Back off woman. I'm doing science!
Is the following going to be a series of anecdotal generalizations that don’t necessary apply to you or even the writer herself? Well, obviously. Does that make it useless? Not necessarily.
In light of the recent comments of Nobel laureate Tim Hunt, I mused over my own personal interactions with older men and my new enlightenment about how much I really didn’t understand the male gender.
“Three things happen when they are in the lab: you fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them, they cry.”
I always argue that the biggest issue of sexism is you’re never fully sure when it’s happening. Is that guy talking down to you because you’re a woman or because he’s an asshole? Is it because you’re secretly incompetent in some manner that you are unaware of due to your lack of experience? Or is it because he assumed you were incompetent and inexperience just because of your gender and age?
It’s not the simple bitch-slap-her-until-she-makes-you-a-sandwich issue it’s often made out to be. Daily sexism is a lot more subtle and convoluted (also able to be perpetrated by women just as much as men, and against men) than just problems of rape and pay discrepancies.
The problems women and men face when dealing with obstacles of gender are more about perception and societal pressure. It’s not that someone will actually say to you, “I wish you weren’t here because your presence is distracting me and I don’t think you’ll do any good anyway,” but the insincerity in a smile, or the simple inattention a potential boss gives you while talking enthusiastically with a male counterpart.
It’s because of this subtly, however, that, until just a few months ago, I actually didn’t realized my interpretation of certain men in my life’s condescension did not come from pure, straightforward sexism as I assumed, but really was a difference in male and female cultures that I was not aware of. Which is to say, I believe men like Hunt do legitimately have more hostile reactions when criticizing women, but not just because women can’t take criticism any less/more than men.
I come from a predominantly “feminine” culture. Yes, I have my brother and my father, a mother, no sisters, but both the men in my life were introverts who often preferred solitude or the company of women to that of men. My external family was filled with women (aunts having a whole slew of daughters), with dominant personalities and husbands who were either self-isolating outsiders or the non-confrontational support system you would expect in that situation. Women ruled by numbers, and, in most situations, when you have more than even two girls in a room, it’s not uncommon for masculine culture to hide itself. I do truly understand the idea of men not being able to be men when women are around because female culture is the more influential of the two. For a long time, I never really witnessed “men being men.” Partially because especially masculine guys read to me as non-intellectual with boring interests, warped priorities, and often insecure. (Not because they are, but that’s my prejudgment of them. An example of the exact kind of subtle sexism I’m talking about.)
As I grew up, I worked in women-dominated fields, like theatre and sewing. You had less men involved, and when you did, they were either gay, or just didn’t prioritize proving their masculinity. They were either feminine people, or confident enough to not worry about being considered feminine and could easily be “one of the girls.” Except for the part where they slept with everyone in the cast.
It wasn’t until I started dating my recent boyfriend that I began to see men in their true environment and realize a huge mistake I had been making.
The older gentlemen who were trying to prove their dominance over me were not doing so because I was a woman, it’s because that’s how masculine culture works. The basic interaction, introducing conflict to prove authority, is a part of men’s everyday life.
As I hear Hunt claiming that women tend to cry when criticized, I do agree that criticism tends to explode between sexes more so than it does with two people of the same gender. I do not believe that it has anything to do with superiority of managing emotions on either side, but rather the same reason a Japanese supervisor will probably be more effective managing his Japanese workers than an American one—interpretation of body language, tone, motivation, and priorities are different.
Feminine culture is all about not trying to start shit. It’s anti-confrontational. This may sound like a load of crock when you think of those insane Bridezillas screaming, “My way or the highway” as they shatter a vase on the floor, but first, all cultures have variations, and the overdramatic attempt for control is actually a huge byproduct of how women define the hierarchy, caused by the constant attempts to play nice.
We tend to be more diplomatic, clever, sneakier, and more manipulative than our male counterparts. We avoid direct conflict, but go first for compromise and negotiation. Depending on the women, this could be out of genuine empathy and desire to make the entire group happy, or it could be a controlling ploy—it takes longer to convince someone something was their idea, but you have more power over them for a greater period of time. Most times it’s a mix between the two.
