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March 06, 2009

Through a Dark Lens

"Man's love is of man's life a thing apart,
'Tis woman's whole existence."

- Lord Byron

I like men. I like them a lot. This may well be because my Dad and I have a loving relationship though frequently (because we are both strong willed and stubborn) we argue about stuff. Growing up in a household with an affectionate and engaged father trained me to see men as caring and good people who just happen to be very different in some ways from my own sex.

As a little girl living in the only duty station I ever thought of as home, my best friend was a boy my own age. His name was Steve and of all my friends I liked him best because we could - and did - talk about anything. He was patient and thoughtful; intelligent and funny. Good at baseball, fishing, and building things but not as cute, flashy or athletic as his little brother, Steven was the guy a lot of men are mistakenly afraid of being: the kind who, in high school, doesn't particularly stand out in a crowd of shallow and self-absorbed teens awash in a sea of hormones. Guys think this because being respected and admired - feeling like a winner - is just about the most important thing in the world to them.

But at the 20th HS reunion mark when the basketball stars and teen heartthrobs are on their nth divorce and talk too loudly and listen too little, the people we thought as kids were "winners" don't always look so good. Standing off to one side is the guy no one recognizes at first. He's handsome and happy and successful. He carries himself with a quiet confidence that has every women in the room secretly eyeing him and thinking, "Why on earth didn't I notice him" way back then?

That's easy. We didn't notice because like so many men and women, we were focused on the wrong things. Looks, perhaps. Or charm. Or simply the appearance of being a "winner". We didn't bother to look beneath the surface, and while we weren't watching the race a dark horse came out of nowhere and walked off with the prize.

I liked Steve because even at eight years old I saw enormous potential in him. The strength that didn't need to spend itself in pointless showing off; the controlled intelligence that didn't boast or brag but merely waited for a quiet moment - exactly the right moment - when others had said their piece and then spoke into the silence with an answer that seemed so obvious it amazed me that no one else had thought of it.

In many ways Steven was the dream I fell in love with nine years later, when I first spoke with my husband.

My husband is all the things I am not. He is a pessimist whereas I am eternally, gloriously, unrepentantly optimistic and hopeful. He is careful and cautious and sometimes a bit cynical where I tend to live for the moment, confident that nothing and nobody can hurt me. He plans for things to go wrong and likes to have a road map. I feel hemmed in when things get too structured; I like to keep my options open and excel at adapting to the unexpected lemons life seems to hand out with disturbing regularity. Unlike a lot of people, I rather enjoy lemons. Sure they can be sour, but they also wake us up. They get our attention. In the kaleidoscopic shifting of priorities troubles often bring, I often see as many new opportunities as I do problems.

And my husband reminds me to take my umbrella, my gloves, my cell phone because he knows without asking that I didn't check the weather report... again. He pays attention to a thousand things that aren't even on my radar screen, but which have the potential to wreck my world. And in return I pay attention - close attention - to many things that are little more than blips on his radar screen, but which have the potential to wreck his carefully constructed and prudently planned life just as surely as the things he diligently and faithfully guards me against.

I suppose that's why I find this sort of thing, which I see all the time on the Internet from men I like and whom I consider intelligent and likeable, totally bewildering:

"The List" is the bane of testosterone-driven humans. "The List" is kept in the secret mental lock-box of human beings of the estrogen persuasion. Some believe that "The List" is a social construct, while others believe that "The List" is hard-wired into the DNA of the human female. I favor the latter theory since it seems to me that "The List" is merely a subset of "The Plan" -- and "The Plan" is not only part and parcel of the basic makeup of the human female regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, or historic epoch, it is also the reason that -- over time -- women triumph over men. Women, in short, always have a life plan while men are stuck with something that looks like a cross between a spread sheet without a recalc button and a really slick marketing idea.

In short, men might have a plan for making a rocket-propelled street luge, but they have none at all when it comes to human activities that stretch across decades -- unless it involves such trifles as national defense or energy policy. Men seem to see items like this as actually important, but women know that what is really important is the command and control of male behavior. Hence, "Your Permanent Conduct Record" aka "The List."

Women reading this essay are, of course, not the type to ever keep an indelible list of male transgressions, large and teeny-tiny. But trust me, there are many that do. Why? Because it works.

Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong. Did I say "wrong"? Oh good, because sometimes I'm not so good at speaking up when something strikes me the wrong way.

Before I begin here, let me make a few things clear. I don't know Vanderleun so nothing I say should be taken as applying to him or to his life. My reflections are meant to serve one purpose only: to shed a little light on what the female half of the world are doing when we do things that make you grit your teeth in frustration.

My dear Vanderleun: I love your writing. I often see a vast gulf between our perceptions of male-female interaction, but that's a yawning, often painful gap that treacherously opens up beneath my feet all too often when reading what men really think about the women in their lives. I end up shocked, and pained, and more than a few times in tears over the waste.

