I have thought a lot about this in the past few days because during my first couples counseling appointment, the therapist said to me, “You are probably having ten thoughts to his one thought.” This was said in the context of communication. Ten to one? What on earth is that supposed to mean? I just can’t get that sentence out of my head. No matter where I go, I hear, “Men are simple. Ten to one.”
Men Are Simple.
What I want to know is this:
1. What does it mean, specifically? What are people trying to suggest by this phrase? Are we talking about communication, relationships, mental capacity, life philosophy, spirituality? It is usually presented in such a way as to suggest that it needs no explanation. Yet it is a wild assertion. Simple how? Were most of our major historical figures simple? Because they were guys. Is Freud “simple”? Is Aristotle “simple”? Gandhi, now there’s a simple guy! Oh yeah, and FDR–talk about dim witted. Men! Can’t live with ’em can’t live without ’em!
2. Depending on the above clarification–how is this not totally insulting? What does simple mean? Sometimes it is a compliment (like with decorating) but usually it means dumb or easy to grasp. And this isn’t insulting? Imagine if we said the same of a race of people.
When someone says Men Are Simple, I hear ‘Men are a little bit retarded but don’t worry about it.” Why wouldn’t it be anxiety producing to hear: “You know that person you are in a relationship with? He’s dumb.” Luckily, I am countering that reaction with my rational mind which knows whatever gendered information people are attempting to shed light on is far more complicated than the statement Men Are Simple.
A possible explanation I have for this concept is that most women are obsessed with relationships. I put myself in this too. I don’t see this as positive. Of course, relationships are important–but over thinking them and over analyzing them is more about anxiety than it is about maturity (for me at least). This is the other side of the coin. If (most) men are simple (when it comes to relationships) they are perceived that way because (most) women are complicated when it comes to relationships. At least in this equation no one has to sound like they are mentally deficient. In the book, “What Happy People Know” and “What Happy Women Know” the author Dan Baker suggests that we humans have happiness traps. Happiness Traps are things we think will make us happy but absolutely don’t. According to him men are more likely to fall into the Money Trap and women into the Relationship Trap. (Many) men think money will make them happy and (many) women think relationships will make them happy. This is a reasonable assertion, in my mind. And again, no one has to sound half brained. Instead of saying, “Men are simple,” can’t we say, “Men and women have different life orientations–men tend to be most focused on securing the basics of life (rent, food, security, survival) and women tend to be most focused on the relationships of life (parenting, marriage, family, friends, kids). This certainly describes our history. It also explains why men and women are in such a huge transition as our traditional gender roles continue to be on shaky ground. It is one idea–one way to try to unpack the Men Are Simple notion.
Also, perhaps because relationships are difficult instead of just facing that we gender the trouble. Instead of saying, “Joe isn’t as romantic as me,” we say, “Men aren’t this or that…” It is easier to stereotype half the world than just confront the one person. There are men and women who are mean spirited, non-communicative, dumb, interesting, intelligent, caring, aggressive, loving and nurturing. If your spouse doesn’t have a trait that you like you can’t simply say, “Men are ……”. It isn’t fair. I know it isn’t fair because every time I hear a man say how irrational women are I want to scream, “I am not irrational!” But because I am so rational I do not. Granted, some women are irrational just as some men are (the men who think all women are irrational, for example). Taking a step back from this though, I realize there are trends, ways of being that men or women are more likely to be (for, in my opinion, a mix of biological and cultural reasons). Yet, even these trends can change and evolve over the course of a lifetime.
So why am I complaining about this anyway?
I am writing about this because the truth is that it scares me when I hear Men Are Simple. I am not afraid that men are literally dumb, although I feel that people imply that all the time. The fear inside of me is more about intimacy. Messages like Men Are Simple trigger fears in me that my entire understanding of human psychology does not translate to men–that all along what I thought was human is female and that what is male is unknowable by virtue of being silent, hidden and tough. My fear says, “You want a close relationship with a man? You’re barking up the wrong tree.” My sense of what it is to be human and be in relationship is shaken when I am faced with the “All men need is beer, sex and TV,” T-shirts day after day.
As a female I can’t ever know what it feels like to experience life as a male. If I hear ridiculous statements about what women are I can counter those based on my own experience. I know women aren’t stupid because I’m not. I know women aren’t emotional whack jobs because I’m not. Stereotypes about women have harmed me, to be sure, but deep down I know they are not universally true because as a female I can counter them with total confidence.
I can’t do that with stereotypes of men. I can only observe and try to understand. When I hear ridiculous things about how men are–I can rationally counter them but I can’t refute them with the level of knowing that I can with women. Perhaps that knowing will come to me in the coming years. I know I will make my peace without simplifying or insulting half the world.
So, next time you feel you must say Men Are Simple……..at the very least, finish the sentence with some specific observation and include an awareness of how impossible it is to generalize half of the world. If you need further motivation to do this, check out this article which describes negative portrayals of men in the media as harming men and boys in profound ways. Jokes and generalizations made about men leak out and little boys hear them. How sad is that?
Those are my ten thoughts and although they may be “ten to one” for some–they are ten to fifty to another.