love out loud: can men and women understand each other?
For a very brief period some time ago, I enjoyed buying self-help books from op shops. I can’t remember why I did this, as I tend to avoid self-help sections for the most part (though this might just be my idealised self-image; upon reflection, I also used to go to Borders with a friend and leaf through self-help books together … upon further reflection, I am possibly entirely obsessed with them …) except where there is no gender section and books on feminism have been oddly filed under self-help. But anyway, one of my first purchases on an op shop expedition was the seminal Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus.
This book may well be the reason why my interest in this activity was so short-lived; I was fucking bored reading it.
Like many heteros who have had a bad experience with a member of the opposite sex, I have spent a substantial period of time bemoaning ‘whyyyyy are men so shit?’. In fact, the radical notion that women might be equally shit and I would never know it because I don’t date ladies has only occurred to me in the last couple of years. As much as MRAs love telling us feminists that we think all women are saints and all men are shithouse, I find it much easier to make generalisations under the broader umbrella of “people”.
See, I’m not actually convinced that men and women are all that different. Having heard figures that something like 97% of our DNA is identical to that of some species of apes, I’m led to think that the innate differences between men and women are actually pretty negligible (which is why I’m in the ‘gender differences are learned constructs’ camp). I think certain generalisations can be made about women being more nurturing, or men being more likely to get into bar fights, but I think this is because these are behaviours that have been positioned as acceptable for one gender but not the other.
So why do we invest so much in exploring these alleged gender differences then? Quite simply, because they’re interesting. Cordelia Fine has explored this with far greater expertise than I could in her book, Delusions of Gender (which I implore you to read), and she found that a lot of studies held up as definitively showing differences between men and women actually weren’t empirically sound or conclusive. And yet, we buy into them because thinking that your less-than-perfect relationship could be perfect if only you understood the other sex better is a more attractive notion than thinking you and your partner simply don’t get along that well.
If the idea that men and women have inherent differences that must be somehow worked through or negotiated held any weight, then wouldn’t logic also dictate that we get along perfectly with every person of our own sex? And if I, as someone who laments competition and does try to encourage feelings of sisterhood between females, still know a lot of women who I think are dickheads, then I suspect a lot of you reading this also know people of your own sex who you think are dickheads. It’s individual differences, not gender differences, that make you not get along with someone.
Sure, there are some differences that have evolved between men and women, but I don’t think most of these are all that applicable in modern society (like men generally being taller; hardly that useful a function in Western countries). But these things we like to call gender differences are, I think, mostly just learned.
If you and your partner aren’t getting along, it’s probably not because you’re a woman and he’s a man (or vice versa). It’s probably because you’re just not very compatible, or because one of you is a tool.
Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if men are from Mars or women are from Venus (whatever that means), because we’re all from Earth. And we’re all just as likely to be an arsehole as the next Earthling.
(Image credit: 1.)