Because what he describes is totally, utterly foreign to my experience. Oh, don't get me wrong: I fight with my husband and my male friends from time to time, though it never fails to tie my stomach into knots and thoroughly ruin my day. But I don't like fighting and certainly nothing could be farther from the truth than the notion that I (much less most women of my acquaintance) secretly harbor some malicious desire to control the men in their lives.

The thing is, we don't respect men we can control. So what good does it do us to gain what we don't want?

What we want is, to understand and be close to you. We want things to go smoothly. We want to be happy, and for you to love us as we love you. But because both men and women often see each others words and deeds through the lens of how we feel and how we react to life, we end up with a picture that contains some elements of truth, but is also badly distorted.

Reading Vandereun's post I recognized some things that many women do indeed do and in places, I laughed. What puzzles me is the contradictions that seem so obvious to me; ones that undermine his assumptions about why women do things that so clearly annoy and frustrate him.

Reading his post with a woman's eye, I don't see a woman who is trying to control her man. I see a woman who is worried; who senses something wrong but doesn't know how to bridge the yawning gap that so often separates even people who truly care for each other. I see one who is trying to head off problems, not cause them.

Women often continue to bring up past transgression for one of several reasons:

1. A man won't stop doing something that greatly distresses her (and which she doesn't understand). Now if a man was doing something that pissed off another man, he would of course object strenuously and then they'd punch each other out OR (if they value their friendship) they'd each try to be a bit more careful until the next time one of them had a bad day. But when the same thing happens between a man and a woman, often he doesn't want to deal with it at all. If she insists on confronting him and trying to solve the problem, he either dismisses her concerns (There she goes! Being 'emotional' or 'controlling' again! Women are so irrational... sheesh.), shuts down completely, or apologizes even though he's really not that sorry and has no intention of changing.

2. If he won't talk to her, she doesn't know where his boundaries lie. Often, he may have no intention of changing his behavior but since he never bothered to explain how important it is to him in terms she can understand, she thinks he doesn't care or is being unreasonable. Or, he may just be doing these things from unconscious resistance to behavior he thinks is meant to rein him in.

3. She's a nagging, controlling bitch. But this begs the question: what are you doing with such a woman in the first place? Perhaps things aren't quite as clear as they always seem when we only look at life through a lens that reflects our own motivations and experience.

Guys, because they're more attuned to competition and rank, tend to interpret a woman's desire to talk as either criticism, a demand for action, or an attempt to be the top dog. Women are mostly unaware of the way men see human interactions. We want to talk out a problem so we can understand why the man keeps doing what he's doing and effect some compromise that keeps us from killing each other. If the man cooperates in this worthy endeavor, we then have several options: we can negotiate a compromise, agree to disagree, or maybe (in light of the fact that he has reasons of his own that - once considered - render our objection moot) re-examine our position entirely. But nothing - and I mean nothing - annoys us more than playing out the same scenario over and over with no prospect of FINALLY putting it to bed and getting on with the make up sex.

Women are good with words. So good, in fact, that men often ascribe to us an eerie ability to know all and see all. Seeing the bad effect "The List" had on its intended recipient, this clearly isn't the case. Reciting "The List" didn't achieve the desired effect, did it?

It didn't make him want to open up and talk about what was upsetting the female half of the equation. It didn't make him more receptive to her distress. It didn't make him think, "Gosh, I never understood this was so important to you. Is there some way you can get what you want without my giving up what I want?" Instead of understanding and compromise, she got resentment, anger, and resistance to her point of view.

Successful relationships - whether they are friendships, business relationships or love relationships - are all about negotiation and compromise. Not abject and unconditional surrender, because trust me, whatever our shortcomings (and we do have them!) most women know that a man who isn't getting what he wants is far more trouble to live with than a man who feels he's respected, understood, and treated fairly.

The idea that women want to be in charge is not one rooted in either reality or female psychology, but somehow modern society has drifted so far into rejecting the concept of roles that we fail to consider age old truths that stood couples in good stead for generations before we came along:

I turn now to Peter's brief and very insightful summary of a husband's duties in marriage, found in First Peter 3, Verse 7:
Likewise you husbands, live considerately with your wives, bestowing honor on the woman as the weaker sex, since you are joint heirs of the grace of life, in order that your prayers may not be hindered. (1 Peter 3:7 RSV)

I can just see the heads of a thousand female readers exploding :p

But all this is just a fancy way of saying, "Respect a woman for what she is or you don't have a snowball's chance in Hell of getting laid". All that "weaker" nonsense is a not-terribly-precise way of saying that women are sensitive creatures. We pay more attention to our relationships than men do because they're important to us. That a woman with even an ounce of self-respect will nearly always assert herself should not surprise anyone who's been married for longer than 5 minutes. But that doesn't mean our object is to seize your immortal soul and crush it like a grape.

And if you are joined at the hip to such a woman, let me strongly suggest that perhaps you were focused more on her appearance than her character. In other words, find someone whose interior is as pretty as her exterior. Men all too often fail to even consider that a woman's character is of any import, and that's a fatal mistake.

