Thursday, August 23, 2007

Shut Up and Act Like a Man

Okay, so Laura Sessions Stepp is an easy target, but I just couldn't help myself when I read her article (via Broadsheet) in the Post from Tuesday. Apparently in addition to her moralizing to young women, she's also engaging in bunk scientific analysis. Take this for example:
Social scientists are realizing that while talking may strengthen female friendships and leave pals feeling temporarily better, it can also lead to increased anxiety and depression if perspective and problem-solving aren't included rather quickly. And what about the husband who listens every night to his wife complain about her job, then one morning at breakfast offers her steps to get out of her funk? Perhaps he deserves credit rather than having a cup of coffee thrown at him.
Ugh. She's decided to cite a survey of boys and girls aged 8 to 15 in which they noticed that girls talked a lot more, but had increased anxiety about their friendships as they deepened while boys had no such problem. This means boys win, right? They're better at relationships, right? That's the conclusion that Sessions Stepp draws. She even backs up her analysis with some quotes from Louann Brizendine, author of the widely debunked book The Female Brain.

I haven't looked at the original study, but I'd venture a guess that this isn't a cause and effect situation. Girls aged 8 to 15 are anxious about a lot of things: grades, boys, clothes, their bodies, their families, and their friendships. Friendships are just one of many things that girls are worried about. This is mainly because there's a lot of pressure on (white) young girls to be perfect. I certainly felt it when I was a kid; I had to be at the top of my class.

What's more, Sessions Stepp applies this logic about children and teenagers to adult relationships:
As they mature, they will begin to see that at certain moments in life, all of us, women and men, are reluctant to share problems with anyone. But there's no doubt that women grow up more curious about their inner life, Doherty says, and enjoy talking about it. Men, on the other hand, view emotions as a cue to solving problems. "They want to move from feeling to action, or make a decision that there is nothing they can do and get over the feeling."
To her credit, she acknowledges that "In some couples, of course, the roles are reversed." Gee, you think? My main problem with her whole piece is with the normative values here. She assumes that men are "solving problems" and that women are "just talking" about problems, not solving them. Sometimes, men and women just need to talk about how they feel. This doesn't indicate that there is a "problem" per se, but it just acknowledges feelings in general. For some, this "talking" is helpful, for others, it isn't. But it's wrong to generalize about what the desired outcome is or that one gender holds the answer.

I also tend to be really tired of pieces that suggest that women could learn a lot from the way men approach things. This assumes that the standard is the male standard, and women should work toward it. Furthermore, Sessions Stepp is identifying a "problem" that doesn't actually exist. I doubt the researchers studying the 8 to 15 year olds thought that it was a problem that girls were talking more, it's just something they noticed. Sure, anxiety for young girls is bad, but I doubt it's entirely attributable to the way young girls approach their friendships.

Awesome. Thanks, Laura Sessions Stepp. I was wondering how I was going to get through the day without thinking about what men did better.


Zorro said...


While we're at it, here's another item to add to the list of things that men do better: blog!


CeeZeeBee said...

Wow. Such witty commentary from your readers.

Have you seen all the other "studies" that have come out about how women like pink(er shades of blue) and are better grocery shoppers? I'm surprised no one has funded a study yet to prove that men are just all around better.

Good post.

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