As an interview writing project, I decided to ask a handful of colleagues to respond to questions in order to understand how they perceive the world through their female perspective. As a man who lives and works in environments that are predominantly female, I thought it would be helpful to get a glimpse at life through a feminine lens.
Following are some of the questions that were asked, and the responses submitted. It must be noted that we perceive the world through our own unique lens, without really stopping to consider how our gender influences our perceptions. This is by no means a definitive representation of how all women perceive the world around them, but rather a sampling.
1. PERSPECTIVE: In your experience, what don’t men understand about women?
> “I think men don’t understand our need to communicate and share our feelings. It’s been my understanding and experience that men hold in a lot of emotions and feelings. They go in their “cave” to quote from Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. For me and my female relatives and friends, we need to talk things through and are much more communicative. I think men can be singularly focused and do one thing at a time, while women are very used to multi-tasking and focusing on several things at once.”
> “I think men don’t understand women’s need for constant communication. Of course that’s a generalization, but I think most women feel more connected to other people, men or women, when the communication channels are open and flowing. I don’t find that to be as true for men. On the flip side, I think women sometimes fail to understand that constant communication is exhausting to a lot of men, who don’t feel the need for it in the same way.”
> “I don’t think men understand that women truly don’t have equal status, in any society, under any political system, and that women feel this as young girls and carry it with us, always. We are always given the message, ‘less than, less than’…”
> “I don’t think men understand our fierce need to protect those we love…you don’t mess with the mama bear.”
> “I guess what men don’t understand is that we are not all alike. Understanding women probably isn’t going to help you to understand any one woman. We are all incredibly different. Why wouldn’t we be? Some things my friends have in common, however, is a desire for men to listen more and not be so dismissive of our feelings/thoughts/concerns. And not leave dirty socks on the floor. We want to know we are desirable but not be treated like a plaything that can be taken out and played with whenever the mood strikes. We have wants, needs, desires, goals, and ambitions. We’re not here just to satisfy the needs of men.”
> “In my experience the need for security, whether it’s security created by myself or a partner, runs very deep. When my plan for security is disturbed, it disrupts my day to day life, including my relationships and thought processes.”
> “I think one of the basic differences is how men and women approach emotionally charged problems. And for women, most problems are emotionally charged. Men tend to want to fix things. Women take action through discussion. This might be a first step that may not lead to “doing” or “fixing” anything. I think this drives many men crazy and often away. From a woman’s perspective, sometimes there is nothing to “do” yet. In fact, from a woman’s point of view, doing nothing after a discussion is doing something.”
I’ve been mulling over these replies for the past week, trying to synthesize them, and contemplate them. While it is fascinating to get a glimpse of life through the feminine lens, it is also difficult to assimilate into my own lens. Over the years I have come to understand the general differences that men and women have when it comes to communication, both in form, and in volume. While I acknowledge this difference, hearing the response of women doesn’t help me understand “why” these differences exist. Initially, I found this frustrating, as if hearing from multiple female perspectives would help me see “from” these perspectives. Instead, it simply helps me accept these differences as genuine and neutral. They are not good or bad. They are not right or wrong. But accepting and appreciating these differences would seem to make it easier for opposite genders to appreciate and understand one another.
I am deeply troubled by girls / women receiving the message that they are “less than” throughout their lives. Hearing it grieves me, yet I must acknowledge an awareness of it, since I know that I continually make great efforts to embolden the girls I teach, and underscore their strengths, talents, abilities, voice, and value. As a father of two daughters, I have instinctively tried to remind them of these things, but I wonder how raising boys would have been different.
Over the past few years, I have read and heard many disucss the objectification of women. Through the responses given, I am getting a glimpse to the reach of objectification beyond the media, but to relational dynamics. If I was left feeling like a plaything, only to be taken out and enjoyed when the mood strikes, I would feel dehumanized, and devalued. It would discourage and disgust me.