I know it is popular to make jokes about bossy wives and henpecked husbands (and there are such in evidence around us, I do not deny that), but having observed the marriage scene for considerable time, and having personal involvement in it, the problem is not so much due to the demand of wives to assert leadership as it is the refusal of husbands to assume their responsibilities. This is borne out by studies made along this line by competent scholars. It is difficult to understand how men can give themselves to careful, responsible leadership in business, but when they get home they expect everything to rock along all right and turn out well in the end -- without any thought, direction, or leadership on their part. We call women the homemakers, but women are homemakers only within the general pattern determined by the husband. It is the man who is to choose the values that go into a home. It is the father who ought to decide the emphases that are to be expressed within a home. True, it is often the mother who implements this choice and upon her falls the responsibility for carrying out much of it in application and implementation, but, by and large, it is the man who makes the choice of what the home shall be, whether he does it consciously or unconsciously. There is built into his male nature, by divine fiat, not only a responsibility but a desire to do this.

It is the man who determines whether the family shall be sports-minded or book lovers; whether they are travelers or stay-at-homes; a family that emphasizes personal integrity in their relationships, or are clever manipulators who get along by their wits; whether they are social climbers or quiet introverts. Almost always the stamp of the family is determined by the man. This is also, therefore, where men most frequently fail in marriage. They do not exert leadership, they do not give intelligent direction to the home. Even if they do give some kind of leadership, it is not thoughtful, it is not intelligent, it is not "according to knowledge," as Peter says. It is simply a drifting along, making the best of things according to the way they feel at the moment. Thus there is no leadership at all, or, what there is, is lopsided.

Many marriage counselors dealing in this area have pointed out that in our American life, for some strange reasons, we do not teach men to be men. Therefore, many men grow up and get married who are nothing more than grown-up little boys, still looking for mothers rather than wives. They want someone to minister to their physical needs, keep them well fed and happy, and soothe their egos when they get hurt. But that is not the proper role of a wife, and that is why Peter's first word to men is: Learn what a marriage ought to be, what the rules are, what is expected of you. What a home will be is determined primarily and responsibly by the man.

If the man does not exert leadership at all, then the wife must take it on, thereby forcing the woman to assume a role for which she is not made, and, as I have already suggested, she does not basically and essentially desire. One way men do this is by lopsided leadership. They feel that their major concern is to make a living, and it is the wife's job to run the home. They give their whole attention to the business of acquiring material gain, of making money so they can provide the comforts of modern life for their family. Most American men do a very commendable job along this line. They take this responsibility (properly part of the responsibility of marriage) very seriously, but they leave the rest of it to their wives. This, frequently, engenders the attitude, "I let my wife decide whether the children are to go to Sunday school and church. That's her job." The moral values of the home are left for the woman to incorporate. A slice of life is made of primary male concern while the rest of life, with great and important values within it, is left wholly for the woman.

...To show how women instinctively desire [the active involvement of men], let me quote a brief paragraph from an article by a woman on the subject of man's role in the home. She says,

Don't yield your leadership, that's the main thing. Don't hand us the reins. We would consider this an abdication on your part. It would confuse us, it would alarm us; it would make us pull back. Quicker than anything else, it will fog the clear vision that made us love you in the first place. Oh, we will try to get you to give up your position as Number One in the house, that is the terrible contradiction in us. We will seem to be fighting you to the last ditch for final authority on everything for awhile, but in the obscure recesses of our hearts we want you to win.

I wouldn't put it quite that way, and yet I see the truth of it. Women aren't children - they're adults. And yet we are human and children are, after all, just small humans. When children act spoiled and throw tantrums, it is almost always (unless they're tired or sick) because their parents have not firmly shown them the limits of proper behavior. Likewise, when a man consistently refuses to respect or show consideration for his wife or a woman consistently throws emotional tantrums, they are looking for guidance as to what you are willing to accept. If we human beings - male or female - aren't shown the limits, we tend to act up until someone lowers the boom on us.

I am about as stubborn and strong willed a person as you can find anywhere. I secretly think I know it all and most other people are complete cretins. And yet I married my husband because, unlike most of my boyfriends up until that point, I sensed we were evenly matched. He loves me more than anything on this earth, but he will never allow that love to make him do a single thing he doesn't truly want to do.

And I don't want him to, because if he did I'd lose respect for him.

That doesn't mean I don't let him know when he does something that pisses me off. And it doesn't mean he never compromises when our wishes bring us into conflict. It just means I truly don't want him to be anything less than a man. Neither do I want to control his behavior because common sense tells me a man who thinks he's being controlled becomes resentful and won't tell me the truth.

But respect is a two way street and it assumes two fully present, assertive, and actively engaged partners who both value the relationship enough to compromise when compromise is called for. That kind of relationship requires an enormous amount of trust on both sides, because the first instinct both men and women have when we're hurt is to withdraw or retaliate.

Over a nearly 30 year marriage, we've both changed a lot; mostly in response to problems that needed solving. I've become more able to let things go and my husband has become more adept at not ignoring problems until they're so big they escalate into unneeded conflict. On both sides, we've had to give up some things we wanted and be nice when what we really wanted to do was axe murder each other.

