Wednesday, 23 December 2009

How Not to Be One of the Boys 1

One of the great things about being a woman is that I can make gross generalities about women without getting into too much trouble. I get into a little more trouble when I make gross generalities about men, but happily there is always some kind male reader who writes "So true! LOL!"

Okay, so today I am going to be swimming in the ocean of hypothoses and gross generalizations, because I don't know where I read this opinion, which I saw written somewhere, and which I share because of life experience. And it is this: "Outside of school and work, don't compete with men."

Will there be screams of horror when I hit the "Publish Post" button? I hope not. But I fear there will be because we in the West live in societies that tell us to WIN! Win at all costs! Did you see the film Girlfight? I did. I watch all young-women-who-want-to-box films. And the heroine beats her boxing boyfriend in a match. He was mighty upset, which is believable, but he got over it, which kind of isn't.

Okay, I just stared at that line for five minutes because I'm struggling between memories of the Ring and memories of boys being ticked off because I beat them at stuff. I mean, I actually know a girl (see photo) whose boyfriend introduced her to our boxing club. He won the Golden Gloves (Michigan). But she won the WIBC Lightweight World Championship three times, lives in Las Vegas, is best friends with Laila Ali. I am not making this up. And I wonder if she and he are still together. Hmm.

Well, frankly, being a three-time WIBC Champ counts as work. If you're a world class female athlete, you're just going to be better than most men at your sport. And YAY you! That rocks. Being really good at stuff rocks. And, of course, you don't usually compete with men at your sport.

But let's leave that aside. Let us leave Las Vegas and ponder the men in our lives. I am pondering the boys of my elementary school, over whom I exulted because I was better than them at school stuff. Not surprising, they hated me. But I firmly and self-defeatingly held by the 1970s schoolyard taunt, "Anything boys can do girls can do better."

This statement is not actually true, except for stuff like reading and writing, delicate hand movements, high altitude flying and having babies. And girls do tend to perform better than boys do at school until the senior years of high school, when the boys catch up. But it was not nice to rub the boys' noses in it.

I carried on my "Anything boys can do girls can do better" schtick in high school, even though there weren't many boys around, because I thought it was saucy and flirtatious. Ah ha ha ha. It so didn't come across that way. And I thought it was perfectly appropriate to speak to my crush objects with hauteur when they did something I perceived of as wrong, and to mock them with gentle raillery. I now read my high school diaries and cringe. I want to get in there and sort me out.

I did rather better as an adult, for I had learned enough about young men to know that their egos are quite easily squished by female competition, sneers and mockery. And it sunk into my head that my mother's attitude toward my father was that he was a marvellous chap and the best of men. "Oh children," she says. "Look how clever your father is! He has done [whatever righteous deed]!" My own husband has profited from this because, without even thinking about it, I just parrot my mother: "Oh, B.A.! How clever! How brilliant! And thank you for taking out the garbage, you marvellous man."

This post is longer than I meant it to be. Sigh. To cut to the chase, when you are at school and at work, girls, show no mercy. Get in and win (in a classy way; try not to brag. Smile grimly and carry on. You are your greatest competition, etc). But in your private lives, don't insist on winning all the time. Don't brag about your salary and compare it to male friends' salaries. Don't brag about your snazzy college degree and compare it to male friends' more proletarian degrees. Don't brag about your long list of publications to that cute, struggling writer. Don't get the lid off the pickle jar a male friend has been straining at for ten minutes. Don't do a victory dance when you beat a man at tennis.

Men, says the woman whose book I read but can't remember the title of, have to compete all day at work. The last thing they want to do when they go home or go out with a woman is compete some more. They want soothing. They want to relax. They want to have fun. Sure, there are some men who love sparky arguments with their love objects. These men are few and live mostly in detective novels and on TV.

A note about your fantastic worldly success:

In general, men marry women who make less money than they do. This is, in part, because women seek men who make more money than they do. And if you are a woman at the top of the earning heap, this creates a very, very small pool of men, men who have no problem marrying women who earn much, much less than they. So bragging about your salary and Harvard degree may get you everywhere with recruiters but NOWHERE with eligible men.

