The female mystique nonsense
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The perceptive folk at Shiny Shiny have hit the nail on the head. I've been meaning to write about this for a while and I'm preparing a column about this for Lidové Noviny at the moment so this post came as a pleasant surprise. The bottom line is, the folk theory that men find it difficult to understand women because of some inherent gender difference is nonsense. The vast majority of the difference is a result of the constant discursive reinforcement and socialisation by men and women, as was so perceptively observed by Shiny Shiny:
Shiny Shiny: Bandai helps women understand the men As the old clichés go, women are hard to read, woman don't know what they want (bla bla bla) and this ultimately ends up with men relentlessly moaning about how much disdain they have for not being able to understand what we want. Such a phenomenon is this little bugbear there was even a whole movie about it. But, I think a lot of you will agree (especially the women) this incomprehensible slump that men grumble about swings both ways. And if the Onna Dameshi (Girl Tester) is anything to go on, we need help understanding the male species too.
But just because the misunderstanding goes in both directions, it does not mean that it is founded in an innate or even socialised gender difference. It is true that many misunderstandings between men and women arise in the context of negotiating their sexual, reproductive and cohabitational relationships, but this is not due to a difference between men and women but to the complexity of these relatioships. Once people of the same gender are forced to negotiate in these situations, they run into exactly the same sorts of misunderstandings. The gay coming out literature (such as may be found on the Different Colored Pens fanfiction archive) shows exactly how this works. Once the possibility of mutual sexual attraction is introduced to the already complex communication channel between two people, the normal conversational maxims are severly disrupted. And the same holds in other high stakes situations: child rearing, employment, resource division, emotional support, etc.
True, research by people like Deborah Tannen shows that at least partially people of different genders are socialised into slightly different discursive paradigms. However, if that was the whole story, it should be relatively easy to learn to switch between the two codes and solve most communication problems. But that is not simply the case. The differing codes of communication of the two genders don't help things but they don't cause the problems. If it were simply a matter of translation, books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus would actually help resolve misunderstandings.
It can also be argued that frequently men and women try to achieve different goals through mutual conversational interaction that only emply the same means on the surface. For instance, the cliche goes, both genders seek marriage but while men do it for prestige of having a wife, women do it as a means of material support (reproduction being the common ground). But this is not unique to cross-gender differences. For instance, employees are servile towards supervisors to get a promotion and their supervisors encourage that behavior to exploit these impulses for profit.
The bottom line is that communication is difficult because it is a complex process dealing with complex partially hidden realities. Reading anything more into gendered misunderstandings is simply a part of the socialisation process but not based on good understanding of the issues.
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