By Selwyn Duke
A long time ago I read a short online piece about how women could get their men to put the toilet seat down. Inherent in it was the idea that this was an example of men’s lack of consideration and that the task at hand was one of disciplining these bad boys. I don’t know, my attitude is that if women can leave a toilet seat down, men can leave it up.
Of course, this is just a silly, pebble-in-the-shoe issue, but I see it as a metaphor for a modern phenomenon: The casting of women’s characteristic behaviors as the norm and men’s as dysfunctional deviations.
This is strikingly obvious with the topic of communication. Man has long known that women were the more loquacious sex, and you’ve probably heard of studies to this effect. A recent book states that women have about 20,000 “communication events” (I love these terms the psycho-babblers conjure up) a day, versus about 7,000 for men. But this is nothing new; who didn’t know a bevy of garrulous girls in school?
What is new is the assumption that this imputes superiority to women. “Communication” has become one of the buzzwords of modern psychology. And, whenever relationships are at issue – be it in a book, article, talk or interview – almost invariably an “expert” will inform us of two things. One is that women communicate more than men. The other is that an onus belongs on men as this “handicap” of theirs is an impediment to good relations. Why, men need to learn to communicate more and share their feelings, we’re told.
Did anyone ever think that maybe women communicate too darn much?
Don’t get me wrong, rhetorical license aside, I understand the importance of communication. What bothers me, though, is the knee-jerk assumption here that more is better, a conclusion that most of the same researchers take great pains to forestall when the issue is, oh, let’s say, the greater size of the male brain. But this is a principle of sex differences research: When men have more, more is less. When women have less, less is more.
And that’s it, more or less.
What seems to escape most is that this modern exaltation of the lip lies in stark contrast to what wisdom has taught since time immemorial. And the truth she imparts is obvious, which is why sayings encapsulating it abound: “Still waters run deep,” “Empty kettles make the most noise,” “Shallow brooks are noisy” and “There are two kinds of people who don't say much, those who are quiet and those who talk a lot.”
It’s why movies have always portrayed the strong, silent type who exhibits quiet fortitude as the most heroic of men. It’s why good writers value verbosity no more than good surgeons do bloodletting. Delicate operations warrant use of a fine scalpel, something small and sharp that punctures precisely – and cuts when necessary – not an implement bigger and blunter. And this is true whether you wish to get at the heart of a man or the heart of a matter: a precise surgical approach is usually preferable. Big, blunt things are better suited to bludgeoning.
To be quite blunt myself, yes, I subscribe to the traditional idea that women are chatterboxes and it’s not their best trait. Don’t get me wrong, we men have our faults as well. For instance, I absolutely cannot stand my brothers’ habit of channel-surfing, which I guess could be characterized as Chatting Finger Syndrome. But here’s the difference. Whether it’s this masculine foible or another, no one does intellectual contortions to cast it as a positive attribute. At best it’s seen as cute quirkiness, at worst as a defect of manliness.
Now, just imagine how it might be if incessant channel-surfing were a characteristic female behavior. It would only be a matter of time before some sickologists conducted a study and portrayed it as yet another example of feminine superiority. It would go something like this:
Channel-surfing is akin to speed-reading, not a function of a fault but indicative of a unique ability. Because women have more neural connections between the two hemispheres of the brain, they can process information faster, allowing them to absorb the substance and assess the value of a given program in mere seconds. Thus, while a man may perceive just a brief snapshot of seemingly unintelligible imagery and sound, his wife has already assimilated the program’s relevant information or ascertained it to be devoid of such. “She is anxious to read the next page while he is still on the first paragraph of the last,” said Dr. Delilah Emasculata of the Sex Differences Research and Proof That Women Are Better in Every Way So Just Shut-up and Take It Institute.
The truth is that both men and women should understand their sex’s characteristic frailties and, just as with any negative proclivity, seek to tame them. Hey, I always ask directions and I’m great at matching colors.
As for communication, I have some of the best advice you gals will ever hear. If you have something important to say, don’t embed it in an interminable stream-of-consciousness monologue between words 1129 and 1145 and expect the man in your life to absorb it. It’s not that he doesn’t care. He has his sanity to think about, you know.
My mother used to teach us that “Speech is silver, silence is golden.” I wouldn’t expect anyone to learn much while channel-surfing in fully automatic mode. Tongue-surfing isn’t much better.
Loquacity doesn’t denote sagacity.
Oh, and the toilet seat? I just don’t want to talk about it.