But there is no one I trust or respect more than my husband.

No one. And a good part of that is because, like my long ago childhood friend, he has been willing to try to understand me even when I don't make sense to him. Because of that willingness, I bend over backwards to understand his point of view. It's an imperfect world and men and women see each other through a dark lens.

But if we keep looking, even when it's difficult or painful, we learn about each other and often about ourselves. I know I wouldn't trade an instant of that journey.

Not even for a big old diamond ring :p

Posted by Cassandra at March 6, 2009 06:22 AM

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Comments

On your discussion of "The List," bravo!!

I'll add another layer, which is that I think the "controlling" some women demonstrate is a reaction to fear/uncertainty--the less secure she feels in her situation (relationship, money, roles, etc), the more she attempts to fix it by trying to control the actions of those around her. Human nature, not just female nature.

And frankly, I think 95% of the "nagging, controlling bitches" are simply acting out the above in extreme, without enough self-awareness to realize what they are doing (and they have husbands/boyfriends who can't see it, either).

Posted by: FbL at March 6, 2009 01:49 PM

...the less secure she feels in her situation (relationship, money, roles, etc), the more she attempts to fix it by trying to control the actions of those around her. Human nature, not just female nature.

Yep.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 01:54 PM

Personally, I see repeatedly bringing up past transgressions as a form of "Dang - why can't I make you understand/listen?"

And a real component of that is the feeling that the other person isn't listening. And what do we do when someone doesn't listen?

We raise our voices or keep trying. Wrong tactic, but understandable if you stop and think about it.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 01:56 PM

Personally, I see repeatedly bringing up past transgressions as a form of "Dang - why can't I make you understand/listen?"

That may be right... I remember as a young child my father telling me that "people who keep talking about the same things or telling the same stories are doing it because they don't feel like you heard/understood the first time. Pay attention and help them see that you understand."

Posted by: FbL at March 6, 2009 02:07 PM

..."people who keep talking about the same things or telling the same stories are doing it because they don't feel like you heard/understood the first time."

Oftentimes, re-wording someone's statements and asking if that's what they meant will clarify that situation. Oftentimes, though, they're just seeking to fill "dead air" with sound.

And it doesn't help at all when someone keeps repeating the same thing in an effort to wear you down so that you'll agree with what they're saying, even if what they're saying makes absolutely no sense.

That's when the only remedy is to say, "Yes, dear," and then try to escape.

Posted by: BillT at March 6, 2009 02:30 PM

And it doesn't help at all when someone keeps repeating the same thing in an effort to wear you down so that you'll agree with what they're saying, even if what they're saying makes absolutely no sense.

We definitely do that! But just like the things guys do, we don't always realize that's what we're doing.

My husband called me on that one, and it really made me look at the way I argue. My perception of how much talk is "too much" and his are way different. Now, I know he wants me to make my point as succinctly as possible and then STFU about it.

I also know that I need to pipe down and let him talk (another thing women are AWFUL about - when we get that silence, we think we need to fill the vacuum).

The thing is, I genuinely didn't realize I was doing that until he told me. Just like he genuinely doesn't realize it when he does things that drive me batsh** insane. This is why communication - within respectful limits - is a good thing.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 02:46 PM

IOW, we compromise.

He has learned I need him to talk more than he wants/needs to, and I have learned he really needs me to talk less than I want/need to.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 02:47 PM

"Guys, because they're more attuned to competition and rank"...is this really true? Most women seem to me to be VERY concerned about their status relative to their female friends and neighbors.

Posted by: dav at March 6, 2009 02:55 PM

I think that both men and women are attuned to social rank and hierarchy. But I think that along a spectrum of human behavior, most women position towards the lower end and most men position towards the higher.

Notice I said *more* attuned - not that women don't pay attention to it.

For me, it tends to be just about the last thing I think about but that may be my natural arrogance :p For whatever reason, I rarely see myself as being "in competition" with other women for anything and it really annoys me when they get that way.

Even when I was younger and dating, some women would get mad at the other woman when they lost out on a guy they liked. I guess I always assumed that a guy and I would either hit it off, or not. If he didn't like me as much as some other girl, that was an indication that no matter what I did he wasn't going like me unless I either pretended to be something I wasn't or did something I was uncomfortable doing, so it was no big loss and aside from the normal feelings of yearning when you like someone who doens't reciprocate, I had no hard feelings towards the other girl.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 03:15 PM

Just to clarify what I meant by that remark:

I think men are better at dealing with open confrontations (the non-emotional kind) that establish who's going to take the lead.

I think women tend to do better in situations where the hierarchy isn't clear and you need to persuade others to work with you rather than relying on status or assertions of authority.

Just as a woman can't speak as plainly as a man does without being perceived as bossy and controlling, often men aren't respected by other men when they try to cooperate and use persuasion instead of force of personality. Women try to persuade because usually we lack the ability to coerce. It absolutely is a power thing, but also I think we prefer persuasion to confrontation, whereas men often enjoy contests.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 03:28 PM

> Wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

No, Cass. Right right right right.