The skills we use to get ahead in school are not the same skills we need to attract men. This is sad and annoying, but it is so. I know of a brain surgeon who talks to her artist husband in baby talk. It makes her sister sick, but the marriage is a very happy one. What are we to make of that?


aussie girl in australia said...

Oh Auntie Seraphic, I do this wrong every time!
A man brings up politics...or music......or religion....and I launch in with my opinions.
I argue and I win. I point out the flaws in his arguments. It is only after I have done this that I realise - oh no! I've just dominated and belittled this nice man and now he sees me as a raving harpy! By then it is too late.

I was raised to believe that my opinions were just as valid as anyone elses and that the person with the most logical argument is worthy of respect. This served me well in my school debating team but in relationships it doesn't work so well.
On the other hand, I cannot abide a liberal/left wing.

What is a girl to do?

Seraphic said...

Aussie Girl, I am feeling your pain. (I haven't left for the library yet, so I am feeling your pain right now.)

I used to argue with my PRIMO crush object about feminism. He thought it was anti-woman; I thought there were definite streams of pro-woman feminism. I struggled to win over both his mind and his heart with my impressive debating skills. Then one day, when a friend of mine accused him of being rude to girls, and he said he was always gracious to girls, she said, "What about Seraphic?" And he said, "Seraphic's not a GIRL girl."

Okay, like FIVE YEARS OF THERAPY for that one.

So my thoughts:

1. You probably wouldn't be happy with a lefty-lib man, but on the other hand he might have righty-trad friends. Say "You're cute and smart, but I'm totally opposed to all your political beliefs. Do you have any cute right-wing friends?"

I said something like this to fierce (and not lefty-lib) Aelianus, who suggested I meet his friend Benedict Ambrose.

2. Remember that although your debating skills are great for your debate team and for your future law and political careers, they are not good for winning men's hearts. To win a man's mind (if he doesn't already agree with you), you have to win his heart first. Yes, this sucks. Nature red in tooth and claw sucks too.

3. Be cunning. When a man launches in about his opinion about politics, music, art or whatever, say "Tell me more about that!" And wait until he asks "What do you think?" Or "What are you into?" If he never gets around to you, he might be a jerk, so no loss. But be he a jerk or a merely nervous guy who is beating himself up for not asking you what your favourite band is, he'll have had a chance to do his little courtship dance, which for men who don't have cars that go VROOM VROOM! is mostly showing off his opinions. And he will think you are a great listener. How men love great listeners. Sigh. Women love great listeners too, though. In our case, we often have to say, "Okay, now I need you to LISTEN."

Practise with a friend or a brother. Get him to say something you totally disagree with and say, "That's a bold opinion. Tell me more about that!" When he does say, "Wow! You obviously have thought about this. Why do you like X so much?"

One must be cunning as the serpent and mild as the dove, really.

But at work, hammer the foe. Hammer him! Hammer into the ground!

Seraphic said...

Incidentally, this "I need you to LISTEN" line is for men who already love you, like fathers, brothers and husbands.

Sheila said...

I've got to say, it's true about men preferring women who make less than they do. I always thought that was unfair. Now I realize that it is because my husband feels guilty for not "supporting me better," for "living off my income," etc., as well as saying, "what are we going to do when the baby comes and you quit work?" All valid concerns.

Seraphic said...

Once they are married, though, men should lump it and not complain, for fear of making their wives feel bad. There are different kids of support, after all. No woman should ever apologize for bringing home some of the bacon, even if it is the bigger part. If men want to make more money than their wives, then let them think how best to get a bigger salary. And patience in this is a virtue, especially during a recession.

Right now my husband makes more money than I do. But we are looking forward to the day when my ship comes in and I am selling books like hotcakes and buying him suits on Saville Row. All income is family income, no matter who's bringing it in.

Dominic Mary said...

Remember Virginia Wolff; married to a man who was in every way less succesful than she, she still loved him dearly, and wouldn't have swapped him for anyone - because he delighted her. Brains, cash, anything else . . . were all unimportant compared to that vital truth.

Also : who earns more can change; who is stronger can change; who is cleverer can change - in a couple, you rely on each other because (as the books says) you are 'one flesh', so it's no longer a competition between two different people, it's just YOU; the one of you, in two people.

