15 March 2008

Gender Stereotypes of the Day

Men say what they mean and mean what they say.

Women tend to talk in layers. They mean all sorts of things that bear no apparent resemblance to what they say (the literal words), and they sometimes say the exact opposite of what they mean.

This fundamental difference in approach to communication is a primary source of confusion among men and women, especially those in their teens and early 20s. Women think men should be able to follow all the layers, which leads to such fun statements as "well if you can't figure it out, I'm certainly not going to tell you!" Men meanwhile protest that they can't read minds.

There's also the classic case of the question with no correct answers. For example: "Do you think I'm too fat?" "Yes" is obviously wrong. "No" is wrong because "well he's supposed to say that" which means it really means "yes," which is of course wrong. Failure to respond is taken as "he's ignoring me! (he must mean yes!)" Sometimes the poor guy really does mean "no." o.O

I've found that the best first step in resolving an argument is to convince the woman that men are dense. This is not to say that I think men are actually dense, mind you - it's just a necessary precursor concept for the woman before she can grok how men think. Then it's a matter of redefining "politeness" and "directness" to not be quite so much at odds.

(As with every post I make relating to gender, I'm aware that a whole bunch of you are thinking "oh yeah? well I'm not like that at all and neither are any of my friends!" Well. I can only say the same thing I say every other time - there's a reason why these stereotypes exist even if no one you know is a good example of their raison d'ĂȘtre.)


Random Michelle K said...

You see today's Dilbert?

Tina: Dilbert asked me a question that I answered last week in front of the entire group.
Tina: What kind of game is he playing?
Alice: Maybe he forgot your answer.
Tina: That's crazy talk!

That's kinda of a tangental response to your post. :)

Anonymous said...

Well as I am a woman there is no point giving you my opinion as according to the stereotype I talk in layers and never really say what I mean. So the men in here can't understand me anyway.

I have a very hard time understanding my father-in-law because he is very vague and never really say what's on his mind. Does that mean that he is a woman?

Tania said...

In one of the comm classes I took as an elective in my MS program, we talked about "Masculine" and "Feminine" communication styles, and how they usually aren't referred to that way anymore because people get upset about gender stereotyping.

I'd say that the stereotype is one of those things that the 80/20 rule applies to. 80% of the men and women I know communicate as you expect their gender to, and 20% don't. Amongst my friends Dana, Wendy, Heather, Shannon, Todd - chicks. Casey, Juan, Ian, Leif, Laura, and Crystal - dudes.

Me, I don't talk about my feelings, I accept statements at face value, and I tend to not lace my comments with subtext. I don't notice things unless they are blatant, which makes me a great straight man for jokes. However, I am ridiculously sensitive about the effect what I say may have on other people

John, communicatively, is a thirteen year old girl. He wants to talk about things, worries that we don't connect enough. He's one of the most perceptive (yet insensitive) people I have ever met. However, if I were to tell him "you look nice today" he would not break into tears because I was implying that he did not look nice every other day. Thank goodness.

Out of the curiosity, are you reading Deborah Tannen or venturing forth from personal experience. Remember,
I am a literal person, and I've become really good at repeating back to people (usually women) "Ok, what I understand is that [repeat word for word what they just said] and that this makes you [insert adjective] and we need to [insert verb] so that you will no longer be [restate previously used adjective]. Is this correct? I want to make certain that this is resolved."

This could be why I want to get out of working in healthcare. Too many feminine communicators.

MWT said...

People seem to get weirded out when I try to repeat back to them what they've just told me, so I can make sure I've got it straight. Some of them look at me like I'm slow, others like I'm rude (probably because I'm being too direct), and still others seem upset that I've disrupted the flow of conversation.

This is mostly just based on personal experience. I've had to explain the whole "men mean the literal words that they're saying, and ONLY those literal words" / "no, he's not going to pick up on your hints" concept to a number of young women who were upset at a young man for either not grokking what she meant, or for him saying something she read too much into. These conversations always seem to play out the same way.

Anonymous said...

mwt: Repeating back probably doesn't work so well in normal conversation, but it can often be a good idea, especially for something where it's very important everyone understands what was said and comprehended.

Tania said...

I repeat back in normal conversations when I believe it is necessary. I also challenge people on the whole "S/He should be able to read my mind/interpretive dance. I shouldn't have to clearly state what I mean, that's uncivilized!" because I believe it is miserably unfair for all parties involved.

Random Michelle K said...

Repeat back--I just realized I do that all the time.

At work because, well, I constantly have to clarify vague statements and assertions (My bar in Windows doesn't work anymore!) and because I want to cover my butt if things come out wrong (You specified A, B, & C. You'll notice I wrote A,B,&C in your confirmation e-mail)

And because my husband is sometimes the most vague person alive. His last job he was one of three guys in an office full of women, and would come home and tell me, "she told her that she was sick of her getting in her business." How many participants are there in this conversation? Two? Three? Five?

So I don't care if I sound stupid. I'd rather know what's going on than spend time going down the wrong track.

MWT said...

Yep. And one of my biggest pet peeves is people who refuse to clarify, but will instead giggle at me and then change the subject as if they find my confusion amusing. I hate that. It's a large part of the reason why I was a misogynist for large chunks of my life.

Janiece said...

MWT, you got it right. Men really are dense.

Not stupid. Not insensitive. Not uncaring. Just dense.

Once I accepted it as a non-negative truism, and behaved accordingly, many of my communication troubles disappeared.

Anonymous said...

Interesting observation.

I've also noticed that more women are comfortable talking about ideas and feelings - items in the abstract. More men are comfortable discussing concrete subject matter, conversations about work, tv, sports.

I also note that women tend to prefer verbal analysis of stressful or painful situations. They'll talk them through, over and over again with different partners, to try and get a handle on situations and feelings.

Men, on the other hand, dislike this and find it pointless and masochistic behavior. They'd rather not talk about stressful or painful situations at all, let alone go over them several times.

It's yet another reason why men and women don't communicate well.

MWT said...

Janiece: Yep. :) Once you figure out that men need everything spelled out to them in literal words, suddenly they understand things.

Jeri: Men are like cakes. When they're distressed by something, they have a requisite amount of "baking time." During that time they want to be completely uncommunicative, and usually this is accompanied by doing something completely mindless (killing pixel monsters on the computer works). No amount of opening the oven to poke the cake is going to get it to bake faster - it'll just annoy the cake. Eventually, however, the baking time will end and the cake will be ready to discuss things. Women just need to find something else to do while they're waiting. ;)

Anne C. said...

I highly prefer straight talk myself (which is one of the reasons I probably do well in a male dominated profession), but will talk in layers when I want to say something to someone who does not want to talk about it. The key is that I am not expecting to be understood. I am saying it because I must say something and to say it directly would be to invite lies, like the old "honey, am I getting fat?" If you ask a certain kind of question, you are forcing the other person to lie. Is that pleasant for either of you? No. So if I must say something, I'll say something layered, feel better, be ignored, and maintain status quo until the time is OK to really talk about it.

And the baking cake analogy is good except the bake time might be years.