15 November 2010

Getting The Message

I have been trying to formulate this post forever and clearly it is not going to happen, so just bear with me since this is what you get instead of an actual, well-written, post:

In broad strokes I think men and women suffer from major differences in just what makes a job “done” because of inherent difference in how they process meta-messages.   I realize that to classify this phenomenon by men and women is far too strict, but for the sake of discussion, let’s just say that “women” refers to one approach to understanding language while “men” refers to another.   My basic theory is that since women are better at reading the meta-messages, they tend to get the “real” meaning of statements and actions, while men are more literal and somewhat unaware.  

While the reasons are numerous and convoluted including that women just hear better, women are more socialized to be care-givers and therefore give a crap about what people are actually saying and/or the "feminine" method of communication is based more full body communication, the end point is that women are better at understanding what people mean vs. what they are saying.   The same socialization that makes women read communication better also gives them a different situational awareness and maybe, if you want to make this link, more foresight and a more proactive methodology.   The awareness of meta-meaning applies not only to direct vocal interactions, but also how one interacts with their environment.

So how does this relate to my original premise?  Well, I just think that men don’t walk away from situations or interactions with the same take-home message as women.  This goes a long way to explaining why men don’t “see” dirt or get that the phrase “the dishwasher needs to be loaded, the baby needs a bath and I have an appointment at 6” fails to inspire the independent decision to load the dishes or bathe the baby.  It has nothing to do with being unwilling, or bad people, or any of the things that run through our heads when we exclaim “I shouldn’t have to ask!”  It is purely that some personalities (those considered “male” socially) don’t get the “hidden” meaning in dishes stacked two feet deep in the sink or the fact that you are running around like a crazy person trying to get the house ready for company while they sit on their butt playing Halo.   

This also involves the issue of literal interpretation versus “taking a step” and intuitively knowing what needs to be done.  This explains why Chris can “clean up dinner” and walk away from a kitchen full of dirty counters with pots still on the stove.  He cleaned up the dinner dishes, thusly the job was done.  While the meta-message may have been to clean up the whole kitchen since it was all part of the dinner process, the actual words said “clean up dinner” so that, and only that, is what he did.

I readily acknowledge that this is not a universally gender based issue.  I know many women (my beloved little sister, some of my dear friends) who also suffer from a complete lack of getting not only what needs to be done, but when a job is actually finished.  On some level it all may hearken back to being someone, in that some people just feel the proactive drive to do stuff when they see it needs doing while others don’t.  It is just the difference between people who do laundry when they notice two pairs of panties left in the drawer and those who do laundry when they discover they are going commando today.   

No one method is right or wrong, I am merely pointing out that the concept of understanding all the “metas” of day to day life might be the key to harmony between the sexes/personalities.


Ginger said...

I think you have a really interesting premise. Even if I'm not that person (well, at least not with cleaning. Don't even get my husband started), I can see the idea that there are meta messages that are understood differently (if at all) by different people.

I wonder if how different responses for different things factor in. Like for me, I don't hear the messages about cleaning. My husband, some of the "family management" (like doctor's appointments & errands) messages get lost.

I don't really know why the difference, but now I can't help thinking about it.

Alexis said...


Exactly, I think that most "conflict" just stems from the fact that no two people read a situation the same way. Most of us follow the same themes enough to be on the same page most of the time, but when people are trying to work together and they are not reading the "metas," well, goddess help you then!

Heidi Maxwell said...

I get you. I totally get you. Of course, when I say "O needs a bath, the dishes need doing, and I have to leave for yoga in 10 minutes" I am apparently being a passive aggressive bitch. But if I say "Can you give O a bath and do the dishes? I don't have time to do it myself because I leave for yoga in 10 minutes." Then I'm a nagging bitch. Someone please tell me how to get the help I need before my damn head explodes?

Alexis said...

@Heidi Maxwell

Yeah, pretty much. Chris and I are generally a good team and our challenge is more my desire to di it is all myself rather than his lack of interest in helping, but on a day to day basis I do sometimes wonder if we are even speaking the same language. I know you cant expect help if you don't ask, but really should we have to ask? Also, this is not just a spouse/SO thing either. I think the general lack of humanity these days is just because people don't/won't/can't read the cues and certainly no one can be bothered to take that step.