A bit over the top, of course, and there are inarguably exceptions -- like you -- but many, if not most, females ARE like this.

Sorry, "None of my friends are like that, either", doesn't work. Because YOU aren't that way, you almost certainly have a selection bias against other women who are that way. Such thinking is so foreign to you that you wind up "smelling" it, if only unconscously, and avoiding that type of woman.

It also may well be that the pool of potential friends you have also consists of a well-more than average selection set of such women, because perhaps that's ("you're") exactly the sort of woman who most greatly appreciates men like your husband. And it's quite clear that successful military men tend to form a clique, and with good reason -- being under fire has to be one of the more unifying bonds possible (I've never been, but I'm able to at least grasp that on an intellectual level).

So your most obvious selection set of friends is going to be women who've been attracted to men like your husband... i.e., probably women with the same sort of outlook on men as you.


===

I like sticking my head in here, Cass, because I'm sort of a male inversion of you -- I grasp that men and women are meant to be complimentary, not identical equals, and that, while no man or woman should be prevented from attempting to do any job they are physically capable of, there are always going to be jobs that men are better at just as there are always going to be jobs that women are better at. I'm much more capable of thinking like a female than most men (which is still far short of the way females think, but I do have more insight than many in some special ways).

You consistently think and reason with almost masculine clarity, avoiding the pitfalls of how you "want the world to be" -- even when you're being "optimistic". You are, in short, firmly grounded in reality, which I've noticed all too few women are any more.

Part of the whole difference between men and women is mental wiring (men consistently have better 3D spatial skills, women generally have far more patience with tedious tasks), and part of it is simple biology (Men are almost always stronger than women, and thus for strength-oriented jobs [fire fighting would be a great example] are consistently a better choice. Women can bear and nurse children which men can't). (P.S. anyone want to argue with me on the above: bite me. I'm speaking in general terms only for the most part, and occasional rare exceptions, of which "you" may be a prime example, don't invalidate that)

===

> I genuinely didn't realize I was doing that until he told me

And that's one of the things that marks you as fairly unique, Cass.

Most women, having that pointed out to them, would do one (or more) of three things:
1) Add it to "The List"
2) Refuse to acknowledge its Truth value
3) Deny its Relevance value entirely, since it doesn't tie with women's objectives (Women these days tend to be "female chauvinist pigs"... they think that their feminine worldview is the only relevant, valid one. Men who dare to disagree -- i.e., express a masculine worldview -- are just being "immature".)

Posted by: Obloodyhell at March 6, 2009 03:35 PM

> Just as a woman can't speak as plainly as a man does without being perceived as bossy and controlling,

I don't agree with this, Cass. That's one of the common hoary nontruths that feminists spread around.

Men have an established pattern of how to behave when subordinate or in-charge, and of how to resolve contentions.

Women aren't socialized to develop and/or read those cues, and thus come off as "bossy or controlling" because of that. Their responses are off, and/or non-existent, and they aren't reading the cues that they aren't spotting for lack of understanding.

THIS is more of a social training difference than the kind of indirect or direct sexism you've been taught to believe it is.

It isn't that men won't take orders from women, it's that women don't know how to give them to men (yes, there ARE men who are sexists and won't respect women. They are much rarer than they used to be).

That's not putting it all on women, I think until we develop the social structures to deal with this change in historic sex roles, and some cross-gender social cues, that both men and women need to be more lenient when dealing with each other. Men need to soften their responses to women's cueing failures, and be more clear about such, and women need to work on picking up and figuring out when they screwed up on those cues, perhaps to the point of being direct and asking someone what they did wrong (perhaps a mentor, rather than the subordinate, mind you).

This is something both genders need to work on.

Unfortunately, with the all ultra-PC folderol going around, people are being less lenient than they used to be, and that's creating a lot of unnecessary grief and problems.

It's really gotten to the point where all a woman has to do to get a man she doesn't like fired in the workplace is to make up some bogus crap. The man will be convicted in a star chamber proceeding and out-the-door he goes.

.

Posted by: Obloodyhell at March 6, 2009 03:47 PM

First of all, OBH, I do agree with much (even most) of what you say.

It's undoubtedly true that I don't like a lot of women (Hell - I don't like a lot of men!). And the reason I don't like a lot of women is that just as men can be really pretty insensitive at times, many women can be oversensitive and whiny.

BUT... (and this is a big butt - heh...)

That said, I did say that if you're with a woman who's doing that on purpose, maybe you need to be with a woman of better character :p

Another thing I've noticed in life is that men often say they want one thing and reward/seek another. Over and over again.

We women do the same thing.

Case in point: when a woman acts too emotional or unreasonable, many men actually reward/encourage that behavior by seeking to "placate" her with gifts or by lying to her. That is the exact WRONG thing to do (regardless of the kind of woman she is).

Either:

(a) She's really trying to extort material things from you (in this case, how much sense does it make to reward behavior you don't want her to repeat?). OR,

(b) You've got it all wrong. She's upset, she wants to talk it over, and she just is going about in entirely the WRONG way (in this case, she wanted your time/attention and you tried to bribe her into leaving you alone with material things).