If you can't cope with that vis-a-vis a particular person, then perhaps marrying isn't such a good idea.

Seraphic said...

Of course, one does not necessarily put it exactly the way I put it above to one's young husband. The husband who is feeling down about his earnings might not respond well to the "Now, look, I need you to listen" treatment. He might need the old "but I admire what you do so much" treatment or the "whatever would I do without you" treatment.

B.A. comes from a city where women were regularly chucked into the jute mills and took in laundry while the men drank and sat about singing, so he never grasped the 1950s American idea that men earn all the cash. Which will be lucky for both of us when I am grinning over a copy of my book on Christian TV and he is shopping at Whatsits.

Anonymous said...

I never found that my being argumentative put men off, though of course some may have been put off without my knowing it. Others can't have been, since they asked me for dates.

All the same, my argumentative streak created serious problems for me with men because once we actually started dating, I found that they enjoyed the dominance over me that my emotional investment in them had given them. It was as if they were saying to themselves, "you think you're so smart, but now you depend on me just like any other woman - and I'm going to use it like a whip over you."

Of course, I don't know if that's what they were really thinking, but it seemed that way. I came to think that either I had to find someone who really was equally skilled in debate, or else give up arguing altogether, ever. As I wasn't able to do the latter, I eventually managed the former. Which has been very nice for me. But I had to wait a long time, even longer than our Seraph.

p.s. Note that I say "equally skilled in debate", not "equally intelligent". I dated many intelligent men (and some who were less so), but most were simply not able to defend themselves in verbal sparring matches as well as I could.


Seraphic said...

Well, maybe I am unusually pacific, but at day's end I don't want to engage in verbal sparring matches at all. I want gentle chit-chat and concord. I want backup, as in "Well, too bad for them. Just send your manuscript back again." I want interesting information like, "The owner of the Historical House closed it up and escaped to England when Bonnie Prince Charlie was on his way to occupy Edinburgh." I even want gossip like, "X fancies Y; everyone is talking about it." I do not want "Lonergan was a woeful heretic" and "my mother's shortbread recipe is better than your mother's shortbread recipe".

Seraphic Spouse said...

Another men-and-salary comment:

Many men in the West are brought up believing that they and they alone are responsible for their family finances. And, in good economic circumstances, this is a noble impulse. Many women prefer to stay at home with their kids or would prefer to if the family could afford it. And many women, with less hardworking husbands, find themselves responsible for almost everything: buying the food AND cooking it. So I don't want to give the impression I'm down on male winners or make light of their feelings of inadequacy if they simply can't pay for everything themselves.

However, an unhappy, defensive man can make his hardworking wife feel bad or defensive just because she makes a better salary than his, and I would advise strongly against that.

Alex said...

First of all, I'm surprised no one has said anything about the boyfriend and girlfriend boxing against each other. I'm really not OK with that, at all. I'm fine with women boxing against each other, but the fact that the male boxers went along with the "gender-blind" system says something about them, and it's not positive. Yes, I know it is only a movie. But there is no way I'd ever throw a punch at a woman I loved (or even one I didn't for that matter) except strictly in self defense. And even then, I'd try to avoid it. It wouldn't matter if she said it was OK, or if she was able to defend herself, like Diana obviously was. I just wouldn't do it, period.

In regards to men competing against women in other situations, you have to remember that men essentially participate in competitions for some combination of the following reasons:

1. Because they have to in order to survive
2. Because they enjoy the activity
3. To impress women

At least for me (and maybe for other men too), what's bad about "getting beat by a girl" is not the losing in itself, but that I feel like the girl might find me less attractive because I couldn't beat her. Even if I know intellectually that this is silly, that's still how I feel. If she then does something to show me that's not the case, I'll feel a lot better.

Alisha said...

It sounds more like this post is saying "win, but be gracious". I think it can be dangerous if you hide your tendencies to verbally spar or ability to win arguments while dating because it will eventually come out anyway...besides, being able to defend oneself and one's opinions is not a fault - it's a blessing and a gift, since most people can do no more than repeat overused politically correct phrases which are essentially meaningless. I don't think we do anyone any favours if we allow them to stay at that level, either.
"The skills we use to get ahead in school are not the same skills we need to attract men."

