Friday, July 19, 2013

Should People Talk to Women Differently?

By Joy Pullmann

I often get offended when I pick up on subliminal messages that have people treating me a certain way because I'm a woman. Now, I don't mind the perks of this—door-opening and seat-offering are awesome, especially when you've been pregnant as frequently as I am and such gestures offer real relief. I also like when men talk more politely or give me deference because I'm a woman. But it's pretty offensive to hear someone assume that I would think a certain way or need a certain tone of voice and approach "just because" I'm a woman.

At the same time, I like women's magazines. Pinterest is, to me, basically a free version of Martha Stewart Living, which I was hooked on at something like age 10. And I like all kids of other stuff deliberately marketed to women. LaraBars? Yes, please.

In short, I've got a lot of cognitive dissonance going on here. (Maybe it's because I'm a woman. Joke!) A bit of it was relieved this week when I read this post by Sabrina Schaeffer. She explains the odd contradiction that liberals proclaim men and women are essentially the same but target women as women aggressively. They're the people who will insist men have nothing to say about abortion and contraception. And conservatives typically will say men and women are different, but are reluctant to target women as a special interest group, or create messaging directly to women that isn't retarded (Mitt Romney, I'm looking at you). Schaeffer writes:
In our brave new world of gender equality, in which women and men are often encouraged to act the same, most conservatives still accept that men and women often view problems and prioritize them differently. As political scientist Steve Rhoads explains so well, sex differences are “hardwired” into our biology, and social rules and customs that the left might want to discard often serve a purpose. But in the political arena this understanding of gender differences seems to vanish, leaving Republicans regularly stumped when they face a question about the wage gap, work-life balance, or health care mandates.
Ok, so this (and the rest of her article—read it) makes sense. But it still feels awkward to me to say to myself, "Talk about this issue differently if you are talking to women." Differently HOW? Like mention chocolate and pink? That sounds demeaning to me. But if I agree with Schaeffer's principles—and I do—that means there are different ways to talk to women without pandering or patronizing. What those are, I don't know. I just talk.  

1 comment:

  1. As a middle school teacher, I talked differently to the boys and the girls. When I needed to talk seriously with a girl, it was face-to-face as equals. When I needed to talk seriously with a boy, I sat next to him by the lockers outside my classroom. Looking them in the eyes was NOT a good idea. Was that pandering or patronizing to the boys? No, it was just finding the most effective way to get the point across. Politicians and advertisers use psychology research to make their points effective to the various audiences they want to reach: male and female, old and young, conservative or liberal, rich or poor, religious or not, educated or not, various racial and ethnic groups. They just want to get everyone to buy their product, so they have to sell it in all sorts of different ways.


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