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June 25, 2004

Two Kinds of Guys, Cont.

Dear Vanessa --

I hope I'll be forgiven for promoting a comment I put on your "Two Kinds of Guys" posting to a posting of its own. I was feeling pretty pleased with myself when I finished writing it, so I can't resist. I urge visitors to read Vanessa's posting here, and its interesting comment thread as well.

Here goes.

Well, during the few free moments when I'm not fighting off attempts by starlets and ballerinas to force me to accept blowjobs ...

I do feel for American women, fed up with them though I often get. And I'm with Todd about 50% of the way -- it's necessary to laugh at people like Naomi Wolf, who complain about feeling traumatized by Seventeen magazine. Hey, life's tough. (Naomi Wolf needs to be laughed at for lots of reasons.)

But Vanessa's raising an important point, it seems to me. To some extent, in the straight world, men are the audience for women (and women for men). And if you're faced with an unresponsive or uninterested audience, it can drive you nutty.

There's something about America that leads many guys to abandon the whole seeking-the-poetry-in-women thing and to just hunt or fish or watch sports instead, while expecting to have (or hoping to have) a sexy sympathetic woman around to take care of all that woman stuff guys need taken care of.

Where's the appreciation for who and what a woman is? For the gifts, beauties, and talents that she brings with her? For the unique and delightful package of qualities that she is? For, in some cases anyway, her feelings and intuitiveness, as well as her way with emotions, organic and domestic and romantic things? Women (some, anyway) are color, mystery, poetry, changeability; they have access to cool and slippery realms of experience and being, which is great in and of itself, and that most guys can't get to left to their own devices.

If a gal doesn't feel some recognition of all this and some appreciation for it, it doesn't surprise me that she'd feel a little nuts.

To reverse the sex roles: many nice straight guys in NYC are driven nuts by the self-centered, highstrung women here. Why? Because many of these gals are interested only in themselves and their own needs and fantasies -- getting into the right party, landing someone with tons of dough, showing off, being photographed, having tantrums at work, etc. The "guy" in such a life is just another (if necessary) accessory. (There are nice gals around, etc, but the Manhattan media-and-culture world is remarkably full of highstrung self-centered women ....) And this makes many perfectly decent guys feel really blue. Where's the genuine admiration for their good qualities? Where's the fond amusement at their follies, and their humor and energy? Where's the loving appreciation for their generosity and efforts? John O'Hara somewhere or other was writing about these women when he said something like "They aren't lesbians but they don't like men." And many of them don't, they just don't. They see what a man considers good about himself -- typically energy, ideas, resilience -- as something to put up with, or to be scolded into meek submission. And it drives many guys nuts. They don't feel recognized and they don't feel appreciated.

Anyway, a consequence is that many American women often feel frustrated, and seldom feel loved. (I mean, women'll whine and gab and kill you with their needs and chatter even when they're "fulfilled," god knows. But the additional frustration of feeling unloved and unappreciated for who and what they are seems to make many of them frantic or punitive or nuts -- to drive them to politicize it all, or to de-sexualize themselves, or to act out maliciously, or to get depressive and drag others down with them, etc.) But they want a guy anyway, so they find themselves having to play roles that aren't them. Here we've got this big, open, free country, yet we've only got a couple of desirable-woman archetypes: minx, nice girl, Maxim cheerleader, etc. Which is absurd.

The "France" experience for American gals used to be (no idea if it still is) the discovery of a culture where women and women's experiences are considered fascinating per se, and where the appreciation of women (almost like the appreciation of food or wine) for their own distinctive qualities is considered ... I dunno, desirable, fun, transfixing, etc. Really, it's considered an almost religious calling -- a sacred experience, if also a sexy one.

Very common for an American girl to go to France feeling bad about herself and unloved (because she's got a big ass, or a big nose, or is too tall, or whatever), and in France to awake to discover that she's being loved and pursued for exactly those aspects of herself that in the States she felt bad about. It can be a transformative experience for a girl. Jerry Hall, Mick Jagger's gal, was one of many such. In the States she was considered a weirdo -- big nose, small-busted, goofy-temperamented, gangly, too tall. She went to France, and the French (all those 5'5" guys, remember) fell all over themselves loving her. They loved what she'd always felt was her oddness; what had made her a loser was suddenly what was making her a winner. The unsurprising consequence was that she blossomed. She developed confidence and got a chance to move into and inhabit what she in fact is. (Hey, I loved her semi-trashy memoir, Tall Tales, buyable here. Smart, campily funny, sweet and unpretentious -- very likable and down-to-earth.)