But what if for some, that's all they have - i.e. ability to be verbally articulate, determination, perseverance, critical thinking, ambition? Those are all good things!

I think if men are worried that they won't be able to "provide" enough (monetarily or otherwise for women who are financially or in some other way better off) for the woman they care for, they should ASK her what she most needs and how they can best be her partner, instead of worrying about what he'd like to do...and women should do the same.
I had a male friend express to me recently that he was concerned I would feel our friendship was one sided - because I did most of the "giving" - esp in conversation. And he was right - there isn't much he can give me in the way of intellectual stimulation, spiritual support or emotional understanding. That's just how it is, because he doesn't share my faith, hasn't thought much about the things that occupy my mind, and will never get me, not being an artistic type of person. I'm not going to stop being myself so he can feel more at ease; no matter what, there will always be that kind of imbalance. But he can listen to me, and by doing so, he helps me become better at defending my point of view and coming up with analogies and stories. And in other friendships, I will be the one who is seemingly "unable to offer" anything to someone because of my age, lack of experience, education etc. And as a Christian, I can still try to be Christ to them...

Seraphic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Seraphic said...

Alisha, don't forget that you are writing from the perspective of a Serious Single, and if I may say so, a Serious Single who almost has to fight to stay that way because you are a very friendly, very attractive and very feminine-looking person. Plus you are a fantastic singer, which never hurts in the attractiveness sweepstakes.

Now, being a Serious Single gives you a lot of freedom. Because you want to dissuade, not attract, potential mates, you can be as argumentative as you want to be. You can push people. You can be a missionary to them. You can try to mould them into different people completely. You can be TOTALLY IN THEIR FACE! And why not? It might be good for them, and if they run screaming, well, too bad for them.

Another difference is that you are in theatre, and in theatre you have to build up close emotional relationships with the people--men and women--you perform with, creating a sort of temporary family for the duration of the show. This is not the situation of most people in most professions. So I will say, yes, absolutely in theatre, men and women can and must be friends.

But over 80% of readers here are Searching Singles. I am not denigrating their ability to hold their own in intellectual arguments or their ability to be competitive. I am telling them that there are times and places for these things. I was recently asked how a strong woman could avoid being seen as "one of the boys" and deciding to concentrate on listening and building relationships and less on winning intellectual victories over men in private life is, I believe, one important way to do that.

Seraphic said...

Alex, thank you very much for your man's-eye-view. Women often wonder how men think. The next step is REMEMBERING how men think!

It may come as a surprise to a woman to think that a man will think she will reject him seconds after she beats him at something, and so the man rejects her before she can reject him. But there it is.

Everybody repeat after me: "That's a strong opinion. Tell me more about that. That's a strong opinion. Tell me more about that."

And I put myself through this as a mental argument.

Man: I believe in a woman's right to choose.

Seraphic (thinks): BLEAEHAGHAH!

Seraphic (says): That's a strong opinion. Tell me about that.

Man: I don't think a woman should have to have a baby unless she wants one.

Seraphic: So you think the right to choose abortion is the way to prevent this.

Man: Yah. Don't you?

Seraphic: Well, in places like Dundee there are a lot of babies who are abused or killed, even though their mothers chose to have them, so I think the issue is more complicated.

Man: Hmm....

In a way this is still argumentative though not as argumentative as I'd want to be. If I felt less strongly that abortion is one of the worst symptoms of modern throwaway culture, I might be able to say something about him feeling compassionate towards women who get "into trouble." And on a level, I know that this is what he means: he's trying to say that he cares about women, that he's a safe guy to know. But his inability to grasp the humanity of unborn children would kind of overshadow that for me. So the best thing to do, to keep the conversation light, would be to subtley change the topic to something we can both agree on: child abuse and murder is foul. And maybe one day he'll make the connection that abortion, even though it currently seems compassionate to him, is child murder.

Alisha said...

Thanks for the reminder about the particularity of my situation :) In all seriousness though, when I was in a situation where I've wanted to attract men, I was the same...and I think, without going into too much detail, and those who showed interest simply demonstrated they were strong enough characters to deal with it and with me...I just wouldn't want to see any searching singles squelching some part of their personalities for a long period of time (I get taking it easy for the "first couple of meetings" being key), getting attached to someone and then later realizing that person is not strong enough for their convictions and personality...because THAT, even in friendship, is very hard.

