Observations On Gender Communication ©

Michael Bell on communication

communicationI do a lot of listening to women talking in the gender language of the female, and I’m amazed as I observe how much access they have to their feelings.  How do they know so much about themselves I wonder as I listen with interest and admiration and  sometimes envy as these women soak their words in the inner worlds of their beings and speak them with fluidity and ease and confidence. I don’t know what my feelings are half the time, and if I did I wouldn’t bet a dime I’d be able to express them. Women seem to have an ability to communicate feelings with all their various gradations of nuance. Like in the picture above, women seem to know what they are about in ways I venture to say men just don’t know.

My observation is men are inexperienced when it comes to talking with feeling and about feelings. Men obeyed the social rules growing up as boys and never learned how to exhibit empathy or access the more gentle feelings. Men sit silent about how they feel. I’m a man and I don’t often feel exactly what’s going on inside. I feel anger, impatience and frustration too often, but those are not feelings. They’re automatic responses. I don’t know my inner world. I was never taught how to access my inner world. I remember this little league baseball game that happened when I was a kid. The game would decide which team won the pennant. I was pitching, and I was among the top pitchers, but we lost the game. I felt devastated and cried. Another baseball player saw my crying and yelled at me to stop, and that’s what I did, instantly, feeling embarrassed in front of everybody watching.  I broke a social rule that boys don’t cry, and that’s an example of how social environments mold people into what they become.  Boys are taught not to express feelings.  If the male gender doesn’t get family and social permission in childhood to express feelings they don’t learn how to express feelings.  I’m not a social scientist. I’m a gentleman with my own perspective making observations about the world the way he sees it. What I observe is that women live inside and share inner worlds with other women. Men live in the outside world of making mechanical adjustments to the environment. The landscape of creating and implementing blue prints for exterior projects is where men feel at home.  I recall a woman telling me her husband plays cards with his friends from time to time. She told me if she asks afterwards how they were feeling he says he doesn’t know. That’s the point. Men don’t talk about their feelings.

When I was in 6th and 7th grades, the girls sat on one side of the classroom and the boys on the other. The teacher would ask a question and almost every time the hands that shot up rose from the female side. I felt a little ticked. I knew my friends were smart and had good answers to these questions. I wanted the teacher and the class to know I had an answer but if I raised my hand I’d get colored by the boys with the subtle tint of appearing too feminine. I was aware of this but I’d raise my hand.  I wanted recognition for intelligence more than I feared being labeled a sissy.

Women are so much better at knowing and expressing their feelings than men that this divides the genders.  Women share feelings with other women while men gravitate towards comfortable discussions about outside events in politics or what’s in the news. When women gather informally they don’t talk about politics or history. They talk about the people in their lives and share sentiment about how they feel affected. Men are mostly only able to talk about the outside world. They don’t speak the language of women. Since the women’s movement began four decades ago, women have become engineers, attorneys, scientists and politicians. They know how to speak the language of men. It’s not their native tongue, but it is a second language. So women can talk about the outside world with both women and men and share their inner feelings with both genders. Men can talk scientific theory with both genders but they don’t know how to share feelings with either gender. I’m painting with loud colors and broad strokes, I know, but to me it’s like an elephant in the room. Women are entering combat units while men don’t know how to express tender feelings and empathy.

How and when are men going to learn to speak in at least a rudimentary way the language of women?  How are men going to acquire the nurturing and empathy characteristics women have that allow them to feel and share who they are. How are men going to deepen communication with women if the feminine aspect is so thwarted it doesn’t gets discovered in the first place.   

Men are starting to learn. I think it’s helping that homosexuality isn’t hidden in our society like it was in the heyday of the Greatest Generation. There’s less peer pressure to act in the Marlboro man way that blocks access to feelings. Men are starting to learn by osmosis because they are realizing they need to know. The women in their lives are making a demand of it.

  photo by shinazy

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18 Responses to Observations On Gender Communication ©

  1. I want to introduce you to a new BOBB writer, Michael Bell. I meet Michael at a writer’s gathering and I like how he put words together. In his first story for BOBB he is expressing his thoughts on a topic we’ve all discuss. Enjoy!
    ~ shinazy

  2. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    Michael– You so poignantly express the dilemma of not accessing our feelings… Thank you! — mms