Something that's hyper-evident in France, or once was anyway, is that there are many, many different types of women there, and nearly all of them are found desirable. They aren't all striving to be Maxim babes or cheerleaders. Since "woman" per se is considered desirable and mysterious (that's the starting point), each specific woman is considered a fascinating manifestation of that mystery. They're all found fascinating, each in a different way -- and they all get to feel that they're fascinating, and on a fairly-regular basis. Interesting to note that American-style doctrinaire-political hyper-feminism never took hold in France, isn't it? Interesting as well the way women in France flourish in a culture that's really pretty rigid, at least by American standards. They aren't imagining that they'll Become Themselves by being Set Free.

Is it our Puritanism that does it to us? Or is it our individualism? Both? I mean, we're all free to go be ourselves, and we all feel under an urgent obligation to express who we are. But who the hell knows who we are? So we flounder and grasp at straws instead, and hope no one notices, and hope we manage to get laid and land a mate anyway, somehow, god only knows how.

The brains-and-gals thing is interesting, no? It does seem hard for bright, idea-centric guys to find gals they can talk with. Maybe it's a mistake to go looking for a gal who likes to talk ideas -- there just don't seem to be many. Maybe that's not what gals are generally for. In fact, I know a number of bright arty idea guys who married arty women clearly hoping that they'd have great arty-idea conversations together, and who wound up frustrated and feeling blue about it. Their women finally just don't want to do it.

I'm a lucky one -- The Wife has tons of mental horsepower. But even so I have to manhandle her into having idea-conversations. She just isn't drawn to such discussions. Her idea of a conversation is to discuss people, relationships, motives, what someone's up to, pulling people's characters apart, etc. For me to get a bit of what I'm looking for takes labor. I've got to announce loudly that we're about to discuss what's on my mind -- and even then she'll tend to respond by addressing subtext and emotions. So I've got to steer her firmly onto the "let's discuss the actual substance of these ideas" path. Finally, she'll do it -- she's in fact great at it -- but she always gives me those "I'm doing you a favor" looks. Talking ideas is nothing she'd ever choose to do -- I'm meant to understand that I owe her one. By her lights, the "normal" thing is for me to sit there nodding my head and seeming fascinated while she talks for hours about relationships and feelings. Anything else is her really extending herself for my sake. I get the idea-and-art-discussions I crave, but I have to pay for 'em. And I'm one of the lucky ones -- a guy who's got a wife he can actually talk to about what's on his mind. Every now and then, anyway.

I exaggerate, but not by too much.

Anyway: ain't it interesting that stuff like art and poetry and such are in America so often considered "gay" interests? That isn't true in many cultures. How'd it come to be true here? It's not as if we're so all-fired macho. And, come to think of it, macho isn't a synonym for "no poetry, please." Italian guys, for instance, are often supermacho as well as eloquent (and demanding) on aesthetic matters -- food, fabrics, haircuts, opera. It's not a pussy thing to pay attention to such topics for an Italian guy; it'd be a pussier thing not to care about them.

And why doesn't someone do a study of the mating patterns of geek guys? As far as I can tell, they like having a woman, they like having a house, they often like having a family. However much they adore cyberpunk shoot-em-up fantasies, they're often very domestic guys at heart. But since they find the "shopping for a mate" thing an excruciating experience, they often wind up settling down with the first gal who'll have them. Then, what with the woman-and-house thing taken care of, the geek guy goes back to the business of being a geek, only to awaken ten years later to learn, with amazement, that his wife's just left him. She was unfulfilled -- who knew?




posted by Michael at June 25, 2004


Well, in that case, gather 'round, boys! I am one of those idea-talkin' women. Could this be why the majority of my friends are men? It didn't occur to me until reading this post that I can't talk about these things (like philosophy, politics, art) with any of my female friends - at least, not to the same satisfying ends I reach with men. But it isn't as if I have men swarming around me, either (which I'm sure my boyfriend appreciates); I find that the percentage of men who can hold their own in these conversations to be much smaller than Michael's post would suggest - particularly among men under 40 - and the rest of the men scatter.

Annette, JC, any other women who comment here - have you had similar experiences?

Posted by: Dente on June 25, 2004 1:05 PM

Maybe we should develop a 2Blowhards dating service, putting irreverent, independent-minded arty-idea types in touch with each other ...

