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Archive for the ‘gender differences’ Category

I mentioned in an earlier post that, despite my misgivings, I’d registered for an online dating service last month.  I was a bit dismayed by many of the messages I received, but there was one in particular that struck me immediately and has become a sort of shorthand for all of the inappropriate comments strange and nearly-strange men make.

Oh, there are many worse messages out there, but there’s a distinction in my mind.  At a certain level of vulgarity, I have to assume that it’s intentional, that a man is looking for something fast and cheap and wants to make that clear from the beginning.  But this type of message seems different; it’s so common that I can only think of two possible explanations:  there are more truly vile men out there than I want to believe, or they think they’re being complimentary.

The first message in this series had the subject line “sexy”, and the entire text of the message was “your sexy babie”.

I’m a writer by trade, so the first thing that struck me was that the message was three words long and two of those words were misspelled.  When I got past that to the substance (using the term lightly), the whole thing just got worse.

I’m not one of those women who takes offense at words like “baby” (when they’re spelled correctly), but I do believe they should be reserved for people you…well…know.  And I’m certainly not opposed to a man telling me he thinks I’m sexy if a) he thinks that and b) I know him and c) he’s basing his impressions on more than a thumbnail headshot.  Coming from a complete stranger who knows nothing about me, it can only mean one of two things:  either he says it to every woman he contacts because he thinks that’s what we want to hear, or his criteria for “sexy” can be applied with a brief glance at a couple of photographs and two paragraphs about me.  In either case, he’s not a guy I want in my life.

I’m sure there are women who are flattered by that kind of comment and respond positively, and I was going along happily believing that men like this were simply looking for a certain kind of woman with those comments and probably finding them.

When the same man sent me “your sexy honie” and then “your hot sexy!!” (with no apparent recognition that he’d contacted me before), my theory was supported.

But just about the time I thought all was well again and was just cheerfully deleting those messages without a second thought, Mike went and told this woman he barely knew in an online forum that he’d like to see her under his Christmas tree.  Rocked my world, I gotta tell you.

See, if I’d seen that comment from a stranger, I’d have written him off pretty quickly. It’s not much of a leap to make assumptions about a guy who sees a woman as something that should be wrapped up and presented to him–especially a woman he doesn’t know anything significant about.  I’d think “tacky” and move right along.

But I know Mike.  I couldn’t make those assumptions, because I know who he is.  I know that he’s a great friend and a great dad, that he’s looking for a serious relationship and that he takes fidelity very seriously.  I know he’s smart and funny and creative, and that he takes pride in his work and feels strongly about doing what he’s said he’s going to do.  In short, he’s exactly the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to write off on a dating site or in some other public forum.

I shot off a quick comment to him about that line being pretty much on a par with “your sexy babie”, and damn if he didn’t defend it all over the place.  I’m not going to get into the details of his point of view–I’m sure he’ll do that himself.  But the bottom line is that it had never crossed his mind that the comment might send any of the messages that it sent to me.

That discussion, and both of our subsequent conversations about the issue with other friends of both sexes, have me thinking that this is an area in which there’s a real perception gap, and one that might have decent men cutting off whole huge sectors of the population as dating options and women ruling out guys who will never know what they might have done wrong.

Photo credit: xenia from morguefile.com

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I originally wanted to call this post “Lying Sucks”, but I figured that Mike had more or less conveyed that with his story about “Glitter”.  There are vast differences of opinion on the issue of lying, but there doesn’t seem to be a gender divide.  It seems to me more a question of character.

As Mike pointed out, giving someone a fake phone number or saying you’ll call when you have no intention of ever seeing or talking to that person again doesn’t spare her feelings (or his)–it only spares you the discomfort of being around when her feelings (or his) are hurt.  It’s a purely selfish move because it doesn’t do a thing for the person who is being lied to except draw out the pain, but it does a lot for the liar.  Not only does he escape seeing the other person hurt by the truth, but he manages to make himself feel virtuous by reassuring himself that he “let her down easy”.

Bullshit.

Many men, when the lying discussion arises, pull out the old “Do these pants make me look fat?” discussion.  Every man I’ve ever heard this from is entirely confident in his assumption that a woman who asks that question is simply looking for reassurance, and does not want the truth. Do these pants make me look fat?As a woman, I’m here to tell you:  that’s just stupid.  If I ask a question like that, it’s because I’m concerned; I think there might be a problem and if there is, I want to correct it before I go out.  If you “tell me what I want to hear”, all you’ve done is set me up to go out looking bad. There’s nothing kind or loving about that.