We rather talk it out without hostility, taking more time to solidly solve the issue. (I’ll get to why girls start screeching in a second.) We prefer persuasion over intimidation. Persuasion is more sustainable where as intimidation requires constant vigilance. It’s exhausting, and most women don’t have the physical size to dominant with their presence.
The male hierarchy is defined by action. There are “pissing contests,” in which two gentleman will try to prove their worth to each other. They usually get into heated conflict, maybe even an actual fight, use the argument to determine (at least momentarily) the alpha, then get over it.
The female hierarchy is defined by passivity. One woman decides to surrender her power to the other. She chooses to be submissive in most cases rather than the alpha taking it. The beta tends to have more control over the situation than you would think. In a way, the alpha serves her, working to make the entire group happy. The alpha makes the decisions and lets the beta coast. The alpha gets what she wants more, but the beta has less decisions to make and less responsibility. When the beta wants something, she tries to sneak the power out, deliberately concealing it from the alpha. The alpha, who usually knows this is going on, turns a blind eye—As long as it is secret, it is not an issue of proving dominance. The alpha is only losing control over that certain aspect; the beta isn’t threatening her “rule” all together, so no power struggle needs to occur.
Until it does.
This is the flaw in the feminine hierarchy. There are benefits—a “live and let live” mentality in which you don’t have to deal with conflict or hostility the majority of the time, a communal mindset versus a dog-eat-dog one—but as everyone knows, bitches be trippin’. For a society that is anti-confrontational, there’s a lot of drama.
That’s because the culture’s sustainability has a foundation of everyone agreeing and doing their part. When one party decides to refuse, everything falls to shambles. The comfort of the feminine culture is about not having continual competition. You’re not worried about proving yourself all of the time. But the problem is, when someone crosses a line, it’s a much bigger deal.
You have women who love control. This isn’t just an issue of wanting it their way; they want to have others obey their orders, even if they don’t really care what those orders are. When confronted by a woman like this, you will find yourself with immense pressure to obey her—which is not a common or desired feeling in most female relationships. You are supposed to feel like it is your choice to obey. She won’t work with the alpha-beta relationship. It’s all about her and she won’t take care of you. It works, often, because the people in her life (men and women) are so against conflict that they’ll try to pander to her to shut her up. But this is the worst possible move you can take.
In woman-land if a woman decides to cause a scene (who is not a drama queen), it’s a sign that it’s important to her, and usually an attempt to make her happy is a good thing. We’re trained to be submissive to hostility and calm them down, and if it’s just an issue of her wanting something really badly, then you can make the problem go away by giving it to her. If, however, you are dealing with a drama queen, you can’t make the mistake of playing nice. She gets off on the power, and showing that her screaming at you works, she’ll just be encouraged to do it more. If you meet a woman like this, your only choice is to annihilate her. I mean completely dominate her. Demonstrate your authority, don’t take her shit, tell her off, and do absolutely nothing to make her feel better. Any attempts to negotiate will be taken as a sign of weakness. Remembering that most women’s primary goal is to not have to prove their authority constantly, it becomes very important to not reward her in the slightest for questioning if you are in charge.
So you obliterate her. And, unlike men, she will absolutely hate you for it. Even though you are less likely to deal with her starting shit, you will still have to deal with the ramifications of her not liking you. This is exactly the situation most women want to avoid, including the drama queen. The only difference is, she thought she could win, which means she attacked you because she perceived you as weak.
The way you define a drama queen over a distraught woman is the motivation for the “attack.” When she starts being hostile, the first thing that crosses the female victim’s mind is, “Why?”
If you can’t find a good reason to start a fight, it means it’s an issue of control, not an issue of personal importance.
Which brings us back to men.
While women feel more comfortable controlling their “moments of competition,” and then having it become a huge ordeal later, men feel far more secure having several little pissing matches throughout the day and then getting over it.