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 25, 2004 1:11 PM

Excellent series of posts (as usual). Rather than post a long comment here, I'm going to copy Michael and elevate mine to a blog post as well, that being my prerogative as a fellow blogger. If you'll permit a little blog-whoring, here's the link:

Posted by: mallarme on June 25, 2004 1:25 PM

In the era before we-weren't-allowed-to-talk-about-such-things it was generally agreed that women, with rare exceptions, were not conceptual/general/abstract thinkers. Lest everyone jump down my throat about this, in the deep dark days before "liberation," those evil patriarchal times, there was general agreement about woman's brightness, sharpness, wit. But that she was quickly bored by theorizing was remarked upon.
This is now a verboten truth. But it remains true, nevertheless.
Okay, flame away.

Posted by: ricpic on June 25, 2004 1:30 PM

There is beautiful song that's summarize what I think on the topic perfectly; it's in and out of my mental player for about two weeks now. Pity, you don't understand Russian and - I checked- there is no decent translation of this particular lyrics on the net.
I'll try to work on it and if it will be comprehensible, put it in comments - and link to the sound - later.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 25, 2004 2:15 PM

"...many of these gals [NYC gals] are interested only in themselves and their own needs and fantasies -- ..., land someone with tons of dough,..."

If a woman wants to marry a wealthy man doesn't she at least, during the courtship period, have to create the illusion in the man that he is at the center of her life? After all, if a rich man is going to take the considerable financial risk incurred in marrying doesn't he have to see himself as something more than just one of several daily distractions?
I mean, I'm really anxious about these gals...heh heh.

Posted by: ricpic on June 25, 2004 2:26 PM

Oh, come on. I'm married and definitely the heavy-thinker in this coupling. My husband tends toward convoluted relationships, long phone chats, biographies and espionage novels, and tailored clothes. Just yesterday, I attempted to engage him in a conversation about a book (for the record, "Nobrow" by John Seabrook), and got impatient sighs, furtive glances toward the television, and a strange eating behavior which involved repeatedly pushing little pieces of food around his plate with his fork.

I know a few other women who are in my shoes.

We smile when discussing our silly husbands.
We have multiple advanced degrees.
We shun the academy , though a few of us write under assumed names.
We have children.
We discuss ideas among ourselves and edit each others work.

And we laugh all the way to the bank.

Posted by: Kris on June 25, 2004 3:09 PM

I see by the direction this comments turn that I should post my attempted translation in earlier tread; I'm putting it to the Slow' comments.

Posted by: Tatyana on June 25, 2004 3:29 PM

I don't buy that "oh I was just such a gangly misfit" line. (Ms. Hall: "In the States she was considered a weirdo -- big nose, small-busted, goofy-temperamented, gangly, too tall.") One finds that a quick glance through the now hot model's old high school yearbooks reveals quite another picture. And what the heck is "goofy-temperamented"?

Re the long-suffering Mrs. Blowhard -not that I'm accusing you of anything, M. Blowhard - I have often found that men are bullying in conversation. Social science findings back this up. When conversation transcripts are reviewed with no clues as to the sex of speakers, itseems clear that men ignore other's, especially women's, remarks both fact and opinion; interrupt more often; ignore information countering their premise; etc. etc.

I do not know what the social sciences say about this, but my personal experience indicates many women, myself included, initially assume that men are more interested in showing off and fluffing their feathers than engaging in conversation. And you brutes tend to miss meaningful qualifiers and subtle points. This might - just might, that's all I'm saying - explain your frustration with "addressing subtext and emotions."

Excellent points about those horrible men-hating females. It seems to me that very often, especially with women, that people are so… I don't know what they are. Something has happened the prevents or gets in the way of their making connections with other people so they just lurch around like angry toddlers. While I know plenty of men who are men's men without being pathologically shallow, I've never met one of those women who had an ounce of compassion for any living thing. Perhaps others have different tales to tell.

Gentle souls who've become too bruised and timid to participate in the mating game are another case.

Most of men friends - unless my memory lies and it just might - have always been fair and reasonable conversationalist with both sexes, at least in social situations. Perhaps that's why I selected them to be my friends or perhaps I'm just lucky. Or just imagining that my friends are better than the average hairless ape.

FWIW, I found that men become harder to get along with as they get older. It's as if ignorance was the reason for their easy-going youth. Once they wake up to the fact the life is serious, they fall into a pissed-off panic. Women are the opposite. After keeping a kid or two alive for a few years or having a couple of jobs, members of my sex realize they can probably handle most of what life throws at them and relax. Have I mentioned this before? Anyway, Dente, I've found that women with a certain amount of experience are just as able to discuss newsworthy events of the day and art and whathaveyou as men or sex-changing nematoads or carnival freaks...

Posted by: j.c. on June 25, 2004 4:57 PM

Ricpic - You daring thing, you!

