Shut up, women. It hurts men's ears

Posted at 2:00 PM Feb 23, 2010

By Andrea Grimes

If crapping on online dating is like shooting fish in a barrel (and it is), deconstructing a Psychology Today article is like taking an Uzi to a goldfish bowl. PT is where evolutionary psychology meets self-promoting pseudo-academics with something to shill. Mockery is just too easy. But that doesn't mean it's not fun.

A couple days ago on the mag's site, Some Lady who is a trainer, consultant and "keynote speaker" (that's a full-time job?) turned her chair around and got real about how ladies are really good listeners, because ladies are really good listeners. Writes Audrey Nelson:

Listening is a part of the female job description and the key component in facilitating interpersonal relationships. The famous horse behavioral expert Monty Roberts' has made observations of an alpha mare meting out discipline to a herd of wild mustangs. He noticed that the mare, when confronting a renegade and abusive young stallion colt, held one ear forward and one back, as if she'd divided her attention. The ear facing backward was aimed at the rest of the herd and especially at a young foal this colt had just kicked. The forward ear was trained on the "bad boy" colt. I believe this is analogous to the split or double ear we observe among women.
That's right: because female horses do a thing, female humans do a thing! God, I love science.
A woman hears the verbal message just as a man would, but she is also reading between the lines to intercept feelings. That's her socio-emotional ear. She evaluates facial expressions, voice, gestures, and posture-the whole repertoire of nonverbal behavior-and draws conclusions from these, as well as from the other person's words. Women's ability to manage the flow interaction, to really listen and hear what people say, and to gather information from others in a non-threatening way is a strength and a part of the social maintenance women perform on a daily basis.
Men, who don't have feelings or care about interaction, are not social like ladies, who are social and who maintain socialness. Kittens!

Certainly in the work world, most consider the participation of subordinates as essential to the effective influencing of staff. But we also observe this skill every night at the dinner table, where a woman attempts to regulate the flow of conversation to include her most reticent child and restrain her most precociously verbal child from dominating the conversation!
Every night, women make dinner. They also care for children. They are also in charge of keeping the kids in line, because men can't do that, I guess because they don't have emotions or care about social situations.

Why do women listen differently? Part of the answer may be tied to brain structure. For women, emotional responses reside in both hemispheres of the brain, which are connected with the corpus callosum, a thick bundle of nerve fibers-thicker in women than in men. These fibers facilitate the exchange of information between the two halves of the brain. According to genetics expert and television producer Anne Moir, "this means that more information is being exchanged between the left and right sides of the female brain" than the male brain. The more connections one has, the more fluent one is in understanding emotions."
I get all my brain and genetics news from television producers, myself, because neurology and genetics are pretty cut-and-dry, and we obviously have that shit totally figured out and have no more questions about how the brain works and are totally sure where everything in the brain is located.

Predictably, anthropologist Helen Fisher takes a more anthropological outlook of female listening superiority. From her point of view, millions of years ago on the grasslands of Africa, women stayed around the hearth when men left for months at a time to hunt. A woman's acute sensitivity to listening probably developed because of her babies-she had to listen for their cries while defending against predators.
(For the record, nobody really does evolutionary anthropology any more because it's mainly racist and used to romanticize and/or oppress "primitive" peoples and, well, women, by essentializing gender roles.)

I would argue that since much of female survival and sex role prescription has depended on the ability to encode and decode accurately others' nonverbal cues, women have had to develop their listening skills more effectively. In fact, Gloria Steinem has suggested that women's so-called "intuition" (or "mind-reading," as one of my male survey participants put it) is not some extraordinary ability but really a by-product of their better-developed listening skills.
(Gloria Steinem is awesome. She is not, however, especially academically qualified to be an authority on whether women actually, empirically, have better-developed listening skills.)

Many men feel threatened by a woman's ability to glean more from the communication than they do. They don't like it. They'll accuse the woman of reading too much into their verbal statements. "Well that's not how I feel!" they will protest. But women are paying attention to the nonverbals that qualify the verbal. "You said you don't like the furniture I picked out," a woman may say, "but here's what I really think is going on with you."
Men and women are enemies, mainly because women talk too much and get all pissy about shit. Fact.

Moreover, men don't want to listen to all the detail that women feel compelled to share, especially in business situations. "What's the bottom line?" "Get to the point!" were born out of male culture in response to women going on and on. Men complain to me, "Women over-communicate." "They have to talk about everything and they have to beat the topic to death." A male manager told me that his female colleague gave him some excellent insights about their respective boss. "However," he said, "It was way more than I needed or wanted to hear!" Indeed, since women are process (and not goal) oriented, men believe they are too easily distracted. This adds to the credibility gap between the genders.
Men hate it when women talk. They just can't help it. It's like nails on a chalkboard to their man-ears.