This means that they will cause conflict when it doesn’t seem to matter much, bring up little criticisms that are more evidential than they are useful. When someone is trying to prove themselves rather than help you, they’ll give you feedback that is inarguable, but doesn’t necessarily have an effect. “You used the Oxford comma, and I hate the Oxford comma.” Yes. I did use it. Both are technically correct. “You have a prologue.” Yep. “You ended in a preposition.”
A competitive person will often miss the fact that a gun disappeared in a scene to focus on an archaic or non-influential rule, choosing to take hyperbole literally and looking for anything “weird” they can suggest is a bad choice. This kind of mentality can be problematic, removing color and style from a work and encouraging to play it safe—not because the work was bad in the first place, but because they wanted it to be. Meaning that when a person is focused on proving his authority, he’s less likely to discuss the abstract, big picture issues, refuse to look at context, but rather point out something that Hemingway said not to do, often simplifying Hemingway’s point just to confirm his pre-existing bias that you suck.
Keeping in mind that a competitive woman, when dealing with a woman, will be sneaky and backhanded in her insults, where as a man will be more blunt. In female culture, being blunt is an act of mutiny—trying to prove your dominance—blunt criticism will have more meaning than just the criticism itself.
In a true story, an older gentlemen once flat out told me in an insulted voice, “You contradicted yourself here.”
Well, the contradiction—the narrative saying, “He should just go in there. She’s going to want to hear him out. She’s going to want his side of the story. Even if she won’t come with him, he needs to see her one last time,” and then a paragraph later, “He should just leave. She’s going to hate him. She’s going to side with the Adherent. He needs to get out of here while he has the chance.”—to me was incredibly obvious as to why I was doing it, and I was completely baffled by the criticism.
I said, “Well, he’s not sure what she’s going to do. Do I need to make that clearer?”
It looked like his organs fell out.
He collapsed on the table, hunched over my paper and actually refused to speak to me. Finally someone else said, “Yeah, that’s what he’s saying,” and we ignored him.
After the meeting, he proceeded to approach me to say I’m a very defensive person. I replied, “If I’m defensive, how do you think I’m going to respond to that?”
Feeling heat beneath my ears, I explained to him that when I get criticism in a group, I’ll often get home and realize I don’t understand it. I’ve trained myself to recognize when I don’t see or understand what a person is talking about, it’s important to ask.
Then another man walked in and said, “I don’t think she’s being defensive,” to which Mr. Critic mumbled something about, “Well, I just thought you should know,” and left.
After establishing my “dominance” or rather his lack of authority over me, he proceeded to roll over and pander to me. I still, being a typical woman, hated him, believing firmly our relationship was best if we just pretended like the other didn’t exist.
See, my perspective, since the criticism has always seemed to be insincere—Not only do I feel I would have had to be complete moron to unintentionally contradict myself so obviously and quickly, but no one since has made that same comment and I’ve had a lot of beta-readers—and not exactly of high magnitude, his decision to tell me was an act of dominance. Because in woman culture (and this is all an examination in hindsight), such a tact to achieve dominance is extraordinarily aggressive, I found it incredibly insulting and irritating. I saw it as an attack on my authority over the subject (I was a much more prolific writer than him. Think thirteen books versus zero), and it became a big deal.
He was shocked and didn’t know how to handle me. Partially, I believe due to sexism—most woman would have listened, nodded, and secretly hated him—but because most men would recognize it as a lesser deal.
He’s an asshole. End of story. You assert your dominance through traditional animalistic means—eye contact, puff out your chest—and, if you so choose to tell him, “Yeah, I’ll get right on that,” you’ll have a moment of hatred, he starts to understand where the boundaries are, and then both forget about it.
I don’t believe in segregating the sexes like Hunt desires. I think this solves the problem as much as literally sweeping dirt under a rug does. It hides it, makes it look nice, but doesn’t deal with the issue long term.
We need to learn how to deal with each other, and in most cases, simple understanding is key.