Kris -- Good for you, and especially good for you for turning your love of ideas into something financially rewarding, whatever that is. I love having a few ideas myself, and being able to have fun with them. But making money with them has always eluded me. Actually, the prospect of doing anything practical at all tends to kill my sense of fun, and once my sense of fun goes so do my ideas. Sigh. Do you really find, though, that there are as many women as men determined to talk ideas? God bless the gals who enjoy the sport, but I've never found there to be anything like as many women as guys who love the batting-ideas-around process. No value judgments here, by the way, and granted that guys can be a major pain in the butt. Just a report on life as I've encountered it. The blogosphere's an example: nine-tenths of the guybloggers gab about politics, war, philosophy and law, while many of the galbloggers talk about cooking and personal life.

J.C. -- You may be right about Jerry Hall, but I've met a number of models who've told me similar stories. (Being considered weirdos in high school, etc.) Perhaps they're all lying. But perhaps in many high schools it just genuinely isn't as desirable to be boney, skinny and tall with unusual features as it is to be curvy and conventionally pretty. Although given how pervasive media imagery is these days, I wonder if that's changed some.

And granted everything you're saying about guys (bullying, showing off, etc), have you really found women to be as interested in the "ideas" end of things as many guys are? Many exceptions allowed for, of course. If so, then so be it, and I hearya. But boy has that not been my experience, or the experience of many arty-ideas guys of my acquaintance. It's quite a common topic of conversation among us arty-idea males: how hard it is to find gals you can talk with about these things. You can find gals who will feign interst or show sympathy or who'll say they think your brain is pretty cool. But the ones who are genuinely on semi-the-same-wavelength? They seem mighty few and far between. When I finally found one (not until I was 36, by the way, and after a lot of prowling around), I snagged her and married her. Wasn't about to let that one get away.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 25, 2004 5:35 PM

Now to nudge this discussion from a different angle...

Another observation/cliche/whatever about women from the olden days ricpic alludes to had it that it is women who are generally the more practical of the sexes.

The reasons given at the time had to do with the fact that men were the breadwinners and women had to choose their own breadwinner wisely. Practicality, therefore, was a reaction to social conditions, if that hypothesis held true.

So if Mme Blowhard doesn't care much for talking artsy theory and prefers to think about everyday life things such as interpersonal relationships and character, doesn't that make her more practical than M. Blowhard? And thus the hypothesis that indeed women are more practical then men is validated.

Well, just a thought, anyway.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on June 25, 2004 8:23 PM

I want to (very briefly, I'm on my way out the door) offer a different perspective. Maybe the problem isn't the difficulty that intellectual males have in finding complete fulfillment in a mate - maybe the problem is the idea of searching for complete fulfillment in any one person, and the problem is only amplified for intellectuals because we also tend to be romantics and are more likely to subscribe to the idea. I sense that most (at the risk of sounding condescending) "regular folks" have a slightly less grandiose view of what a relationship can/should be, and are perhaps less picky in choosing a mate because they envision themselves looking to their spouses for some kinds of satisfaction, and to other people for other sorts of satisfaction. Not that I'm not also searching high and low for an intellectual girl with whom to hit it off and make babies, but does this inherently make any more sense than a sports fanatic specifically looking for a girl who shares those interests, rather than acknowledging from the outset that he'll spend certain Sundays with his buddies on the couch?

Posted by: sleepnotwork on June 25, 2004 8:30 PM

Definitely my experience that women don't talk ideas. And maybe they think they do, but their idea of what that means is different from mine. I also definitely agree with the point that we brutes miss meaningful qualifiers and subtle points, at least on my own behalf. I miss little things all the time in speech. At least with writing you can look it over again and see if you've missed something.

Posted by: . on June 26, 2004 12:00 AM

Well, no one could ever accuse you of not stirring the pot, MvB. After a delicate sprinkling of saffron, of course.

Does anybody besides me feel the urge to lay your head down and just take a little nap? All this striving to define and label and categorize. No wonder so many people don't feel comfortable in their own skin, and find so many ways to contort themselves into positions others might possibly find appealing.

I honestly could care less about fabrics and haircuts, but food and books and architecture fascinate me (poetry not so much). I love planting a scrumptious fly in front of Mr. Bass while the mist is still coming off the river at dawn, and I would like to be able to capture the uniqueness of that same dawn breaking over that same mist in oils or on film. The intricacies of great literature can absorb me for entire days, but then so can the perfect seasoning on cast iron dutch ovens or the ins and outs of tournament poker.

None of which has anything to do with artsy guys finding artsy gals. So -- Joe Sixpack over and out.