Consider a slightly different but very closely related scenario:  you’re out to dinner with your wife and she asks you whether or not she has spinach between her teeth.  She does, in fact, have a big, dark wad of bunched up leaf right between her two front teeth.  Do you tell her about it so that she can remove it, or do you smile and say, “No, honey, you look great,” and let her walk around for the rest of the evening flashing spinach at everyone she greets?

Answers may vary, of course, but we both know that if the answer is the latter, you’re a jerk.  You might be having some good laughs or you might just be a coward, but it’s clear to everyone that you should have told her.  Why would you imagine that the pants question would be any different?

Photo credit: aleks from morguefile.com

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Generally, I think that the challenges parents face are similar, and that most of the differences between mothers and fathers are the result of artificial social constructs.  But Mike’s most recent post about dating as a single parent has me thinking about the differences that exist purely by virtue of our gender.

I’ve always had many friends of both sexes, and when my daughter was young she didn’t give much thought to whether my friends were men or women.  She didn’t read anything into whether I went out with a group or alone with one friend.  She didn’t even think anything of the fact that one of my male friends had a tendency to drop by just about the time she went to bed at night.

But then, about two years ago, two things started to change simultaneously.  One was that as she started to get interested in boys herself, she started to wonder about my relationship with my male friends in a way that she never had before.  That changed my interactions with them considerably, even those who were truly platonic friends.  Once she reached that age of first impressions and explorations, it didn’t matter that we might just be hanging out and watching a movie downstairs after she went to bed–what mattered was that she might think otherwise.  And what she thought I did as she came into adolescence would, consciously or not, inform her own ideas about what was normal, healthy, acceptable.  That meant creating a lot of boundaries and hard lines that hadn’t existed before, because, to borrow a phrase from the legal profession, avoiding the appearance of impropriety was just as important as avoiding actual impropriety.

The other thing that happened at about the same time was that she blossomed into an eye-catching teenager.  I think (hope) that most single parents of teenage girls are aware of the special vulnerabilities that go with that age–they look like women to many men, but they’re nowhere near equipped to deal with the attentions of an adult male.  And many who are children of single mothers are all the more vulnerable because they’ve been lacking the positive reinforcement of a present, involved father.

With a background in the criminal justice system, the child welfare system and advocacy for victims of sexual assault and domestic violence, I’m even more aware than most.  You might say paranoid, if you haven’t seen what I’ve seen, but if you had…well, let’s just say that a 1% chance–even a .1% chance–is far too great a risk to take, and that mom is usually the last to know what a creep her new boyfriend or husband is.  For me, that’s meant that male friends I might have introduced to my daughter in passing five years ago won’t get anywhere near her until I know them very, very well.

Mike’s daughter is a little older than mine, but I don’t think that’s the key difference here.  I think the difference lies in the way that girls tend, at least a little, to become their mothers whether they want to or not, and in the risks mothers of daughters face in bringing relatively unknown men into their children’s lives.

Photo credit: hotblack from morguefile.com

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I’ve never bought into the whole “men and women communicate differently” thing. The only time I’ve ever run into that kind of problem has been when men tried to anticipate the right way to communicate with a woman and came up with something convoluted that bogged us all down.

I definitely agree that the message transmitted and the message received isn’t always the same, but that’s a much more universal problem than you suggest. And, I suspect, it has more to do with people’s tendency to focus only on what they’re looking for and to perceive things in terms of their own experience than it does gender differences.

It’s the same kind of narrow view that makes us all willing to dismiss one another if something doesn’t “click” in the first fifteen minutes over coffee, isn’t it? We “know” what we’re looking for and so we can’t see anything else, no matter how enchanting it might turn out to be if we were looking. And, of course, on a dating profile the vast majority of relevant information is missing–there are no visual cues, no tones, no body language, no simple sense of a person, no ability to gauge how a person interacts spontaneously rather than how he presents himself when he has all the time in the world to sculpt the right message.

One person might put up a profile picture of herself with her dog because she’s crazy about the dog. Another might do the same because she thinks it’s a very flattering picture. Some people use dogs as props, because they’re uncomfortable just standing there posting for a picture. Some may be insecure and use their dogs as buffer. There are probably many other possible explanations as well…many of which probably don’t bear reading into.

Whatever the reasons, though, they are (like most things) not gender-specific. Lots and lots of men post pictures of themselves with their dogs. Or motorcycles.

Or horses.

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