He Said She Said

Featured — By on December 4, 2012 at 3:00 am

Men and women are an endless source of frustration, annoyance and fascination for each other. We bring out the best – and worst – in each other.

Sigmund Freud’s most burning (and unanswered) question was wrapped around the idea of puzzling over what women want (apparently what men want is either too obvious or not even worthy of discussion).

The chasm and conflict between the genders has been the core  material of nearly infinite numbers of films, novels, magazine articles and psychiatric diagnoses.

Even Freud’s ventures into cocaine use gave him little insight into this particular – though familiar – conundrum.

In fact, perhaps it is our gender familiarity which makes this particular dilemma so complicated and vexing. Who of us does not have a parent, sibling, friend or neighbor of the other, dare I say, “opposite” gender?

Wouldn’t anyone just assume that as we grow up with those of the opposite gender, we would have at least the most basic understanding of each other?

A girl with many brothers, or a guy with many sisters might have some inherent understanding hidden from most of us, but they, also, are puzzled most of the time.

It is obvious that gender dictates and defines every aspect of who we are. It has been said that men and women inhabit parallel (near but never intersecting) worlds.

Consider the most basic routines of life. From the moment of waking, males and females have different  rituals and priorities – even different  materials used to prepare them for the day and for public exposure.

One obvious example is visible in almost every public setting. Consider that most bland, everyday setting of grocery shopping – especially on a weekend or in the summer.

Men, when they are allowed to, dress for comfort and ease of use. Low maintenance and convenience are the key characteristics of choice.  Slip-ons and pull-overs are the preferred modes. Hoodies and crumpled clothes  (and perhaps untied shoes) are the standard guy uniform on weekends.

A guy might (without thinking about it) be cultivating the look of sleeping in his clothes – accompanied of course – by stringy and dirty hair.

A  female might also cultivate the “just woke up” look, but is far more deliberate about it. If there is a prevailing theme (a topic sentence, if you will)  for how a female presents herself  it is that she will look good.

As a guy prepares his wardrobe for the day, his organizing theme is likely to be is it “clean enough”.

A female will go through excruciating layers of matching of colors and textures, rituals of time and event measurement asking questions like “What did I wear last time?” “What did those people wear?” and of course the eternal question of “How do I look in this?”

Could any of us imagine a guy asking these questions?

“Is it clean enough?” is a vexing enough problem for the typical guy.

There are exceptions, of course. One fascinating forum for gender, class, culture and fashion research is the ever intriguing people of Walmart website .

In my classes and discussion on this topic, I bring up the question, “Why isn’t there a ’people of Safeway’(Target, Sears, etc.) website?”

So perhaps there are, ahem, forums, where women and men feel freer to express and expose themselves. I’m guessing (and hoping) that Walmart is a temporary deviation for both genders – kind of a cultural oasis where standard rules of appearance and decorum are in a state of suspension.

So is Walmart a fulcrum of public male and female expressions at their most basic? Could any of us imagine the thought process of “I’m going to Walmart, what should I wear? What did I wear last time? What was that person next to me in the check-out  line wearing?”

These thoughts boggle the mind.

Besides clothing and dress, men and women literally express themselves completely differently. When a man expresses himself with a single word (“Yep”, “Nope”, “OK” or “Uhhh” are typical male utterances) that is almost always the full extent of his ability or interest in communicating.

When a female utters a single word (or syllable) there is unmeasurable danger surging below the surface.

When a guy says “Fine” that means he is generally agreeable with pretty much whatever she suggests. When she says “Fine”, however, she really means “You better not say another word or you will suffer for it for at least a month”.

If a guy says to another guy, “Thanks a lot” he generally means it. If she says it, it is sarcastic, and it is too late, you are already in more trouble than you can imagine.

This final point makes me wonder about one of the many recurring puzzles of male/female dynamics – why is it that guys are almost always in trouble (in the relationship) and women never are?

Perhaps Freud, or enough cocaine, might shed some light on this mystery.

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    18 Comments

  • You close this with good questions, and I wish I had an answer. I do think it’s interesting that this post appears here the day after the “Idiot Husband” one. Are we headed down a path of discussing gender roles at BWC? Or just coincidence?