Posted by: Scott Chaffin on June 26, 2004 12:08 AM

Michael -- I misspoke. Or miswrote. I make very little money. Thankfully, the un-intellectual guy to whom I'm married -- who fits your stereotypical "female" profile -- makes a pile, so I'm free to pursue my interests.

I hear your complaint, though, about women uninterested in ideas. I used to think that women with little children would be as starved for intellectual stimulation as I was, but found few who wanted to talk about anything deeper than potty training or stretch marks. As my kids got a bit older, I hoped that other, slightly older women would be freed from mundane, hearth-and-home topics. Alas, it never happened. Only recently, in my early 40s, have I found a small group of artsy, intelligent women. About a third are childless. Another third have kids in college or out of the home. The two or three who are my age, with kids at home, struggle to make time for ideas. But we crave each other precisely because our male spouses are so unwilling to think deeply.

I've noticed that women gravitate toward more personal topics. They speak in the first-person more easily than men who distance themselves. Men talk big and think little. They quickly discuss politics, for example, while keeping the topic at an emotional arm-length. THis makes it less potent and, frankly, less deep. Conversations never touch ground because they can't seem to cast their intellectual net wide enough to catch their own ideas. And so their ideas stay "out there" in some Platonic sense, unusable and meaningless.

I recently discussed with my women friends the problem of anti-semitism and the academic left. We sprinkled personal observations and anecdotes among loftier and more reasoned ideas. Later that day, I happened to hear my husband talking to one of his brokers (who was Jewish) about the same topic. I was surprised that the Jewish man, who is close enough to my husband to be self-revelatory, did not refer to or give any anecdotes. Their conversation was sterile. Pointless. Short. They seemed to be sparring more than sharing, securing their reputations as "good" guys. In short, they were establishing credentials at the expense of depth. This, sadly, is not unusual. Men seem to size each other up in conversation. Depth is merely one of the criteria. Its not the point.

I'm not sure where I"m going with this ... I've lost the point. I guess I'm trying to say that I've learned to appreciate the way women think. A few women seem deeper than men. But not many, and certainly not most. Most are stuck in the personal anecdote stage without stirring these anecdotes into a thicker stew of ideas. In comparison, though, most men's ideas seem thin. Their stew lacks the chunky meat of anecdotes. Its all broth and froth and thus, ultimately, unsatisfying.

At least, that's how this ol' gal sees it.

Posted by: Kris on June 26, 2004 12:24 AM


at the expense of depth.

I find it interesting that you consider the inclusion of anecdotes a way to provide depth. In my opinion, anecdotes do not provide depth - objective data, graphs, and statistics do.

Which isn't to say that anecdotes are useless...just that they are personal, and not the kind of thing you can publish (unless you're in the humanities, in which case anything goes). ;)


Re: "gay" interests. To elaborate on my previous point (about you being a straigth male with the interests of a gay male) wasn't an insult. I don't know much about the stereotypes/statistics about gays and lesbians abroad.

However, I'd venture the hypothesis that in a given society, males will predominate in whatever competitive arena affords the most status and mates to the winners. There's research to back this up (like that Economist study I blogged about a while back on females being less competitive than males, even when pitted solely against other females).

Not sure if you can map that 1:1 onto American society - probably art offers more opportunities for mates than math, after all. Hmmmm.

Posted by: gc on June 26, 2004 2:59 AM

Donald -- Wasn't this the old picture: that men have tons of energy but it shoots off in undisciplined directions; and that part of the work of women (who are more down to earth) is to first attract and hook a guy's loyalty, and then to get him focused on her idea of the longterm good? Seems to me to have a useful amount of truth in it. Certainly describes my own mom and dad, that's for sure. Does it resonate with your general experience? If someone were to argue that this is a biologically-based pattern, it wouldn't bug me one bit.

Sleep -- That sounds smart and wise. Are you sure you aren't 100 years old? For no real good reason, I'll try to add a few things to your picture. I'm curious to know why you think intellectual-ish people (I'm only semi-intellectual myself) tend to be romantics. Hmm. Maybe "romantic" in the sense of "naive" and "dreamy"? And, where deciding on a romantic or life partner goes, I think you're right that it helps to be modest. But I wonder how easy or feasible it is for people with strong interests to just kinda say, "Well, since no relationship delivers everything, I should be content to settle for someone whose company I can bear. And I should just forget about having good talks with my spouse about what really interests me." That seems to me ... I dunno. Tough. I'd find it awful not to be able to gab with my spouse about the arty crap that interests me most. But, on the other hand, I'm probably mighty immature. And god knows there've been scads of marriages that have largely been based on houses, kids, retirement, all that, with both mates getting their interesting-conversation gratifications outside the partnership. So your advice probably is wise. Hmm, fascinatin'.

