2011-07-10

Effective communication between men & women


And now, a few more thoughts related to the Watson–Dawkins debate:
In response to Rebecca Watson’s entreaty that men “[not] do that”, a great number of respondents, including Richard Dawkins, opined at length and with varying degrees of civility. It’s clear that different people are interpreting Ms Watson’s comments differently. As I see it, there are two ways to read Ms. Watson’s statement “Don’t do that.”:
1 A kind word of advice to men considering talking to her, limited to that particular situation in the elevator at 4am or ones very much like it.
or
2. A demand not only of how to treat her specifically and limited to that situation, but also a broader statement of what is right and wrong when talking to women in general.
If you interpret her words in the first way, it’s hard to find any fault with them. Every woman has a right to communicate her wishes and preferences to those around her.
However, I can understand why some might have interpreted her words in the second way. Many people go quite easily from “this makes me uncomfortable” to “this is wrong, not just for me but for everyone.” Religious people do this a lot! E.g., “You must show respect for my religious ideas; if you don’t, it will greatly offend me and my god!”
If Ms. Watson’s comments were intended as a broader commentary regarding not just that particular situation late at night in an elevator, but also on how men should talk to women in general, then this would probably explain some of the push-back she has gotten.
Each man is different. Each woman is different. Every situation is unique, and general rules are blunt tools applied to delicate tasks. I can understand men who might have been perplexed by Ms. Watson’s words. I think she might better have expressed herself by starting from a position of empathy and understanding for those she wished to inform. Here’s and example of how Ms. Watson might have communicated her advice more effectively:
“The situation in the elevator made me very uncomfortable. I felt trapped, and intimidated by the stranger. Of course I don’t know what his actual intentions were—perhaps he really only wanted to invite me for coffee and conversation—but the situation felt sexually threatening to me. If he was trying to pick me up after hearing my talk earlier in the evening, then he was being disrespectful, and was way out of line. In any event, it seemed to me that he was ignoring my statement that I was tired and wanted to sleep. Perhaps I should have countered by inviting him for a coffee the next morning in the hotel bar. I mean maybe I really had nothing to fear! But the fact is, I was so uncomfortable with the situation that I was just glad to get away from him.”
“Men, please try to show some understanding of what it’s like to be a woman. Even if you’re a true gentleman, remember that there are a lot of assholes out there. We women have to deal with them all the time. You’ll go a long way toward showing that you’re not one of the assholes if you show a little consideration. This means sometimes forgoing making an invitation if it might make the woman uncomfortable. Your intentions are surely important, but they’re not the only thing that’s important. The situation—and the other person of course—are also very important. If the man had invited me for a coffee the next morning in the hotel bar, I would have been much less like to have taken it as a sexual overture. This alone would have made me more comfortable. Just use a bit of common sense, and do your best to read the other person and the situation before acting. Women everywhere thank you in advance!”
Men clearly need to be conscious of how the communicate with women. I think women could improve how they communicate with men too. Remember that unlike in a debate, the goal should not be to prove the other wrong. The goal is to communicate your thoughts and wishes in a way that the other will understand.

3 comments:

claude le monde said...

holy shit this is a truly epic heap of mansplaining. thanks for your condescension, KIND sir!

Michael said...

I have no earthly idea what you’re talking about. Take your vitriol elsewhere.

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