  3. Hey Michael – Glad to see you on BOBB! You know I enjoy your writing and your personal insights. You go, guy!

  4. Well, I noted some strangeness in this story. While telling us about the mentality of men (or boys or guys), Michael says men do not express, or avoid expressing themselves. Toward the end of the story, he says men are now becoming more expressive and then suddenly delves into the topic of homosexuality. “Men are starting to learn. I think it’s helping that homosexuality isn’t hidden in our society like it was in the heyday of the Greatest Generation.” Well, being homosexual has nothing specific to do with men, a woman too can be a homosexual. Is talking about this really something about gender specific expressionism from a masculine viewpoint? I feel house husbands are far more expressionist, since they are challenging social stereotypes day in and day out. Guys who wear earrings, armlets, etc. are also challenging gender stereotypes. And as far as homosexuality is concerned, men and women should both be frank about it, because it is not a gender specific orientation or trait.
    Finally, I couldn’t grab the substance of this story. If somebody posts a comment explaining the point of this story more clearly then I will be very glad. And as far as someone appreciates women about their ability to talk about feelings, I am happy and proud. I think women are better than men in lot many things. With the lapse of time, women would adorn more and more important and critical posts.

  5. Hi Michael – There has been a lot of research into the social phenomenon you are describing, the term is Emotional Intelligence and if you google it you’ll find a lot of interesting information. In actuality the very terms you used to describe the gender communication guff – that women have learned to speak the language of men but that men have not learned to speak the language of women – are part of the problem. The social conditioning each generation is subjected to regarding gender roles and permitted behaviors is at the root of most of humanity’s darkest moments. Language is standard for all human beings using it, what differs are the inference and innuendo that become socially attached to the words, and the areas of interest that any given human develops. In a sense we develop “communication groups” that may be oriented to our professional or leisure activities. Categorization however usually leads to prejudice rather than improving understanding. Perhaps the fear factor lies in that if as humans we learn to embrace the unique nature of our selves as well as every individual and situation then it would become impossible to control and direct the attention of population masses with the same ease. Take a moment to stop and think about who/what interests would be threatened by the inability to generalize, label, categorize and thus control populations?

  6. Thanks Malati…It’s a universal problem isn’t it? I’d say it’s a part of our human condition, but for the male gender particularly so. This woman studied gender communication differences extensively. I recommend her book…. “You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation,” by Deborah Tannen.

  7. @ Len, Thanks. You were the guy who suggested I start a blog about going to Ecuador. It’s been so great for me and the improvement in my writing to have done so. Practice may not make perfect, but it sure does make better.

  8. @ Shinazy. Thanks much. I really got into a feeling when writing this content. In a way, it was all just me-speaking. I think the concept is a great idea. Who doesn’t want to me-speak?

  9. @ Arghya, thanks for your feedback on the story— it has generated thought and reflection from my side of the street.
    I realize the orientation of homosexuality exists in both genders, so what you point out is true. But within the context of the story, it isn’t as true. The on going social and legal liberations of homosexual men and women, as well as bi-sexual men and women, are in my view a great aid to the deepening of feeling based communication in general. I’m thinking gays (homosexual men) are particularly helpful in this regard since they help straight men to realize it’s okay to be gay. When I’m talking, when I say “gay” I mean a homosexual or bi-sexual man. When I say “lesbian” I mean a homosexual or bi-sexual woman. The gay and lesbian community is composed of homosexual men and women. That’s the page I’m on.
    You ask if these observations are from a masculine viewpoint. I’m masculine, so the answer to your question is yes.
    I’m taking a look at your sentence…”…as far as homosexuality is concerned, men and women should both be frank about it, because it is not a gender specific orientation or trait.” Homosexuality isn’t a gender specific orientation, but that has nothing to do with the expression of it. In my view, in a perfect world, individuals would feel free to behave like they are without social pressure to act in either ways that challenge social stereotypes or in ways that do not challenge social stereotypes.

    • Arghya, I think Michael’s story is expressing, from his point of view and personal experience, how certain aspects of communication can be a challenge in relationships, and he uses the language that he was taught to do so.
      When I was living in West Hollywood all of my neighbors were gay, they would tease me and call me the “pansexual” and I would pretend to be hurt and insist that I never dated out of my species.
      Genitals are fun to play with, so long as all involved are consenting adults of the same species and the games are played with mutual tenderness and respect. I could call my self Bi-sexual in that I found myself attracted to women on many levels as often as I did with men.
      My ultimate choice of a life partner however was not based on whether they had an “inny” or an “outy” between their legs but on how many different levels we were able to communicate sincerely. I wouldn’t say I restricted myself to gender exclusivity in my quest for love and companionship – it was always about finding someone who had accepted them self as they were so I could be comfortable being myself with them.
      I have been present when close friends, male and female, “came out” to their families, and was always honored to support them in sharing what they had understood about themselves. It never changed the way I saw them though when they revealed their orientation. The same qualities that made me appreciate them in the first place were still there.
      Homosexual, bi-sexual, gay, lesbian – those words are labels that indicate certain manners of behavior – they give no guarantee that the individual wearing the label, be it proudly or not, is compassionate, sensitive, intelligent, tolerant. We are all human, if we manage to act like it we’ll all be a lot happier and healthier!