"." -- Yeah, I wonder about that too: Maybe the gals think they're talking about ideas when it sounds to us dudes like they're driveling on about feelings. And maybe our notion of what it is to be "talking about ideas" strikes them as us just jostling for status. On the other hand, there's got to be some way of semi-agreeing on what it is to be talking about ideas, no? Between you and me, and hoping no gals are overhearing this, are you as struck as I am by how often there's a sense of strain in women who consider it important to be taken as "smart women"? I run across that particular kind of strain in guys very seldom. (The groovy and impressive chicks who visit this blog are excepted, of course.) I'm thinking of academic women, for instance. They often seem aggrieved and indignant, and more concerned with getting people to accept them as "smart" than in actually having some fun with freerange brainpower. But maybe that's just academic women. And maybe just some academic women. (Although women generally don't seem as drawn to smacking ideas around as freely as guys do. Maybe they're just more responsible creatures than guys are -- maybe a little more earthbound as well.)

I'm also struck these days, in the world where I spend too much time, by what's happening with the younger gals. It seems that, now that gals take going-out-in-the-job-world for granted (ie., '70s feminism is finito, as far as they're concerned), a lot of that old "take my mind seriously, dammit" stuff is being left behind. The younger gals don't seem to carry the old feminist intellectual chip on their shoulders.

Which is nice, I guess. A consequence, though, seems to be that they've reverted in some ways. All they seem to want to talk about is food, clothes, boys ... And career stuff too, but in a very girly way. It's like, now that they've been set "free," what they're "freely" choosing to do is go back to being girls in the most conventional sense. Back to the girly drivel! Put that together with the tatoos, the bare navels, the perfect hair and the gab about oral or anal, it's like they're some strange cross between Jenna Jameson and Doris Day. Who expected this?

Scott -- Food? Books? Mist over a morning river? Who knew that, beneath the Fat Guy's ten-gallon hat, is a ... metrosexual? Do you want word about this getting around?

Kris -- That's interesting, thanks. And I agree that women personalize things a lot more than men do. Half of that's great, it seems to me -- adds depth and interest. Half of it can get to be a drag: good lord, can't women ever get outside of themselves? (Typical male reaction: "christ, are we bogging down in her damn feelings again?") But I think you're also right that guys'll over-"objectivize" things. We tend to turn everything (including discussions about art and ideas) into yakking about sports-type gabs. Downside of women: dragging everything into the personal/emotional morass, there to turn to stagnant mulch. Downside of men: keeping it so jolly and out there that who cares. Upside of women: richness, depth, color, personal connection, intuitiveness. Upside of men: hmm, I wonder. Well, we do take banging-things-around a little more (a lot more, I think) for granted than gals do, which can be a virtue in the "let's keep this light and active" sense. Tons of exceptions allowed for, needless to say.

All that's just my impressions, of course, but like yours, it's based in some experience. I did some editing for a low-budget pop-culture-and-ideas magazine, for instance, and it was fascinating. I had trouble finding gal writers for it, though I did my best. Very hard to find gals willing to work for next-to-no money, and willing to do excessive, provocative, guitar-solo, out-there stuff, which is what the magazine was selling. Gal writers tend to be more responsible and sensible than guy writers, but also kinda unexciting and middle-of-the-road. Guy writers (many, anyway) are much more willing to take what-the-hell type intellectual chances. Downside? They're far less solid than gal writers.

GC -- Sweet of you, thanks, but no offense taken. Hey, I've taken acting, dance and art lessons, and I live in Greenwich Village, if you know what I mean. A thought or two? I agree with Kris about how the personal and emotional and anecdotal can add depth. They can also turn into drivel and pointless gabfests, of course. But in a good conversation ... Hmm, let me come up with a picture. The facts and graphs and charts and studies you dig are all interesting and necessary. But they're like the girders of a building, or the bones of a body. The personal and emotional (and intuitive and imaginative) -- all that "taste" and "look-and-feel" stuff that techies find so infuriating and squishy -- provide the flesh and the juice and warmth and pulse. Put it all together and you may, with luck, wind up with some "life."

Another comparison: imagine the process of making a painting. The hard facts in your GNXP sense are like the structure and the drawing -- the blueprint, the hard foundational work. The anecdotal and imaginative and emotional stuff that gals sometimes bring are like the color and atmosphere in a painting -- the stuff that brings the blueprint to life, if you will.

