By Rod Van Mechelen
Words are not like chewing gum, to be molded, masticated, squished and spit out. Imprecision - loose definitions - leads not to truth, but to imprecise and loose thinking. - Rod Van Mechelen
The Great Communicators
1992 Bellevue, Wash. - Women are great listeners. We know this because they say so. Repeatedly. (Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, St. Martin's Press mass market edition, 1989, Shere Hite, p 654) What's more, pop feminists assert that "men expect to be listened to." We know this because women say so. (What Do Women Want?, Eichenbaum and Orbach, p 70) That, from earliest childhood women condition men to expect them to be ready to give an attentive ear whenever they want because, "women listen attentively and do not interrupt with challenges, sidetracks, or matching information." (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books Edition, June 1991, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., p 144)
What we have here is a failure to communicate
The common experiences of men, however, paint a different picture: "One of the biggest complaints men have about us is that women don't know how to listen." (Secrets About Men Every Woman Should Know, Barbara De Angelis, p 238)
It's not that women are to blame: they're saying the same thing about men! (Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, St. Martin's Press mass market edition, 1989, Shere Hite, p 146) So there must be more going on here than simply "not listening." Maybe it's because a common language separates us.
Sexual Oasis vs. Sexual Desert
Shared experiences provide the basis for intimacy. Most women know this. (Women and Love: A Cultural Revolution in Progress, St. Martin's Press mass market edition, 1989, Shere Hite, p 462) But pop feminists ignore the kind of intimacy men often share, expecting that we should duplicate what women do to experience intimacy in romantic relationships. This makes no sense. Should we demand that women duplicate the basis of male intimacy so they can understand men?
Where a single word can have many meanings, common experiences are often essential to clear communication between individuals who don't really know what those words mean. Most women share enough in common to make such communication possible. Even so, they have just as many problems communicating with other women as they do with men. (What Do Women Want?, Eichenbaum and Orbach, p 161)
If communication between women is difficult, then how can there be communication between individuals whose backgrounds are as different as an oasis and the desert that surrounds it? Most women grow up in a sexual oasis, where sexual opportunities abound. But most men grow up in a sexual desert, where sex seems in short supply. The problems unique to each seem trivial to inhabitants of the other, but this does not diminish how much our perceptions and speech differ.
With backgrounds so different, knowing the precise definitions of words is necessary to successfully communicate. Otherwise, where ignorance reigns and background experiences are very different, misunderstanding is inevitable. This is the general situation between women and men today:
My research suggests that men and women may speak different languages that they assume are the same, using similar words to encode disparate experiences of self and social relationships. Because these languages share an overlapping moral vocabulary, they contain a propensity for systematic mistranslation, creating misunderstandings which impede communication and limit the potential for cooperation and care in relationships. -- In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women's Development, Carol Gilligan, p 173
For good communication to occur between women and men, we need to speak the same language. This is obvious. What is not obvious is why pop feminists prefer to blame the problem on men, rather than to confront the root causes directly and honestly.
Separated by a Common Language
Men often seem to respond well to communication that is direct, honest and to the point. But many women seem indirect. They will, for example, express their opinions as questions: "Don't you think she's showing too much cleavage?" (Interpretation: "Look at that little [expletive deleted], the shameless hussy!") Why do they do this? Why don't they come right out and say what they mean?
According to Deborah Tannen, "conversations are negotiations for closeness in which people try to seek and give confirmation and support, and to reach consensus." (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books Edition, June 1991, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., p 25) Among themselves, women perceive questions as being a deferential and undemanding way to let the other person know what they're thinking and give the opportunity to agree or disagree without losing face: "(T)he girls mitigated the conflict and preserved harmony by compromise and evasion." (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., p 45)
But men view evasion as a sign of dishonesty, and often experience a question as a demand for information or a solution to a problem. Hence, when a man expresses an opinion, such as "I think green paint would be perfect for this wall," if his wife responds by asking, "Don't you think brown paint would be nice?" The first thing this tells him is, she wasn't listening. By the very nature of her question, however, it demands a reassessment of data, to which he may respond irritably.
Such differences in communication style sometimes lead to misunderstandings with horrible consequences, like acquaintance rape. Thus, it is imperative that women and men learn how to communicate across the gender gap.
Deborah Tannen distinguishes between two modes of conversation: report-talk and rapport-talk. (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books Edition, June 1991, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., p 77) Report-talk is the mode common to men, and its primary purpose is to communicate information. Rapport-talk is the mode common to women, with their focus primarily on the interaction itself. (You Just Don't Understand: Women and Men in Conversation, Ballantine Books Edition, June 1991, Deborah Tannen, Ph.D., p 142)
Neither style is superior to the other. Both serve equally valuable purposes, each has its own strengths and weaknesses. Report-talk is perfectly suited to the goal of getting things done -- in the world of farming, space exploration and bridge building, communicating feelings and intuitions just won't do. But rapport-talk is essential to all we live for -- in the world of intimacy and relationships, lecturing with decimals and equations doesn't work.
But understanding and allowing for differences in communication style is useless if one group speaks Latin and the other speaks Martian. Thus, it is essential to begin by speaking the same language. That means, going back to square one, picking up a dictionary, and learning precisely what all our words mean.
Rod Van Mechelen
Rod Van Mechelen is the author of What Everyone Should Know about Feminist Issues: The Male-Positive Perspective (the page now includes several articles by other authors), and the publisher of The Backlash! @ Backlash.com. He is a member of the Cowlitz Indian Tribe and served for 9-1/2 years on the Cowlitz Indian Tribal Council.