The solution? Women can strive keep their communications short and to the point. It's wise to cut back on excessive verbiage. This is truly a case of less is more; the men in their lives may listen better with less! Learning to be more precise in speaking is equivalent to learning to be a good editor of one's own writing. The only context in which a woman should use excessive wording is when she is talking to women's groups or out to lunch with her gal pals.
Women, it is therefore your responsibility to talk less, again, because it makes men feel bad and confused and angry. (They might actually have to hit you to get you to shut up, which is your fault.) You are the ones who need to change, not men, who just want you to shut up and go talk about shoes with your ladyfriends if you absolutely have to, you dumb, shallow bitches.

If a woman has been accused of going on too long or if she's been told to "Just get to the bottom line," she should learn to use a pyramid answer style: First reply with only a one-word or one-sentence answer. To the question, "Is the report going to ready on time?" the proper answer is, "No it isn't." She can then build with details in two to four more sentences, using a bullet-point style and short, succinct sentences. "The computers were down. We couldn't get them up for three days. . ." and so on rather than giving a long-winded history of the project's failures and successes before coming to the point.
Here is a step-by-step guide on how to shut the fuck up. Memorize this.


Ginger said:

Zomg, I love you so much.

erika said:

I thought all those wordy people I work with were guys, on account of their Y chromosomes and stuff.

Guess they're really women, with all their chatty carrying on. Silly me!

I have to go yack about shoes now.

Calvin said:

Hilarious. I can't believe that got published in anything even remotely professional. Even if it was too easy, treatments like yours, Andrea, are required for articles like that. Never give up squashing crappy faux-feminist articles! We need these kinds of criticism out there!

Then again, I'm a really bad listener, so maybe I missed the point of the article.

Dylan Fox said:

I must confess, as man, I just stop listening after the first four words. I can last up to six or seven if it's about sports. I'm going to tell everyone I meet about that pyramid thing because if a woman isn't asking, 'you want milk and sugar?', I'm not interested. I'm especially going to tell it to all those people who keep telling me to either get my head out my arse or jump off a bridge.

Andy said:

You just made feminist deconstruction hilarious! WIN

pmsrhino said:

And of course all women are the same! We all have the exact same brain structure and ability to emotionally read people! No really! We are not individuals with different genetic codes! Plus, we all want babies! And shoes! ZOMGSHOEZKTHXBAIWTFBBQBLARGH!!!!

Steve said:

I think you could have gotten your point across by writing less. While I was reading all the extra paragraphs, I probably missed the chance to take down two or three gazelles that you could have then cooked while keeping one ear cocked to listen for naughty colts.


Anton said:

Just Stumpled upon this excellent deconstruction - you just made my day Andrea!

James said:

Good on you for ripping apart PT. How somebody could have published an article about behavioral psychology IN a psychology magazine and forget to include any actual empirical evidence is beyond me. Again, awesome, hilarious work.

pasta said:

Alright, I was with you up until you started calling evolutionary anthropology racist and then I guess my advanced female emotional brain called bullshit.

Evolutionary anthropology attempts to explain current social dynamics as remnants of a distant past that may or may not be obsolete. If you believe that women are oppressed and devalued around the world because most societies are patriarchal and view women as property of the male blood line, then THAT is anthropological theory. Just because we are feminists doesn't mean that evolution is a lie. And just because we want equality now doesn't mean that our ancestors lived in some egalitarian feminist utopia. Some of the most primitive, isolated tribes in the depths of the rainforests still trade women like cattle and don't see anything wrong with brutal gang rapes as part of psychological warfare with neighboring tribes. You can't dismiss anthropological theory just because it makes humans sound like monsters. Our ape cousins rape, but that fact does NOT mean anthropologists believe rape is *justified*, it just means that maybe male sexual aggression and treating-women-like-shit-edness is much more deeply ingrained into the human character than we would like to believe.

Anthropology doesn't mean that old sexist social systems are justified today, or that they were ever even necessary...but you need to understand the past in order to change the future. Sexism and oppression of women is not new. Sexism didn't just pop out of nowhere 3,000 years ago; it's too much of a coincidence that we see it's primitive roots in chimps, orangutans and gorillas. Sexism has been around longer than we have walking upright. Anthropology can't be blamed for what we learn about our past, because it is not trying to justify anything, only attempting to understand WHY sexism is SO difficult to eradicate even in the most progressive societies.

Once you understand the cause then you can address the problem and work towards a solution.

Andrea said:

Pasta - As I have an advanced degree in cultural anthropology, I don't really need the lesson. I think you misunderstand me. What I don't believe in--and what I think you'd be hard pressed to find in any anthropologist worth her salt who believes in it--is the particular idea of "progress" used to label certain societies as advanced and others as primitive (and therefore deserving of exploitation, etc.). Evolutionary anthropology is favored by people who want to essentialize a sexual division of labor and, by extension, gender roles. Read any feminist anthropology text since the 1970's and you'll see what I mean. You can't draw conclusions about what modern humans do based on what we think monkeys might have MAYBE done thousands of years ago. That's just ridiculously shoddy science. And that's what I mean when I say "evolutionary anthropology."

Pablo said:

I've always wondered why fish would be in a barrel and why a person would want to shoot them. However, since Audrey Nelson choose to confine herself in a barrel of ignorance, I loved the intelligent way you shot her down. (Who was the dweeb who paid her to write her drivel?)

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