It's an old, but pretty valid, cliche in painting that guy artists tend to be more into structure and drawing (that's considered the "intellectual" side of art), and that gal painters tend to be more into color and mood (the "emotional" side of art). Guys' work, when it goes wrong, often tends to get yammery and arid; gals' work, when it goes wrong, often tends to get misty and vaporous, to turn into meaningless gush.

I know you chart-and-graphs guys think of your charts as the real stuff, the science. But there's a kind of science (although that may not be the best word for it) to the color-and-juice side of the equation too. It's much less "hard" and formal (and graspable in an empirical sense), but it's just as palpable and real. It isn't just a trick.

Stephen Toulmin's good on this, BTW -- I hope to blog about him soon.

Hey, I'm puzzled that you evo-bio brainiacs don't give the art thing a little more thought. I'm not sure it can be explained, or entirely explained anyway, by evo-bio principles, evo-bio fan that I may be. And the gay-art connection's interesting too. Here's one example. I have an old friend. Sensitive, intelligent, arty, and willowy and intuitive too. Loved fashion, talking with women about their feelings ... -- most people, on meeting him, would swear he's gay. But he isn't, he's in fact as straight as can be. And he scored with the gals much more successfully than just about anyone I've ever known. Now, if life (from the boy's p-o-v) is all about getting the girls to open up to you, why isn't my friend's particular temperament/character/set-of-attributes a more common one than it is?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on June 26, 2004 12:30 PM

GC -- I have to admit I laughed at your statement, "I find it interesting that you consider the inclusion of anecdotes a way to provide depth. In my opinion, anecdotes do not provide depth - objective data, graphs, and statistics do." Such a guy thing to say. The problem, dear, is that when you are all done with your charting and graphing, it still has to hit home. Meaningfulness comes when it "connects" in some way to real life.

Here's an anecdote for you (please don't gag): Once upon a time there was a linguist/philosopher named Wittgenstein. He was a very anal man, full of misgivings and fears about normal stuff like how words work. He was bothered by the inexactness of language, by the fuzzy edges and expansive, unclear meanings of words and phrases. One day Wittgenstein -- aided by logical positivism -- decided to do something about it. He spent a decade writing a (horrible) book entitled "Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus" which he thought would clear up linguistic ambiguities. (I hope I spelled that correctly.) Anyway, to make a long story shorter, his book was filled with funny equations and statements like this:

"And analogously I do not write 'f(a,b). x=y', but '(Ex).f(x,x)'; an not '(Ex,y).f(x,y).~x-=y', ......."

Now, remember, GC, poor Wittgenstein is above trying to describe how ordinary people talk, that is, how real people use language. Oh, it sounds so graphy and linear, doesn't it? So heavy with big ideas. So male.

But it was all graphs and charts and no good thinkin'. So Wittgenstein had an "aha" moment and repented of his ways.

Being a good little scholar, his penance was writing another book, "Philosophical Investigations." Even the title made sense this time. No more silly equations. No more mind-numbing parsings of language. In this book Wittgenstein made the simple discovery that language is the way it is because it sorta works that way. It works. Got it? It WORKS.

He gave up explaining things in graphs and charts and returned to anecdotes and metaphors. He brought language home by making sense out of headiness.

The end.

Too girlie for you?

I'd love to add more here, but I gotta pick a kid up from tennis lessons. Later, all ... and my bestest to our man's man, GC.


Posted by: Kris on June 26, 2004 4:03 PM

The end.

Aha, Kris, but that was most certainly not the end. Wittgenstein's investigations were an early foray into the mathematization of language.

This HAS yielded very impressive results in many fields, including computer translation, concept-based search of databases, and (of course) the design of programming languages.

Within the next few decades computational linguistics + enough computer power will allow us to do real-time translation of any language with devices implanted in our ears (to first recognize, then parse, then translate the sound waves from our foreign interlocutor). And some time after that , once we understand the basics of setting up a digital-brain interface, we can hook up with neuroscientists to implant language modules in the brain.

At maximum, the "girly" approach of just feeling your way through would let you become proficient in a few languages via immersion. The "guy" approach of systematizing what your brain is doing leads to nontrivial insights.

Big, big difference ;)

Posted by: gc on June 26, 2004 9:25 PM

As I write, Hot Water is on the television. Harold Lloyd is ignoring his wife to go zipping about in his brand new automobile. The year? 1924.

Posted by: Brian on June 27, 2004 4:39 AM

M. Blowhard - yes, yes, a thousand times yes: I have found that the chance that a woman will be willing and able to discuss ideas is at least as good as the chance that a man will be willing and able to discuss ideas. This includes not only artsy fartsy stuff but also science.