  • Katie says:

    What a disappointing post. Instead of actually furthering any conversation about the cultural/social difficulties that men and women encounter when trying to communicate, this essay relies entirely upon stereotypes and resists every opportunity for nuance. It never gets around to saying anything more substantial than “men and women are different.”
    Burnside usually holds to a much higher standard. Instead of simply standing back and commenting on how we perplex one another, how can we, as men and women, better understand and overcome cultural matrices in order to establish more meaningful connections across gender lines? How can we seek more common ground instead of blindly relying upon social prejudices?

    • @Katie I think your reaction is what the piece intends. I’m not going to comment on the appropriateness of the content, but your frustrations touch upon greater issues that we men and women have to face when confronting the topic of gender. Whether there is an answer or not, we all have to encounter it. What is it that makes you so unnerved? Is it really the article or is there something underlying your feelings? You might want to explore that in yourself and find the value of such a “frustrating” series of observations. Thanks for reading and we’d love to know more of your thoughts.

  • Katie says:

    I’m not unnerved, and that apparently came across as more combative than I intended (I’m going to blame it on grad school finals). So I’m sorry for that tone, but no need for the therapy questions (in this forum). My frustration was that it didn’t feel productive. Granted, I read quite a bit about gender issues, so I may not have been the target audience, but what I love about Burnside is the ethos of moving us to a better place without becoming self-righteously dogmatic. This piece, by staying in the simplicity of gender stereotypes, didn’t approach a place of better mutual understanding.
    Also, I realize that People of Walmart was cited as a symptom rather than a central concern, but there are some issues (voyeurism, insecurity) with our consideration of public shaming as entertainment that go way beyond gender constructs. I think that our fascination with looking at people that we’re glad we’re not is far deeper problem than the horrendous fashion faux pas being committed while grocery shopping.

    • Michael D. Bobo says:

      @Katie, Would you consider writing these impressions in an article length piece? Your contribution would be appreciated.

      I never meant to be your personal therapist but intended it to be a case in point where we all can explore whether gender (or any other construct) creates frustrations. And, then to suggest ways to introspect.

      Thanks for your comment and I’ve sent your thoughts to our Chief Editor Kim for future attention.

  • Fascinating! Not so much the article, but the comments. I, like the other female commenter, consider this article disappointing, and yet the men who have commented posted positive remarks — one even suggesting that the female commenter’s opinions must have to do with underlying emotions.

    While I’ve enjoyed many of this author’s other posts very much, this particular article is disappointing in both its editorial quality and its message. It relies on clichés: Freud! Girls take a long time getting ready in the morning! Guys are inarticulate slobs! Furthermore, the argument is unclear. The Walmart example is particularly confusing because it says it’s the “exception,” when in fact it is not the exception for men because apparently men don’t get dressed up for the grocery store anymore than they would for Walmart. Beyond the point that men and women are different, the article flits from one topic to the next in a list-like fashion without making a strong case for the remarks. In doing so, it renders itself baseless and does a disservice to both men and women.

    I know many men who love long conversations, and I think history would point toward men’s verbosity: the ancient Greek philosophers were men, the great public orators of the twentieth century were men, it would appear that most radio hosts are men. And while it’s true I know more men than women who would go out in public with a hole in their shirt, I also know tons of guys who work out at the gym so they look good and who use special hair products to get that bed-head look. By writing that men only give one-word responses, it perpetuates an unintelligent view of men.

    Perhaps the women commenters reacted more disappointedly because of the difference in diction when describing situations with women versus with men. The words surrounding women are harsher sounding: “excruciating,” “unmeasurable danger surging” (also, the correct spelling should be “immeasurable”), and “sarcastic.” And then there is of course the matter that it suggests that women are disingenuous (see “Fine” and “Thanks a lot!”) and control men (see “suffer” and both instances of “trouble”). What if the writer had suggested that men say “I love you” when really they mean “I want to get you into bed”? Would that be a fair assessment just because it’s a stereotype?

    Oh no, did my surge of words land a guy in trouble? Shoot, that last question was sarcastic! I’m such a girl.

