For women it’s the story of Me.
As I’ve mentioned in past essays, the communicative methods characteristic of each gender primarily stem from differences in both brain function and acculturation. Women tend to rely on emotive and experiential instincts to develop an opinion or belief; men tend to rely on deductive reasoning from generalized facts to specific premises to come to an opinion.
This then is reflected in either gender’s preferred method of communication – women in the nuanced and covert, men in the blunt and overt. Using this as a premise, I’m of the opinion that the vast majority of failings to come to what should be an easy, logical consensus among both genders is frustrated by each gender’s interpretation of a problem or a social issue.
From a male perspective there is an assumption that a well reasoned, well cited establishment of point will be understood and respected as fact for a general purpose of resolving a debate. Statistics, analysis, correlation of fact and connecting related ideas and information should all serve to make a cogent argument. This isn’t to say that men wont use personal experience to illustrate a point, but the purpose in doing so is rooted in making his example an easy to understand version of his reasoned perspective. For the greater part, men’s reasonings are derived from extrinsic sources, while using intrinsic sources to embellish or illustrate a specific premise.
Women on the other hand almost exclusively rely upon personal experience and anecdotal evidence to form a premise; only using extrinsic information to support their personal interpretations when the source agrees with that premise. The innate solipsism of women promotes a self-centric primary position as the beginning of forming a premise and then progresses to extrinsic sources for ancillary support.
Case in point: Careers and Marriage. This linked article is from a 2006 opinion piece published by Forbes Magazine. Bear in mind that this is roughly six years ago; well before the current ‘Man Up’ frenzy that the Hymowitz and Bollick’s articles inspired. As you read, notice the argumentative positions each author begins with. Michael Noer’s piece begins with a concise statement of premise and then followed by reasoned extrinsic data:
While everyone knows that marriage can be stressful, recent studies have found professional women are more likely to get divorced, more likely to cheat and less likely to have children. And if they do have kids, they are more likely to be unhappy about it. A recent study in Social Forces, a research journal, found that women–even those with a “feminist” outlook–are happier when their husband is the primary breadwinner.
Elizabeth Corcoran begins her counter opinion from her own personal perspective:
OK, call me a cougar. I’ve been working since the day I graduated from college 20-odd years ago. I have two grade-school-aged children. Work definitely takes up more than 35 hours a week for me. Thankfully, I do seem to make more than $30,000. All of which, according to Michael, should make me a wretched wife.
In spite of those dangerous statistics, my husband and I are about to celebrate our 18th wedding anniversary. You’ll see us snuggling at a mountain-winery concert this month, enjoying the occasion. I don’t think I’m all that unusual–so it seemed like a good time to test Michael’s grim assertions.
Peppy, sassy, and containing all the elements of indignation that women crave to hold their interest while wrapped in a personalization that puts women (her deliberate target readership), into an associative role. Essentially she’s inviting women to live vicariously through her exceptional experience to prove a counterpoint.
Many factors contribute to a stable marriage, including the marital status of your spouse’s parents (folks with divorced parents are significantly more likely to get divorced themselves), age at first marriage, race, religious beliefs and socio-economic status. And, of course, many working women are indeed happily and fruitfully married–it’s just that they are less likely to be so than nonworking women. And that, statistically speaking, is the rub
Here Michael reasons from statistical evidence and even makes a slight point of contrition to allow for exception to those statistics. Elizabeth then opts to redirect the debate:
The experts cited in his story think that professional women are more likely to get divorced, to cheat and to be grumpy about either having kids or not having them. But rather than rush to blame the woman, let’s not overlook the other key variable: What is the guy doing?
Note to guys: Start by going to the gym. Then try some new music. Or a book. Or a movie. Keep connected to the rest of the world. You’ll win–and so will your marriage.
It’s easy to see this as the shaming tactic it is, but it’s also an attempt to reframe the debate by focusing on what women always return to as preeminent in any debate – satisfying the feminine imperative. If Michael’s pont is in fact valid then the fault lies with men, not women. And how does a woman establish this premise? By casting herself and feminine primacy as the operative goal.
Nobel laureate Gary S. Becker argued that when the labor specialization in a marriage decreases–if, for example, both spouses have careers–the overall value of the marriage is lower for both partners because less of the total needed work is getting done, making life harder for both partners and divorce more likely. And, indeed, empirical studies have concluded just that.
Again, Michael provides expert witness to fortify his premise. Elizabeth continues with the story of Me:
For us, the list starts with taxes, vacation planning and investment management. My husband likes that stuff, and it leaves me yawning. Bless him for doing it. Give me the wireless Internet system, the garden or just about any routine home repairs, and I’m suddenly the savant. Tear us apart, and we’d both be pitiful idiots trying to learn unfamiliar routines.
Michael is right that longer work hours force two-career couples to try harder to clear out blocks of family time. When we do, though, we get to enjoy a lot more. We understand each other’s career jokes and frustrations. We’re better sounding boards on what to do next. And at dinner parties, we actually like to be seated at the same table.
Feel free to pick through the entire article, but you get the illustration here. Such as it is, I haven’t drawn attention to this to put women’s argumentative approach or opinion formation into a bad light. Rather I’ve done so to give Men a better perspective of what to expect when a difference of opinion arises. There is in fact some merit to calculating personal feelings and experiences into both sides of a debate. A feminine approach may help to buffer a man’s more cold understanding of fact, while a masculine rationalism serves to buffer women’s emotionalist perspective.
The problem with appreciating both of these approaches is that in the present feminine-centric environment we find ourselves in, feminine primacy takes precedent. A woman’s feelings and interpretations are the de facto correct ones, and statistical analysis or a more rational approach is an impediment to this. You’ll see this played out in any forum or blog comment thread in which there is disagreement between genders. For Men their position comes about by objective consensus and aggregate data; for women it’s the story of Me.