  10. Hi Victoria, Emotional Intelligence…I’d like to develop a higher IQ in that area. Thanks for your comment and the insights you have shared about social conditioning, language and communication groups. I agree the natural urge of people to aggregate into tribes or groups can decrease understanding. I’m enthusiastic to read your comment. I agree there probably is no better personal goal than to develop one’s unique nature. I see what you mean about how developing individualism hurts the interests of those who benefit by labeling, but just as the internet is making it difficult for the Chinese government to monopolize the thoughts of the Chinese people, so do I think the internet is making it easier to spread the ideas of different people in a common forum dedicated to understanding. I have a personal interest in the utilization of an internet resource that enables people to debate issues, learn from one another and enjoy the company of one another. In my view, as a whole it’s the color and variety to people that gives to life its flavor and its spice.

    • You are very right Michael, the internet is applied chaos. So vast and in constant flux that it is essentially impossible to control. If we believe that all conscious human beings have the capacity to acknowledge truth then there is nothing to fear. The only caution is that unfortunately there are many people out there who seem bent on imposing their misery on others and/or are intent on finding ways to exploit the enthusiasm and good will of others. Responsibility and integrity are such key factors – if only they were innate to all.

  11. There are many paths to truth. Some explore more than one path.
    ~ shinazy

  12. Very interesting to read a male’s account on the feelings and communication “habits” of women. I definitely think that there are some men who are good at conveying their feelings, and there are some women who aren’t so great at it.
    Great picture! ~ DJ

  13. de Sade was a vastly misunderstood and incredibly erudite social commentator at his time. His peers were so furious about his revealing their behavior that they put him in prison (now that is harsh criticism). Today he is misunderstood because so many schlocks released “abridged” versions of his works in the 60’s and 70’s – publishing them as porn.

    Do also most assertively agree Alan that the right to say “No” should be unalienable.

  14. Malati Marlene Shinazy

    I’ve been observing the conversations Michael’s writing precipitated. I’ve read statements that have started to emerge in the work place, statements that can open the door to authentic, respectful and much needed dialogue. Phrases such as, “I don’t understand.” “In my view,” and “learning from one another” … Thanks to each of you who took the time to comment on Michael’s writing. — mms (sister of BOBB publisher, shinazy)

  15. Michael, I found your remarks especially interesting since I’ve spent the past eighteen months working on a novel that required me to get inside the head of a male character of a type I would normally avoid. The men I know well and interact with voluntarily are those who have learned to be at least somewhat sensitive and expressive. The character in the book whose thought processes were so hard for me to write was very much as you described–unable to relate to the women in his life except at the most superficial level, largely out of touch with his own feelings, let alone anyone else’s. Getting into his head took a major “method acting” approach and I really hated the results: I believe I did finally get his thinking down on the page, but what a depressingly shallow world that man lives in! It’s hard for me to understand why any man of reasonable intelligence would settle for such an emotionally void life.
    You’re to be commended for looking inward and seeing the flaws in the culture that cuts boys off from their own emotional realities and stifles the natural impulse to relate to others openly and at a deeper level.

    • Hi Judyth,

      When you were a kid, I bet you lifted a rock off the ground and saw all the creepy, crawly worms and insects under it. That rock I think is the cover society teaches men to put over their feelings so they don’t learn how to deal with all the creepy crawly stuff–the stuff which in fact is the feelings, the insides, the underneath that supplies the world of women with its rich value and to which they pretty much have unfettered access. I try to see a glass half full. I painted a certain picture in ‘Observations…’ and I see it that way. I do wish I had had more social and familial permission to be myself when a child and teenager and to this day struggle with inner feelings and their expression. I also enjoy the outside world of politics, news, government and all of that which has traditionally been available to men and not to women throughout most of human history. So it’s not so bad living in a man’s world. It truly can be interesting to live inside the head. As for women, thanks for just being good women. Maybe women don’t know how needed and appreciated they are by men because of their natural empathy and sensuality. Kudos to boomer women as well who started the women’s movement. Maybe if Title 9 had not passed many women would not know how fun it is to play baseball, which has little to do with expressing creepy crawly feelings and a lot to do with practice and readiness for the unexpected. A woman friend commented to me after reading ‘observations’ that she has in words of her own, a respect or a wish she could be more like men because in general men have better ability than women to focus on specifics while all hell is breaking loose around them. It can’t be denied. The Amazon female warrior is the exception. I think there is purposeful design in the way men and women have been created. It’s just we as mistake makers–as creatures suffering the human condition— I guess tilt to extremes. What woman in the stands in the arena in Rome cheered the gladiator who didn’t put on a good show?