2. PARITY: Discuss your feelings about the equality of men and women.
> “I read Lean In and agree with some of the sentiments. I think men are socialized to be more aggressive and women are much less confident about their expertise. In the classroom, I see boys shouting out answers more often than girls who are more able to be “good” and raise their hand….but don’t have their say as often. Men don’t have it easy though because they carry so much and keep so much inside. Women have more outlets to explore their emotions in a healthy way and men are socialized to be strong. I’ve never really felt that restricted professionally by being a woman, although teaching is predominantly a female profession while more administrators are male. Interesting.”
> “*can open, worms everywhere* Seriously, I could write a novel on this topic. I suppose my main feeling is that men really do believe, in most cases, that they treat women fairly and equally. And on an individual, personal level, I think they do, or that they at least make a good faith effort. Most of the male-female inequality I’ve experienced has been more institutionalized in nature; for example, women earning less than men for the same job. I honestly don’t think men realize how discriminatory business and governmental policies can be toward women (or, tangentially, minorities), because they don’t experience it and thus don’t internalize it as accepted practice. If you take a look at who makes those policies vs. who is most affected by those policies, the disconnect becomes even more evident.”
> “I’m frustrated by the constant division of men/women. Feminism has done so much for both. My father hardly participated in the care of his young children. My husband and I both are highly involved in the physical and emotional care of our kids, both when they were tiny, and now that they are older. This is a gift to him and to our children. It is a gift to me.
I think men aren’t given credit for being capable of caring for children (usually by women) and are often undermined when they are trying to learn. I think the same thing often happens in male dominated fields at women who are entering. Frankly, it speaks poorly of anyone who mocks a person who is learning a new skill, or for doing a task differently, but competently.”
> “It doesn’t exist. When girls are encouraged to worry about their appearance and boys are encouraged to make things (I’m referring to marketing, most media, and gender roles in general), it’s an uphill battle later for women to see their own worth and for men to see them as equal. As individuals we can achieve equity- in work, in relationships, etc. but not in our society as a whole. This would take a revolution, and women are too busy to make that happen.”
> “I may be in the minority, but I still like to do the cooking and like my husband to mow the lawn. It’s not that I can’t do those things that he does, I just don’t prefer it. I don’t want anyone else limiting the choices of each gender, but believe in personal choices.”
> “I grew up in what could be described as a traditional household. My dad worked and my mom stayed home and raised 5 kids. My mom, however, was not the stereotypical submissive, subservient housewife. My parents had a partnership. One went out and made money while the other did pretty much everything else. I wasn’t raised seeing that men and women were not equal. Different, perhaps, but definitely not unequal. I went into teaching, not because I am a woman but because it was my calling. My chosen profession is predominantly female, so I haven’t been subjected to a whole lot of male/female inequality. Although, I will admit that my coworkers and I have commented on how the few male teachers seem to have fewer problems with parents and have speculated that it is simply because they are male. I also recall when I was working at a financial consulting firm after college, there was an older woman (ha, she was probably in her 40’s!) who dressed in somewhat masculine suits (she wore skirts but they were very stodgy) with sensible shoes. She tried to give fashion advice to my supervisor who dressed professionally but feminine. It was clear that when she had begun her career she had learned that in order to be taken seriously she had to dress more like a man. That to me is a sign of inequality. If you have to be more like a man to be accepted, then women are certainly not seen as equals. I think my supervisor was taken just as seriously, so I would like to say that things had improved. I have been horrified by some of the accounts I have read recently of women being subjected to clearly sexist behavior. Fortunately, this has not been how I have experienced the world. Or maybe I have just been too naive to see it.”
> “Smart women are a threat to certain groups in the United States. Unfortunately even women don’t understand what equality means and every day there are women whose actions defeat the struggle for equality. Ultra-conservative women don’t understand that women who were/are ridiculed as being liberal are the very ones who created an atmosphere in which she can vote, own property, and work outside the home.”
> “Yes, women have gained power in politics and in business, but men continue to dominate financially and in the general power department. I believe men will continue have more power because of their physicality. As long as physical contact matters, men will have more power.”