I don't think there are any more female chauvinist pigs than there are male chauvinist pigs. Both sexes have their share of inconsiderate or immoral jerks.

I do think that when people get upset (and this applies to both men and women) we don't behave rationally. Often we don't show our best side. We retaliate for prior injuries. We sulk, or simply withdraw. We escalate to try and provoke the other person to acknowledge us. We stop being able to see that the other person may not think the way we do.

I read something by a divorce atty this morning that said, "Over 20 years in this business, I'm always astounded at how little thought most people give the most important decision they'll ever make: the selection of a mate."

I think that's very true. When we fall in love (or lust) the blinders go on. That's why I favor long engagements - they give you time to reflect from a relatively secure position. So....

...guess how long I was engaged? :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 03:52 PM

BUT... (and this is a big butt - heh...)

I take it that you and the mint chocolate chip are no longer on -- uhhhhh -- *speaking* terms?

Posted by: BillT at March 6, 2009 04:00 PM

I don't agree on the bossy/controlling thing, OBH.

I'm a woman and I work mostly with men. I get along with them really well, but I invariably notice that men are very blunt with each other compared to the way women interact with other women. They talk over each other and cut each other off in mid-sentence.

If a woman tries that on a man, he will usually react badly because he quite properly sees it as an attempt to dominate him and no way is he going to let a woman get away with that. I say that as a woman who has managed men in the workplace -- successfully, I think.

Where men command, women more often persuade.

I think a lot, though definitely not all, men never entirely get away from seeing women in sexual terms, even if they're not attracted to them. That element of:

(a) You're smaller/weaker than me, and
(b) You're at least potentially a conquest

... is never quite absent from our interactions. IMO men are more professional in the workplace, but only because they are constrained to be by society. If you doubt this, I invite you to read about what happens in war zones when men and women mix. The dynamic changes considerably.

I also think we women often view men in sexual terms too. We will often perceive the exact same words from a man as being somehow "threatening" or hostile, even if he is acting just the same as he does with other men.

I think that's because men are bigger than we are and we imbue their slightest utterance from the standpoint of someone who would be pretty darned helpless if he decided to go hermitile on us.

To be fair, men do this to each other. They absolutely DO try to dominate each other and intimidate each other. It's not malicious. It just "is what it is". Men generally don't take this personally. Women generally do.

When I was in college, I was usually the only woman in my classes. I quickly learned the only way men would listen to what I had to say was if I physically imposed myself upon them. What this means is that if they were seated, because I was smaller it helped if I leaned forward (so they could see down my shirt, thus causing them to forget all about that silly dominance stuff and acquiesce to my imperious demands).

Just kidding :p

Yet there's an element of truth to it. I had to adjust my affect to be more "male" without becoming male - without forgetting for one instant that I am a woman. I think men make many of the same adjustments in mixed company. It's just that you all are more attuned to the many ways you restrain your behavior than you are to the many ways in which we adjust ours to get along more smoothly with men.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 04:06 PM

That said, OBH, you made a lot of excellent and very perceptive points.

I may not fully recognize the extent to which some women are jerks, but then a lot of my argument assumes two people who are basically of good character and who care for each other. I think we all - male and female - realize there are jerks on both sides - the materialistic or manipulative women and the abusive or dishonest man (the players you have often complained about).

What my point was, is that you also have to pick the right person and that requires attention to more than the wrapper. If the wrapper is more important than who she is, she probably won't be happy and certainly you will be miserable.

But I think often the truth is somewhere between those two extremes: people gravitate to each other for not-bad reasons and then the misunderstandings pile up and they react in ways that only make things worse.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 04:15 PM

I take it that you and the mint chocolate chip are no longer on -- uhhhhh -- *speaking* terms?

WHAP! :)

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 04:16 PM

I guess this means I'm on "The List."

Posted by: vanderleun at March 6, 2009 05:17 PM

Not at all. I thought it was a good post, and I had something to say about it, so I did.

If you disagree with me, you're free to do so :)

If I hadn't thought it was an interesting post I wouldn't have written such a long-winded manifesto about it. You really made me think, and that's a *good* thing. And OBH (and I suspect a lot of the guys) think I'm wrong and you're right :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 05:20 PM

Oh, I'm just having my "leetle choke" with you.

Actually, I am flattered that you would be interested and take the time to write so well about the syndrome.

Linked this post right up to "The List."

Later, time permitting, I might have something more substantial to say, but I'm a bit pressed at the moment.

Posted by: vanderleun at March 6, 2009 05:25 PM

Punk :)

I hope you do write more. I'd be interested in hearing what you have to say.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 05:39 PM

You are, in short, firmly grounded in reality, which I've noticed all too few women are any more.

Without commenting on whether I'm grounded in reality or not, I have noticed a certain amount of this but then I've also noticed it in younger men.

I wonder if a lot of this isn't a function of a largely non-judgmental culture that doesn't hold people accountable for their actions anymore? Women, in particular, are told we can "have it all" - take advantage of being female when it suits but also do anything a man can (and a man can't take advantage of being female, though men can and do take advantage of being male).

