM PST, Blogger jay are said...

hardee-har-har, unca

:) All in good fun.

I asked my husband what HE was pretending to like, and he was too nice I guess to come up with anything. Or tell ME anyway.

At Tue Feb 28, 03:51:00 PM PST, Blogger heatherfeather said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At Tue Feb 28, 03:53:00 PM PST, Blogger heatherfeather said...

See, now there's a sentence to make men want to tear their hair out.

okay, let me put it this way. i want to wear skirts and high heels and sexy little black dresses and have my door opened and walked to my car at the end of the night, but i don't want to be paid less for doing the exact same thing a man is doing, or have my opinions not listened to in traditionally male-dominated fields (i.e., let's just say, arms control, for example) because i have a vagina.

like kylee said i want to be treated with respect because i am a person, not "even though i am a woman."

how are we doing? because i don't want to create more confusion, and am happy to try again. :)

At Tue Feb 28, 04:10:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

h-f, we are doing excellent. excellently. whatever. i am more than happy to accept your conditions (ie, treat me differently, but only where it makes sense to do so).

the point is that in a particular time and place a fairly strident contingent of self-appointed spokespeople couldn't envision separate-but-equal -- in their view, acceptance of gender differences ALWAYS led to oppression, so they did their best to convince everyone that there WERE no meaningful differences.

which would have been fine except that
a) men caught a lot of flack there for a while just for doing what most women wanted; and
b) i bought into "we all want the same thing" and it cost me, and now i'm bitter. :-)

At Tue Feb 28, 05:59:00 PM PST, Blogger heatherfeather said...

yeah, that's annoying.

at least with the women i know, feminism has simmered down to be less, um, you know...

At Tue Feb 28, 06:55:00 PM PST, Blogger Kylee said...

It all started way back when some women decided they would rather hunt than be barefoot and pregnant all the time. Then men realized that women could do everything they could do..sometimes even better but they still would never be able to get pregnant..

But really 17 is the most important..because we all want and need different things. Although Unca says women change their minds...well so do ex for one.

but then again there is NO doing things the right way for some people to be happy no matter what you do. 8)

At Tue Feb 28, 07:01:00 PM PST, Anonymous si said...

are you trying to make the "phone lines" light up? (one point to kylee: i'm pretty sure that bryan slammed this together in an incomprehensibly short amount of time...)

i do see some of your points since i was "around" at approximately the same time. there *were* the demands of total equality. now, i do still feel that equal pay (blah, blah), the right to do what one wants career-wise, the right to speak and be taken seriously, etc. are important. and you're correct, most of this has to do with the working/business world (and respect within).

i have also come to realize that the differences in gender, especially in relationships exist (and probably always will). i don't expect or want to be treated like one of the guys for the most part.

re your list of "truths", in particular #10 -- you may say i'm full of crap but so i say are you. :-) i do believe that men can be very moody. some can become sullen, pouty, dismissive or to a lesser-extent, distant and stand-offish -- for the most part without reason (or at least without *visible* reason). i know, i should steer clear from those guys...

and i also agree that a lot of women want to be appreciated, thought of as special. but don't men want that too?

just a few of *my* thoughts...

At Tue Feb 28, 09:32:00 PM PST, Anonymous Dawnelle said...

An interesting post, and as I woman, I would tend to agree. (sorry gals!)

I work mostly with men, and after awhile, some tend to treat me "like one of the guys." This is not always good. But then there are the guys that treat me like a lady every time I deal with them, and I like that! Yes I don't want to be paid less than the guy I'm working who's doing the same job, and not necessarily better than me. However I do prefer to be treated as the woman I am.

And yes...sweet nothings are....sweet. Flowers on V-day I don't expect, a flower any old day of the year on a spontaneous whim, now that would make me flutter!

I do agree that we woman can be moodier, but I have dated guys who were moodier than I, and to beat that - their moods could change in a heartbeat. I think we need to always remember that we can't paint everyone with the same paintbrush. It's not easy to try to figure out what someone wants from you, but if you figure out one piece of the puzzle, it does start a nice picture!

For anyone who hasn't read "Five Languages of Love" by Gary Chapman, I would definitely recommend it as it helps to see how we love, and I've found that it's been good even in friendships to understand better what the other person needs and wants.

Oh, and I'd love to know those innermost "guy" thoughts, but have found that nobody has been willing to share them with me....alas....

At Tue Feb 28, 09:40:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

not that it matters i guess, but kylee and si, you're both right: the subject was simmering for years, but i banged out the text in a few minutes.

si, thx for backing me up on how things were way back when.

as to moods, you're absolutely correct that men can be moody, no question. but the way i perceive the world is that:

a) in our culture, men more often get quiet moody than angry moody

b) sometimes what a woman views as a "mood" is just us being quiet and thinking (or not thinking). we don't have the same need (or skill) to verbalize our feelings, and sometimes we're just at a loss to figure out what is going on emotionally, so we retreat into silence. what i'm trying to say is that for us, silence doesn't always mean we're trying to shut you out. it sounds like i think we're superior, but i sincerely believe that women more often talk without having a specific point, while men more often are leading up to an action item. and there are always exceptions -- i myself talk just to hear my own voice...

c) women's moods are more pronounced, more predictable, and involve more pointed language.

At Tue Feb 28, 09:43:00 PM PST, Blogger bryan torre said...

Oh, and:
you're right, men absolutely want to be appreciated -- it's one of our main things. I was just kind of rambling on about what i think most women want, not necessarily sticking to ways we're different...

At Mon Mar 06, 01:52:00 PM PST, Blogger SoozeSchmooze said...

I see I am on the tail end of this very interesting dialog. I see here a combination of wisdom from two valuable sorces I respect. One being "Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus"...and the above mentioned "Five Languages of Love"....the most important thing to remember is that generalizations of any kind only apply generally!! says soozeschmooze


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