and womenIn the first chapter of her book, You Just Don’t Understand, Men and Women in Conversation, Deborah Tannen quotes, “…studies have shown that married couples that live together spend less than half an hour a week talking to each other…”. (24)This book is a wonderful tool for couples to use for help in understanding each other. The two things it stresses most is to listen, and to make yourself heard. This book opened my eyes to the relationship I am in now, with a wonderful person, for about four years. It made me realize that most of our little squabble-like fights could have been avoided, if one or the other of us could sit down and shut up for a minute to listen. Most of our fights had erupted from a misunderstanding or miscommunication on either of our parts, and we’re only dating! I can only imagine the conflict two partners would have in a marriage with children. This book outlined a lot of couples’ problems, where they may have started, and how to circumvent them. After starting to read this book, I realized to do a book report on the entire book would be very difficult, so I chose situations that most related to me to report on.
Intimacy is a very important when dealing with people trying to minimize their differences and attempting to reach a compromise. Independence is also a virtue you need to get any kind of status in today’s ranking world. In order to get any kind of rank you need to be demanding, tell others what to do, and the act of taking orders is a sign of low rank in society. Everyone needs both intimacy and independence, though women concentrate more on the first and men more on the latter. This conflict of interest can cause different views by men and women on the same situation. Tannen used an example of a couple she called Linda and Josh. Josh got a call at work from an old high school friend that would be in town that month, and Josh invited him to stay at his house for the weekend, without first checking with Linda. Linda was upset when she heard this news because she was away on business the week before and that Friday was to be her first night home. Linda was less upset by that fact, and more upset that Josh had made plans without checking with her first, she would never make plans with anyone without checking with Josh, and didn’t understand why he couldn’t show her the same courtesy. This conflict affected Linda and Josh perhaps more so than another couple because it hit their primary concerns. Linda was hurt because she felt Josh didn’t care as much about her as she did for him. And Josh was hurt because he felt that Linda was trying to control him, and limit his freedom. Many women feel that it is expected for them to consult with their partners at every turn, while men automatically make more decisions without asking their partners. Women may try to initiate a relaxed conversation by asking “What do you think?” while men may feel that they are being forced to decide. Tannen states that communication is a continual balancing act, juggling the conflicting needs for intimacy and independence. To survive we need to act with concern for others but also survive for ourselves.
There has always been a common stereotype that women talk too much, or rather more than men do, and that they commonly interrupt men. There is a study on gender and language that directly contradicts this stereotype and says, rather, that men interrupt women, states Tannen. She also said she has never read a popular article on the subject, and does not cite this finding. Although the idea is very satisfying because it challenges what she says is a misleading stereotype that accuses women of talking too much. Both statements, men interrupt women and women interrupt men, support the assumption that interruption is a hostile act of conversational bullying, portraying the interrupter as the aggressor and the interrupted as an innocent victim. The complaint “You interrupted me” is one that is heard most often in relationships because it raises issues of dominance and control. Women seem to favor conversations in which more than one person speaks at a time, whereas men feel they need their ideas expressed without interruption. It has also been observed that conservative men are intimidated by powerful, “high-involvement-style”, women speakers, such as Geraldine Ferraro, a woman who ran for vice president, or Hillary Clinton. These two women have been called many names by many different people, just because they stood up for themselves and took a confidant role when speaking. Ferraro also happens to be an Italian New Yorker, an ethnic group stereotyped as being boisterous or pushy, qualities that are far more negative in women then in men.
Being blamed for interrupting when you didn’t know you did, or didn’t mean to, is almost as frustrating and painful as feeling interrupted. There is nothing more trying in a relationship then being accused of bad intentions, when you know your intentions are good. Women often can get frustrated when men do not respond to their troubles by offering matching troubles, and men often can get frustrated when women do. Two examples: Tannen told a story of a couple she called Eve and Mark. Eve had just come home from having a lump surgically removed from her breast, and the seam from the stitches left the contour of her breast changed. Eve called several girl friends and explained what the result of her surgery had left her, and they offered sympathetic “I understand” comments, such as “I know, after my operation I felt the same way” and “ I know, it’s like your body has been violated”. When Eve told Mark of her concern, he shrugged it off and said “you can have plastic surgery to cover up the scar and restore the shape of your breast”. Eve had taken comfort in her girl friends comments but was upset by Mark’s. The other example is a husband and wife in bed, when the husband remarks that he can’t sleep, and the wife comments that she never sleeps well. The husband got offended by her comment and asked why she was trying to belittle him, she states that she wasn’t and was just trying to show that she understood. Women and men are both often frustrated by the others way of responding to their problems, and are further hurt by each others frustration. While women resent men’s inclination to offer solutions to problems, men criticize women’s refusal to solve the problem at hand. Our differences appear to go as far back as our growing up. A sixteen year old girl told Tannen that she would rather hang around with boys than girls. Tannen saw her opportunity to test her ideas and asked if boys and girls both talk about problems, the girl assured her yes. Tanned asked if they went about it in the same way, and the girl responded: oh no, the girls go on and on, while the boys raise the issue, find a solution, end of discussion.
Talking about problems isn’t the only conversational task that men and women view differently, another is asking for information. Tannen tells a story about a couple she labeled Sybial and Harold. The couple had been trying to get to a friend’s house for an extended period of time, it could be perceived that they were lost. Harold refused to ask for directions, and that made Sybial upset, not because he didn’t know his way, but because he insists on finding it himself instead of asking for help. Her anger is the result of looking at the situation through her lens: if she were driving, she would have asked for directions as soon as she realized she didn’t know which way to turn, and they would now be sitting comfortably in their friends living room, not driving in circles as time passed. Since asking for directions is not unpleasant to Sybial, she can’t understand why Harold won’t do it. However through Harold’s lens: driving around until you find it your self makes perfect sense to him, since asking for help makes him feel awkward and embarrassed. He wants to avoid that discomfort and maintain his view of himself as a self-sufficient person. Another example of the trend of men to not ask for help while women have no problems inquiring for assistance is an encounter of Tannen’s with a photo shop salesman. When she could not open the battery door for the light meter on her camera, she took it to the photo shop and asked for help. The salesman tried to open it first with a coin then with a special instrument, and failed both times, stating the reason, when the door was screwed on, the threads went out of alignment. Then he went on to explain in great detail on how to take pictures by adjusting the shutter speed to light conditions manually. In doing this he attempted to minimize the significance that he couldn’t open the door, with his sharing useful knowledge and solving her problem, without fixing her camera. He also wanted to demonstrate that he had the information and skills to help – even though he didn’t.
Many women not only feel comfortable seeking help, they also feel honored to seek it, accept it, and display gratitude. Men on the other hand feel honored to fill the request for help, whether or not it is convenient for them to do so.
Ms. Tannen’s book was both interesting and informative to me, and my relationships, not just with my boyfriend, but also my parents and other friends. I am usually one who expresses opinion freely, sometimes forgetting who else may be in the room. I also discovered that I interrupted in conversation quite a bit, and didn’t even realize I was hurting my boyfriends feelings. You Just Don’t Understand made me interested in how men’s and women’s minds work differently, and to open my mind to the possibility that what I say or hear may have been perceived differently than intended.