Friday, 1 August 2014

Men and Women Are Not So Different

Today I read an awful piece of nonsense claiming to be an insightful and amusing clarification by “international marriage speaker and comedian Mark Gungor” of the differences between how men and women think.

First sentence of the intro: “It's no secret that men and women have always had difficulty fully understanding each other.” Well maybe that’s because of all the money to be made by people insisting there are innate ‘differences’ between the way men and women think, even though the science doesn’t back this up and ALL the evidence is anecdotal, usually involving confirmation bias and double standards. E.g. a man telling you what to do is showing leadership qualities, a woman doing it is being bossy.

The ‘secret’ isn’t that men and women have difficulty understanding each other, it’s that they have difficulty understanding themselves and project their issues onto a mythical gender difference because it makes life seem simpler. I once had a 50 year old woman tell me her and her female friends had all collectively decided to dismiss all their marital problems as a result of “how men are different”, saying that if they hadn’t they probably wouldn’t have been able to cope with continuing their relationships. Now there’s scientific for you! Given the option of opening a can of difficult and painful self-analysis-worms who demand unshrinking honesty that might lead to a divorce and will definitely bring uncertainty into their lives, people choose not to and instead invent a nice, simple excuse for their problems so they don’t have to think about them too hard.

And so on to the piece itself. Oh dear lord, it gets so much worse!

To make sense of this post you’ll need to read the whole, ridiculous thing (sorry). I’ve dealt with each of his points in sequence, but not quoted him. Here goes.

Women are not more complicated and men are not simpler.

“Very unique” is not only meaningless it’s also, even if we ignore the terrible use of language by a professional speaker, applied to half the population of over 7 billion humans so not unique in any way.

“Having sex or watching sports” is an offensive stereotype of male interests.

Our brains are not made of small boxes. I’m not just being picky, this is bad thinking in terms of understanding psychology and an over-simplistic model of how brains function. The problem with bad thinking about thinking is that it actually shapes how we think and how we process things. Myths about the brain lead to terrible, terrible decisions.

The whole ‘separate box’ concept is ridiculous and utterly wrong. It’s non-functional even as a working model and can be torn apart easily: I am a man and I want to get to my sports game but don’t know how to get there. I am at a loss so I miss the game and go outside to wash my car instead. Utter nonsense. If there were ‘boxes’ of any kind (which flies in the face of current research) they would all overlap or we’d fail at even the simplest tasks.

The wire analogy is idiotic. A wire consists of a line of material. Each point of that material must be touched in sequence and it’s impossible to travel along inside it by jumping out from one point to jump back in at another. Unless you’re soldering on other wires as bypasses, but by that point the ball of wire analogy is redundant and it starts to look more like a road network (a much better analogy perhaps, for all brains).

Emotion is not an energy, it’s a system of prioritising and of choosing the appropriate response.

Women are not better at remembering things than men. Women take an interest in certain things, probably because of our culture’s influence, and like to remind men what they’ve forgotten. Meanwhile, in my experience, women are very resistant to any discussion that highlights what they’ve forgotten, and then that conversation itself gets forgotten, leaving only a dull resentment in the air. To briefly indulge in the male stereotype mentioned above, if you think men don’t remember things ask a football fan who was playing when they won a trophy several years ago and who scored the winning goal; ask a Warhammer 40k fan to briefly (hah!) outline the event leading up to the Horus Heresy; ask a Star Wars fan why the Jedi were defeated and why Darth Vader became a bad guy. After that you come and tell me men don’t remember anything. The pertinent question is *why* men tend to remember some things that are culturally more acceptable and encouraged for them while women tend not to take an interest in those things and focus on other sports (more women like tennis than football) and social activities (family get-togethers rather than game nights with friends). Ask me what a close friend did in college and I might not know, but ask me what character he played in our Dungeons & Dragons campaign and I’ll tell you all about it along with a few tales of his adventures.

Memories don’t burn in your brain forever, they’re recreated from the available information each time you recall them, but this information is inextricably linked to whatever emotions you feel at the time. Try to recall an event while depressed and you’ll remember the bad things about it and even add a few. Remember something while happy and it’ll be a much more positive experience. Memories are flawed and fluid things, fundamentally untrustworthy and often self-serving. Rely on them at your peril.

Saying men care about nothing is offensive and demonstrably wrong.

Saying women care about everything is silly and demonstrably wrong. Even those women who do care a lot often don’t “love it” that their lives are spent on such a level of engagement with other people’s issues. Those with the highest levels of empathy in caring professions such as nursing are the ones who ‘burn out’ quickest and then protect themselves behind a hardened façade.

Everyone has a “nothing box” and it’s utterly stupid to say otherwise. Csikszentmihalyi called it ‘flow’.
He’s suddenly changed the metaphor. Previously boxes stored things we took out but this one is actually more of a room we go into? Hogwash.
Even if we allow for this, the “nothing box” is idiotic. If a box is the thing we store and process thoughts in then by getting into the box we become the centre of our attention. If he’s asserting that we take “nothing” from the box and contemplate it in some manner that’s logically unworkable and sounds more like a complex Zen concept like “be yourself”, which is also unprocessable because the moment you consciously act in a manner you believe to be your relaxed self you are no longer relaxed. Trying not to try is an impossibility. Storing and processing a ‘nothing’ is another. The process of ‘Flow’ is not limited to men.

I haven’t been able to find the University of Pennsylvania study of how men “think about nothing”, but I did find this, a highly critical piece about how insistent people are that men don’t listen and all the pseudoscience and wrongly applied science they use to back up their nonsense idea.

Saying women can’t stop thinking is utter bilge. Women can meditate. Women can achieve ‘Flow’. The ‘nothing’ he talks about that drives women crazy is, in reality, selfishness. It comes from a man sitting around the house watching telly or playing games or going to the pub and leaving a pile of washing up or a screaming child or the vacuuming not dealt with. That’s not a gender thing, it’s a cultural thing that stems from concepts of ‘women’s work’.

What all of this boils down to is what people of both genders are interested in. What they get enthusiastic about, what gives them pleasure, causes them stress, reduces or increases anxiety. Caring, remembering, connecting, listening, it’s all something we only do if the subject itself seems important to us. There are many things women don’t care about or pay attention to, I know this because I’m a geek with a non-geek wife. I have female geek friends though, so it’s not a gender difference.

The issues here are culture, sexism, confirmation bias, selfishness, relying on stereotypes, dismissing other people’s interests as unimportant, considering our own priorities as being the only ones that count. If you take a moment to re-frame the issue you’ll notice that gender is irrelevant and both genders do exactly the same things as often as each other.  

No comments:

Post a Comment