If you are a man dealing with a woman, realize…
-Women like to define dominance once. They don’t want to have to keep fighting for it. Female hierarchy stays stagnant for longer. Once you define the authority figure, that’s how it is for the most part until someone is willing for a full-frontal coup.
-Women are more than willing to be submissive to enrich a dynamic, but only if it’s their choice. They will often let someone else take the lead, but if you try and force them, to sublimate them, that’s when they’re going to get pissed and will turn to Super Harpy, defender of Get Out of My Personal Space. In man’s world, you take authority and then are free to do what you want. In woman’s world, you are given authority and are expected to take care of those who gave it to you. If a woman gives you her submission, she expects you to protect her feelings. Once you refuse to do that, she will try to take it back.
-Men do tend to be harder on women, especially older men with more traditional perspectives. Either it’s because a woman looks like she’s not going to fight back, because he assumes her incompetence or inexperience, because he’s trying to impress her, or even because she’s just more pleasant to talk to. Make sure, no matter what the reason, you’re not censoring your criticism of the men and overdoing your criticism of women.
-Understand that submission, to a woman, is a sign of respect, not weakness. If you treat her like she is weak, you are disrespecting her.
-Always be diplomatic, even when talking to other men. By showing that you are trying to work with her rather than against her, she’s more likely to listen.
-Even though men will get over a conflict with a man, there are those do tend to have a harder time getting over a conflict with a woman. It’s not uncommon for a guy to approach a woman, be condescending at her (either aggressively or accidentally), then consider her an overemotional harpy when she responds in anything more than “Yes, sir.” Some men do expect women to be submissive to them, really believing that’s our roles. One of the reasons she gets so upset is because she feels trapped—I’m damned if I don’t stand up for myself, I’m damned if I do.
If you are a woman dealing with a man, realize…
-By being “overemotional” he means your tone; he doesn’t give a shit about your words. The kinds of blunt criticism men say is straightforward is actually far more emotion-based than the logical (but we’ll say lyrical) rant you went on. (Blunt, unthought out criticism is more influenced by feelings and preconceived notions than well-chosen words.) Men are taught to hide their emotions, women are not. In man world, letting your voice quiver or get high pitched is considered weakness. When a man is inappropriately trying to establish his dominance over you, often by going monotone and expressionless will you intimidate him more than shouting or crying. Even though men accuse us of being irrational, you shouldn’t depend too much on reason. Make eye contact, never smile, and stand your ground, say little, and he’s more likely to back down without incident.
-It’s possible he’s attacking you because he perceives you as weak, and you really just want to be left alone. But it’s also, as I learned, just how men talk to each other. Don’t be thrown off by suddenly having to defend yourself; it might actually be a sign of acceptance, you’re a peer who needs to set her place in the hierarchy. Realize that eventually you can prove your authority over him by sheer confidence and not being rattled at his undue hostility.
-Men do perceive submission as weakness, but that’s not your problem. In order to avoid being considered a shrill harpy, be predominantly unconcerned with their attempts to prove your ineptitude. Don’t try to prove yourself, but rather behave like the person you want to be. Your general apathy towards their aggression will actually assert dominance better than trying to fight them. Again, focus on the physical aspects. You can scare the shit out of a man by just staring him in the eyes and saying nothing.
I say it’s perfectly fine to be predominately concerned with yourself, and it is not necessarily a man’s job to make a woman feel comfortable in the space. But comments like Hunt’s are simplified until fictionalized as well as problematic. You can’t ask a person to stay out of your career or your lab (writer’s group, conference, street team, whatever), because they distract you with their sexiness, and you can’t just suggest that women don’t take criticism well when the majority of people don’t. In my personal life, I’ve seen more men fired and written up for passionate altercations with coworkers than I ever have women, and I’ve seen equal members of either gender flip a bitch at the slightest sign of derision.
Tim Hunt’s commentary has a point, but it’s deluded by his extreme bias and willingness to ask 50 percent of the population to stay away from him so as not to distract him.