    • EmilyTimbol says:

      I just want to say, thanks for writing the reply I didn’t have the energy to put down in words.

    • @Stephanie. You can call me out by name. Don’t worry about offending me. Maybe if Betsy Zabel is willing she can run more of my thoughts on this topic? I emailed her a piece about it recently and I, too, believe this falls mostly on single Christian men. I’m married so I don’t really count in this but my experience indicates Christian men are socially retarded. If ya’ll will permit me to make such a generalization.

  • Katie says:

    I would love to contribute further to this discussion. Let me know.

    • Katie, we would love for youto contribute more to this discussion. The easiest way would be for you to submit to the link on the Write for Us page. Then Betsy will be able to get with you.

    • Katie says:

      Kim, thank you. I’ll put together something as soon as I wrap up finals/grading.

  • Strangely, this article brought to light for me the frustration and helplessness felt by both parties while desperately attempting to feel heard.
    Yes, the article is rough around the edges and harsh and stereotypical, but because I was agitated I was forced to think that much harder.
    In fact, I’m still thinking.
    But here’s one question: what is it exactly both parties want the world to “hear”? How can we better validate each other to eradicate the helplessness and anger?

    • Matt Miles says:

      I know I’m late to the party here, hopefully not too late. I was put off by the post initially too, but I think that’s already been put pretty well. There was an article on this site that proved much more encouraging for me, and it included experience, facts and research as opposed to a rehash of “Men drive like this. Women drive like this.” As a man, generalities like that are unhelpful and damaging. All I had to add was that:

      1. I think it hurts guys too, and contributes to the “demise of guys” more than video games and comic books.
      2. I’m not sure if the comments were steering this way, but this problem is not just a Christian one. It’s a cultural problem. Even in my multicultural education class I was reminded by several presentations that I must not be a real man because I’m not good at math. Even with data on our side, generalities can do more harm than good. I think the obvious solution is to get specific and talk to more individuals who are different than us. Misogyny and xenophobia have a lot of overlap, so stepping outside of ourselves is a big step. I feel like the other article on gender roles did a great job of this, and serves as an example of what I like best about Burnside. The problem is generalization, and it’s infiltrated all our culture.

    • Michael D. Bobo says:

      So that I don’t seem like a pompous ass I wanted to chime in one last time. (Perhaps it’s too late)

      I totally agree Kim that the process of questioning on both sides is really important. However, since most of us are Christians, I think the gender differences really impact Christian dating relationships. Between the don’t kiss until your wedding day of Josh Harris and the betrothal groups that practically arrange marriages to the Christian mingle dating sites to the fact that Christians are having premarital sex and having to hide in shame. It’s too complicated and our religion only makes things worse.

  • I agree it’s not OK to generalize, especially when the result is to cast an entire group (in this case, men) in a negative light. But we also know that there are a lot of differences between men and women which don’t apply to all, but do apply to many. How does one go about writing or observing such things? Pretend they don’t exist?

    • Matt Miles says:

      “How does one go about writing or observing such things?”
      I thought the other article was a great example. It got specific, rather than sticking to blanket statements and used history and real-life examples. Whenever I write something involving genders, I run it by my wife or someone else for a woman’s perspective. I sort of caught the negative slant towards women in the article, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I think that’s the first step: to realize our words might carry unintended meaning. So, male writers, write about differences between men and women, but get some female feedback to balance it out. Pieces like this prove many of us still need to.

  • M. Morford says:

    Apparently my reference to cocaine (not to mention Freud’s Stephen Colbert style question “What do women want?”) was not an obvious enough cue as to the satire inherent in the whole piece. I meant to emphasize the two dimensional shallowness of gender stereotypes to the point of their logical absurdity.

    I thought it was interesting to note from the comments that some saw it as negative towards men and while some saw it as negative towards women. In other words we are both, all, flawed and in need of Grace.

    Yes, ironies, slogans and stereotypes abound. Can we get beyond the barricades and defensiveness?

    • Matt Miles says:

      I got that it was supposed to be satirical, but listing stereotypes isn’t the same as exposing them.

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