Seraphic said...

Well, Alisha, squelching parts of our personality is the basis of civilisation. Many of the very poor of Britain have ceased to moderate their personalities in public and this has apparently led to epidemic drinking, public drunkenness, shocking rudeness and violence. Britain used to be famous for public order. Now it is not.

I regularly squelch parts of my personality in front of my parents, especially that part that uses Bad Words and makes sex jokes. (I love risque jokes, but I only tell them to close female friends and my long-suffering husband.) I similarly moderate my personality in front of children. And I squish most of my urge to complain and call men fatheads in front of my husband.

Likewise, I suppress the urge to fix people's English, unless teaching a class, even though I long to. At parties with strangers, I am unnaturally polite. And at Mass I sit solemnly with a black lace veil on my head, thus suppressing the outer radiance of my distractingly fetcing red hair.

In short, there are many, many occasions in which we do not, and should not, let it all hang out. First impressions count for a lot, and if we make good first impressions, we can start letting our hair down. I am not advocating men and women pretending to be something they are not. I am advocating them learning to listen to others' opinions and drawing out attractive people in friendly conversations instead of trying to score points over them in imaginary wars of wits.

Seraphic said...

Having read that over, I should say that it is not just the economically poor of Britain who indulge in public drunkenness and violence. People who make good money do that too. There is poverty and poverty, and although the economically poor of Britain seem to get by as far as housing, food and clothing goes, it would seem that that there is a new poverty of spirit. However, as I haven't been here that long, this opinion should be taken more as a hypothesis than a fact.

Seraphic said...

Oh, by the way, Alisha, now that I have been very argumentative myself, what do you mean by "strong enough"?

If what you mean is that some people don't want to be friends with someone because they have directly opposed views, I would not take that as a sign of weakness of character. It could just be a basic incompatibility.

Alisha said...

I think we have a different understanding of "squelching". :) I specified personality and not behaviour. Moderating one's behaviour - one's speech, for example, in some of the circumstances you describe - is only right and charitable. But suppressing one's personality (by that I mean the traits that naturally make up "me" - am I more wont to be open, demure, sweet, quick witted in speech, gentle, slow moving, fast paced, warm, aloof etc) is not desirable, and I think it can be deceptive. There's an implication that if we are totally ourselves and relaxed we will be drunk, belligerent, etc. If that is the case we should be working on changing our habits because we obviously have bad ones that have formed our character into that sort of person. Politeness and sobriety should be the norm when we as humans are properly ordered, not when we're squelched; moreover that sort of behaviour is not intrinsic to any personality. If there are aspects of our personality that tend to influence us to behave in ways that might not be ideal for beginning friendships, we should watch the behaviour, but not try to get rid of or suppress the trait influencing it. For example, a person who is passionate may have the tendency to fly off the handle in an argument. It is pointless to try to become a moderate easy going type of person when you are not one...the best you can do is try to see how your passion can be used to develop virtue: you could grow in such zeal for souls that you wouldn't want to ever say anything that could cause them to think badly of Christians, and therefore Christ, for example! If you are doing that your passion will still show, YOU will show. If you try to act as though you're not passionate, it's false and doesn't serve anyone, including God, who made you that way.
Public order and decency is a good thing - but it is not sufficient because it does not denote the presence of true might just mean we want everyone to think we're a-ok, while privately, we are utterly disordered: that sort of squelching is dishonest, and not healthy. Besides we are already squelched by a veneer of PCness that you know all too well and fight against yourself by being vocal against it. You could squelch that to keep the "peace", but you would be betraying yourself...

Alisha said...