When you say "christ, are we bogging down in her damn feelings again" I have to wonder if this is another case of a manly man assuming that because a woman is speaking from experience, she is talking about herself instead of, you know, using a real life example to illustrate a point or raise questions about your assumptions.

Your point about gal and guy writers - which can be observed in most fields, I think - is a chicken and egg issue. It's fairly easy to prove that gals are not allowed to be anything other than middle of the road. Just as easy to prove that gals are going to be middle of the road. The truth may or may not be out there on this one. (Actually, I think a lot of what men do that passes for not MOR is merely loud or aggressive.)

The blogosphere is not an example - you do not know the sex of a significant percentage of bloggers. This is charting and graphing signifying nothing and if I were to tell you that I can cite an academic who runs a blog for her department that most peers and students assume is run by a male dean, would you think I was going on about my feelings or pointing out that your facts were suspect?

Kris - 100% agreement. Let's go over the highlights.

"Their conversation was sterile. Pointless. Short. They seemed to be sparring more than sharing, securing their reputations as "good" guys. In short, they were establishing credentials at the expense of depth. This, sadly, is not unusual. Men seem to size each other up in conversation. Depth is merely one of the criteria. Its not the point." This is the posturing thing that women don't want to be dragged into, both because it's useless and because there's little chance of being heard.

"The problem, dear, is that when you are all done with your charting and graphing, it still has to hit home." This is what's called having a useful dataset. People who are keeping score tend to hew to their scorecard criteria at the expense of meaninful context.

Again, I know men and women and drag queens and barnyard fowl who do not match the stereotype but nonetheless have general impressions.

Posted by: j.c. on June 27, 2004 3:13 PM

I agree with Kris, at least in the emotional respect, that someone who can talk about things personally is "heartier" than someone who doesn't. I, personally, feel pretty "thin" when engaged in any serious conversation that doesn't stay abstract. Being young and having little in the way of experience but lots in the way of ideas is like that. Of course, even with my similarly inexperienced peers I feel thin, so there's a level of ineptitude that causes that, as well as dislike of anecdotes, and a level of uncomfortability in using personal events as ammunition.
I don't know what group of men you've had experience with, but it's my general impression that a significant portion of men never get experience in life beyond what they need for self-sustenance. The heady types who read about things in books and talk about them over coffee are pretty thin, even by my standards. Direction of unfinished thought: General inexperience as result of nannification. (A few more knocks and failures would've probably helped me.)

Posted by: . on June 27, 2004 10:08 PM

I've found that it's relatively easy to find both men and women who like ideas in science fiction fandom--if you're at all interested about the plausibility of an invented world, then science, history, art, criticism.....anything can have some bearing on the matter.

This doesn't mean that sf fans only talk about such things relative to sf.

For an example of fannish conversation (ok, better than average, but a solid example of the style), check out

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on June 28, 2004 2:29 PM

Science fiction fandom is a good place to find people, both male and female, who like talking about ideas. I suspect it's got something to do with worldbuilding--appreciating or inventing something other than the existing world can take knowledge of science, art, philosophy, criticism, you name it.....which is not to say that sf fans only talk about such things in the context of sf.

If you're interested in samples of fannish conversation, check out

Possibly related to the rest of this, sf fans strike me as not being quite as strongly gendered as the rest of the population.

Posted by: Nancy Lebovitz on June 28, 2004 2:35 PM

Are more men than women willing to talk ideas? I suppose it may be true, but there are plenty of women out there who do enjoy the practice, so I can't muster up much sympathy for men who can't find them. Where are you looking?

I think men ARE much more expert in the art of bullshitting than women; that is, speaking in detail with an air of authority about a subject on which they are partially or entirely ignorant. Sometimes, this helps when talking ideas (good brainstorming tactics) but sometimes, women do get the impression that a certain amount of dick-swinging is going on rather than a true exchange of ideas.

Posted by: C. S. Froning on June 28, 2004 3:25 PM

It occurs to me that, while the general trend is clearly toward males being more abstract and females being more practical on average, there is certainly a lot of geographical variance. So, for those who have successfully found females who like discussing ideas: where are you finding them?

As for M. Blowhard's old friend -- I think there is a very simple reason that phenotype isn't more common. How many biological children does he have? That, rather than female satisfaction, is what ultimately matters in evolution. I am guessing that plenty of jerks father more children than this man, which is a pity.

Posted by: Dog of Justice on July 5, 2004 10:56 PM

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