Women aren't socialized to develop and/or read those cues, and thus come off as "bossy or controlling" because of that. Their responses are off, and/or non-existent, and they aren't reading the cues that they aren't spotting for lack of understanding. THIS is more of a social training difference than the kind of indirect or direct sexism you've been taught to believe it is.

I think this is a good point, but I don't see the perception thing as sexism at all. I've experienced remarkably little sexism in the workplace. I see more of a natural inability to prevent ourselves from reacting to each other as the opposite sex. Even in a boss, we see a man/woman first and the boss second and we react in ways that are both hard-wired and culturally supported.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 06:00 PM

I think until we develop the social structures to deal with this change in historic sex roles, and some cross-gender social cues, that both men and women need to be more lenient when dealing with each other. Men need to soften their responses to women's cueing failures, and be more clear about such, and women need to work on picking up and figuring out when they screwed up on those cues, perhaps to the point of being direct and asking someone what they did wrong (perhaps a mentor, rather than the subordinate, mind you). ..This is something both genders need to work on.

Bingo.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 06:02 PM

Successful relationships - whether they are friendships, business relationships or love relationships - are all about negotiation and compromise. Not abject and unconditional surrender, because trust me, whatever our shortcomings (and we do have them!) most women know that a man who isn't getting what he wants is far more trouble to live with than a man who feels he's respected, understood, and treated fairly.


*nods head vigorously in agreement*

So, SO true. If I've had a bad day/week/month, the surface is disrupted though briefly. If MacGyver isn't getting what he wants and needs, it permeates our lives, not just the household. Probably because he *is* the head of the household, even when he's not here.

Posted by: HomefrontSix at March 6, 2009 06:28 PM

I haven't had time to absorb everything and put it in a coherent comment yet, but I will take one little piece and make a remark.

On several occasions you mention something along the lines of "If you really believe she's like that, then why haven't you dumped her?". But I would note that most of the men describing women as such are speaking in the past tense. In other words, if you were to actually ask that question, the vast majority would respond "I did".

That is to say, if I dated 10 girls before marrying the last one and all of the previous 9 maintained *The List*. It would not be incongruent of me to believe that the female norm is manipulative and controlling and still be happy with my wife.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 6, 2009 06:42 PM

Probably because he *is* the head of the household, even when he's not here.

Amen.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 06:49 PM

to believe that the female norm is manipulative and controlling

I don't really know what to say to that, Yu-ain. Obviously I can't argue with your experience b/c I don't share it and you're certainly entitled to your opinion.

But part of what I really object to here at times are the constant assertions that most women are irrational, manipulative, scheming harpies. I know it's extremely fashionable in the conservative blogosphere to bash women. Many female bloggers raise this to an art form because it plays well to the target demographic.

I don't think much of that sort of nonsense but it's hard to argue with it if lots of traffic is your goal.

I also wonder at times, how some of you would react if I said the "male norm" is that most men are inconsiderate, insensitive users who lie to women to get sex or just to get us off their backs instead of being honest and straightforward (the way they say they wish we were)?

What if I bashed most men, but said that luckily my husband is different because I found one of the few "good ones"?

Yikes.

That's a horrible thing to say about half of the human population. What if you're wrong? What if half the problem is their admittedly annoying and counterproductive behavior, but half the problem was also that you never understood what they were trying to accomplish because men and women speak different languages?

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 07:13 PM

Hm...men tend to see a problem and fix it. Women want details to have greater insight. Two halves do make a whole.

I guess that when it comes down to talking things out, women have to be careful to not go on the offensive or defensive. We have some friends who are struggling a bit; she has health issues; he thinks it is all in her head. I tend to side with her husband, but still want to give her the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes I think I enable her.

Anyhoo, we were together at a meeting, and after it was over, and people were disbursing to go to their classes and sessions and groups, she was totally upset to think her husband had not just rushed to her side to check on her. She said as much.

I snorted. Loudly. I then reminded her that he was prolly shepherding their children to their classes and would come and check on her when they were settled, since he knew where she was and who was with her.

He came up about two minutes later, with her purse, coat and hat, and said "I would have been here sooner but I was getting the kids to class."
I just kept my mouth shut for the rest of the day.

She called me later and wanted to know how I knew what he was doing. I told her that men tend to prioritize what needs to be done and then do it. He wasn't neglecting her, just making sure that he could give her his undivided attention.

Sigh. While I do think men and women speak different languages, it is part of how that is communicated to the other party. Getting really touchy-feely doesn't work with my bunch because they get bored, start having belching contests, and so on. You know the drill. BUT, they are so sweet and thoughtful of me all the time, not because I insist on it, but because they do.
That makes all the difference in the world. I don't have to say a thing, or remind them to consider their sister. They do it because being gentlemen comes naturally to them, and their father has set an excellent example.