As a young boy I remember teasing girls about being stronger or better than they were. I thought it was funny. Now, as a father of two girls, and a teacher of many, such teasing, and the maladjusted paradigm behind it, deeply disturbs me. Again, it seems to boil down to the need to label “different” as being “better than” or “less than”, instead of simply appreciating the differences and how they complement, and complete each other. The more I am made aware of this male-dominated paradigm in society, the more I realize how oblivious I am to it. I am just beginning to learn about misogyny, and how widespread this hatred exists. As a teacher, I am blessed to be in a position that allows such influence, and can hopefully help to reshape the viewpoint of future generations.
3: PROS & CONS: What are the Top 5 things about being a woman? What are the Worst 5 things?
“Getting pregnant and giving birth to a child- an absolute miracle.”
“Being able to communicate and express emotions.”
“Lots of social outlets that might not seem “acceptable” for men ( sip and paint nights, scrapbooking, etc.)”
“Everyone has always been sympathetic when I’m wired about my kids’ health. I’m not sure men get that understanding.”
“I like that no one mocks me for liking pretty things. Usually.”
“I like that I can be physically affectionate in public without penalty.”
“I like that I can project a nonthreatening image simply by smiling.”
“Women have rich bonds between them.”
“Women carry the wisdom of generations within them.”
“Women are resourceful, graceful, and creative.”
“Women are strong and resilient, they invest in the future beyond themselves.”
“Being able to keep track of more than just my own personal schedule.”
“Wearing something sexy and turning heads (yeah, a little bit of a contradiction, but I’ll admit that’s something I’ve enjoyed as a woman!)”
“Being able to feel that human being inside you moving around is the best thing in the world.”
“Dressing up, different hairstyles, manicures, pedicures.”
“Doors being held open for me.”
“Having a husband that provides for you.”
“Less confident professionally can hold you back.”
“Not as physically strong.”
“Socialized to be “nice” and sometimes don’t want to be nice.”
“Appearance is highly valued, as is thinness and your worth is often equated with what you weigh.”
“Men seem to be appreciated as they age, women seem more ‘disposable’.”
“Periods, hands down.”
“The potential of getting pregnant unintentionally.”
“That I should think about my safety when I am alone in a vulnerable location.”
“That I feel I should take more care in my appearance than I am generally prone to doing, because I am a woman. Chin hairs? Shaving? I mean, having to just freaking think about shaving a bikini line because women’s swimsuits are designed to show that area, that’s extremely annoying.”
“That I am the anointed keeper of the household chores and childcare issues.”
“Women do not always know their own worth, therefore women who are not secure in themselves do not always support other women.”
“Women are often valued only as accompaniments to their “others,” spouses, children, etc.”
“Being a woman means always being physically vulnerable to violence, sexual and otherwise. Being a woman means fighting to be seen as an equal and being cut down for things like your hairstyle or aggressive tone and other distractions that keep women in their place.”
“Being a woman means you are tied to your body in ways that can be limiting – menstruation, pregnancy, nursing – but these also tie you into nature in profound ways.”
“Guilt about wanting to work when you have young children to raise.”
“The belief that ovaries somehow qualify you as the family maid.”
“Concerns being dismissed as an overreaction to the situation.”
“Being subjected to media portrayals of the perfect female (and feeling inadequate as a result).”
“Being labeled due to me emotion. (ex. Basket Case, b*tch) “
“The glass ceiling in the work place.”
“Males thinking they can cat call in public and the fear of what might happen if I say something to them.”
A consistent theme I noticed in these responses is that women like being women. While dealing with many injustices that exist in society, there is still a wonderful, beautiful strength found in enjoying who they are and how they are working to overcome the obstacles society has placed before them.
The responses as a whole are quite humbling to me as a man. The more insight I gather, the more I understand just how little I understand about the other half. I believe this is a good outcome, however, supporting a curious nature rather than a complacent one. I’d rather be inquisitive than dismissive.
I’m grateful to my colleagues for taking the time and energy to give such thoughtful responses. I hope that this post honors them, and gives us a glimpse into the feminine perspective of those around us.