It could be basic incompatibility (simply two very different sets of beliefs, values and priorities) but it also could be so due to a weakness on one person's part - where compatibility in terms of beliefs etc. actually do match. There are a great deal of people I've come across in life who are remarkably content to live on the surface in relationships of all kinds - they want things to be "nice" and don't like being confronted with themselves through another person who honestly holds up a mirror to them - not by pointing out their faults, necessarily - but just by that person living in a very real and honest way themselves. I see it at our restaurant all the time - we have a very "clean" and "joyful" environment - little bad language, a positive atmosphere...and some people, for whatever reason, can't stand it - joy is not "incompatible" with them because joy is meant for everyone, it's just that sometimes they are so broken that joy stings them.
A better example is the Gospel with the rich young man. He wanted to be good. In fact, I have a feeling that the observances he undertook with great seriousness were probably not much of a challenge for him though he was earnest about them - he was, maybe, what I would call "naturally virtuous". But Jesus showed him what would make him his best self, and that meant giving away the things that he identified his "self" with...and he went away sad. His turning away was saying "I don't want to live the way you want me to." Here the incompatibility was not because there was something wrong with the personality of the young man or with Christ, but because the young man had a weakness.
Some people are not strong enough to spend a lot of time around someone who talks in a way that some people can only get to after of hours of therapy. I'm not trying to be flippant here by any means. It shocks their system. (In case the "honesty" I'm talking about sounds like I'm saying really tough things all the time, that's not always the case. Sometimes "positive" honesty - letting a person know how much you appreciate them and that you see their beauty is just has difficult to deal with.) I recognize that I am also not "strong" enough for people who are leaps and bounds ahead of me in terms of spiritual maturity...(can you imagine if Theresa of Avila was alive and tried to have me as her confidante? My head would probably explode and she would be woefully disappointed)
I'm uncomfortable to be there because I feel there is nothing I can give and in those cases, I feel sad...but that's just the way it is...hopefully instead of going away, I can try to sit at their feet and learn, or learn from afar. And if the situation is the other way around I need to recognize that I cannot entrust my heart to a person who isn't strong/wise enough to carry it, but still be there in more of a mentor/older friend capacity to them.

Seraphic said...

Alisha, you are a jewel. But there is a strong difference between missionary work and attracting potential mates. Searching Singles want to know how to do the latter, so I am passing along ideas I hope will be helpful to them.

I am not in the missionary business. And anyway, the first thing we learn in ministry school is to LISTEN, not to preach.

Aristotle believed a friend's job was to exort his friend to goodness, but I had an Aristotelian try that on me, and eventually I wanted to cave his head in with a lamp.

There is a stock theme in P.G. Wodehouse that beautiful, intellectual, strong-minded women want to mould Bertie Wooster's character. They make him read Nietzsche and other philosophers. They discourage his cocktail drinking. They even encourage him to get rid of Jeeves. And Bertie, unsurprisingly, does his best to run away from them. Meanwhile, Bertie's Aunt Dahlia attributes the success of her marriage (in "The Feudal Spirit) to never trying to mould her husband Tom.

Finally, if people don't like the atmosphere of your restaurant, it might be because they find all the joy and clean-living intrusive and they just want to eat their breakfast in a much more subtle tranquility.

Alisha said...

Thank you :)
I'm not really sure what you mean by "missionary business" or what that refers to in my comments...
I'm not a missionary either but we both belong to the Catholic church and as Christians, part of our responsibility is to share the gospel...we don't do this solely by preaching, like you said, but we do it by being real, i.e. by being in Christ...and being real is attractive to potential mates - IF they are also real.
If they are not, they run away - like Bertie, who, though loveable, was a very emotionally immature character, as he was frequently engaged, (sometimes to several girls!) but would never actually commit and marry!
The types of things that you mention that the strong minded women did I'm not advocating, anyway. My concern is not with women trying to change men (which is not a good idea, I agree), but with men or women who try to be other than what they are just to attract a mate.
Obviously your Aristotelian friend went about exhorting you to goodness in an irritating way or you wouldn't have felt like that. Personally, I've also found it irritating if I've been exhorted to goodness at times when I'm not humble enough to desire correction...or when I've been emotionally worn out.
"Finally, if people don't like the atmosphere of your restaurant, it might be because they find all the joy and clean-living intrusive and they just want to eat their breakfast in a much more subtle tranquility."

Um, I meant a few employees that have come and gone, NOT the customers...but yes, if you want peace and quiet at Cora's it's best to come in before 8 am. And we have early bird specials at that time :)