Posted by: Cricket at March 6, 2009 07:38 PM

While I do think men and women speak different languages, it is part of how that is communicated to the other party. Getting really touchy-feely doesn't work with my bunch because they get bored, start having belching contests, and so on. You know the drill. BUT, they are so sweet and thoughtful of me all the time, not because I insist on it, but because they do.
That makes all the difference in the world. I don't have to say a thing, or remind them to consider their sister. They do it because being gentlemen comes naturally to them, and their father has set an excellent example.

You probably don't insist on specific behavior, my dear lady.

But you probably *do* convey by your general attitude that you expect to be treated with respect.

I think sometimes we women lie down like doormats and invite people to walk all over us, and then complain when they do! I've lost track of the times over the years when I've said to a woman, "Good God. Why on earth would you reward that kind of behavior!"

And yet we wome do that. A lot. Men aren't going to second guess our behavior or overanalyze it. They assume if we do something nice we did it b/c we felt like it, not b/c there was a hidden price tag.

I do think it's important in a relationship to speak up if someone is making you upset or angry. But that has to be balanced by a healthy dose of "the other party gets to have an opinion too, and it doesn't have to agree with mine". It's pretty narcissistic to assume other people should spend all day feverishly trying to please you. Love isn't supposed to be a never ending pop quiz.

But on the otter heiny, if you mislead people as to what you expect you're going to be disappointed a lot of the time. I learned early on with my husband to simply ask for what I want.

It saves so much time, and I don't use it often. But he isn't a woman and won't always know what I need. Likewise, I need him to tell me if I'm causing problems so *I* don't have to guess.

Because I'm perfectly willing to work with him. I just need to know the script.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 07:49 PM

Well Cass, there's only one problem. It hasn't been my actual experience. I was simply offering a potential set of experiences that could form such an observation.

My actual experience is that the same kind of men who do believe such things about women do share that experience. They have dated a lot of women who did behave that way.

My observation, however, is along the lines of "What about these men seem to make then be attracted only to harpies?"

I've said this before from the other side of the gender aisle. I have little pity for the woman who complains that all the guys she dates are jerks (but finds nice guys boring). Well, honey, there's a common factor here and *its you*.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at March 6, 2009 08:22 PM

I did wonder if you were playing Devil's advocate again - you do that a lot, and it's not a bad tactic. But I will admit that the wording kind of took me aback. If I think something has happened to you personally, because I know you that makes ma far less likely to question it (IOW, I take it more seriously, considering the source).

Because otherwise, I incline to complete and total agreement with your last two paragraphs :p

Posted by: Cassandra at March 6, 2009 08:35 PM

Of course, on the other hand (otter heiny?)....

The Unit is a lucky man. I hope he never forgets that. And that's all I have to say about this whole thing.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at March 6, 2009 10:05 PM

So...like... um....
Just tell me: Am I good with y'all, at least until next time, or what?

Posted by: Driving Over the Cliff Notes at March 7, 2009 01:21 AM

Well, I do insist that they not light..oh never mind. Raising boys has coarsened me a bit, and I don't think I suffered in the translation. But then I have two older brothers. I am truly grateful for the lessons my brothers taught me; how to do an ace serve in tennis, throw a straight hard ball, bat a three base hit, rebuild a carburator and install that puppy, how an engine works...and I am grateful for the lessons my husband taught me; that he cherishes me but he doesn't always do it with the candy and flowers. It is the walking the floor at night with a sick baby..fixing something around the house, and most of all, when he showed our children what it meant to be married for better or worse, in sickness and in health.

Women don't deserve a bad rap unless their personalities are flawed and their priorities are screwed up. If that is the case, then it comes down to what they were taught and what behavior was modeled to them. I think the same goes for men, because my sister in law is a sports widow. But, if my brother were really a toad, she would not have stayed married to him. I think she transformed him into a prince.
Heh.

Posted by: Cricket at March 7, 2009 09:48 AM

Women are just too complex for most personnel who were issued a fifth appendage to figure out.

I recently was grumbling about my wife - mostly to myself, but a grizzled old guy - about 80ish, wearing boots and jeans - overheard me say

"Women. You can't live with 'em..." and before I could get the second part out, he said "Yup, and ya cain't leave 'em by the side of the road."

Yup....they seem to be able to find their way home....

LMAO

KP

Posted by: CW4 at March 7, 2009 09:30 PM

I have a similar saying (just ask Carrie or DL Sly):

"Men... can't live with 'em, and if you murder them, someone always finds the bodies :p"

That said, I absolutely adore men. It's just that I don't always understand them.

I figure that's OK. Adds interest to life.

Posted by: Cassandra at March 7, 2009 10:34 PM

OMG. I emailed this to my husband. It's taken us a long time to get to the great relationship we have. But something he doesn't ever seem to understand, but accepts nonetheless, is when I say that I am so happy that he's a Man. My first husband wasn't (and as far as I can tell still isn't). This explained perfectly what I was never able to adequately explain to him. We still have our times of misunderstandings, but for the most part, we figure it out. And it amazes some friends and family that we have been able to do this while separated for half our married lives, sometimes for more than a year at a time, and by half the world.

Posted by: tankerswife at March 10, 2009 12:00 PM

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