The burning building test

I have a bit of an issue with a lot of the ways gender politics are presented (as anyone who reads this site should know) but am also a feminist in the truest sense of the word (I believe in equality between men and women).

Men and women communicate differently for the most part. This seems to be a fundamental difference, as different parts of our brains light up during communication, and this is pretty much universal (although from the gay men I have met, I wonder if at least some of them favour a female communication style…). The solution that is usually put forward to deal with this is the idea that men should just learn to communicate more like women. Fuck that. Number one, it won’t work. This is deep wired basic pathways of the brain type stuff and you really can’t change it. Sometimes when my fiance tells me about things that are bugging her I can remember to listen and empathize, but most of the time I have a gut level need to fix it (the thing is making someone I love hurt, the thing needs to stop doing that or I will hurt it back). It means that instead of saying I hear her and feel what she is experiencing, I say “Well, if we just stop buying this thing and start doing that thing, and work hard at it, the problem will be resolved”. It never, ever helps but it is what I will always tend towards, because that is who I am. Now, here’s the real kicker, she isn’t wrong, but neither am I. We are just different.

Now, what, you may ask, is the burning building test? It’s a thing I use as a metaphorical test of a relationship and whether or not the relationship is going to have enough common ground for communication and it is fundamental to the difference in communication styles. If the building you are in catches fire, will this woman talk about how that makes her feel, or will she figure out how to get the fuck out of the building, try to save what’s saveable and then after all is said and done try to figure out feelings? Now, I know that in reality almost everyone will try to get out, but I have at least one ex who I’m pretty damn sure would want to sit down and share our feelings before taking any action. If I have doubt in my  mind about which path someone will take, I probably won’t work well in a relationship with them.

Okay, I’m going out on a limb and saying that not dealing with a fire first is stupid, but it’s also an exaggeration. I could say that there are similar extremes from the male point of view, ignoring or denying emotional pain after trauma that is leaving you completely emotionally crippled, like after a war or the like, but those things actually happen with a great deal of frequency. Again, doesn’t make either side wrong, but it does mean that if you take feminine behaviours to an extreme, they are dysfunctional and if you take masculine behaviours to an extreme, they are also dysfunctional. Another good example is the example of common sense. As a man, women regularly accuse me of lacking common sense. They claim that all men lack common sense, and that women have a monopoly on it. Then these same women go out in a snowstorm wearing six inch heels. It just depends on where you define common sense. Yes, there are things that I do differently than my fiance, and sometimes from her point of view that means I lack common sense, but sometimes from my point of view she lacks common sense and only be acknowledging that both points of view are true can we ever find a lasting equality.

3 Responses to “The burning building test”

  1. 1 Jan
    February 11, 2010 at 8:53 pm

    I never wear six inch heels but then you know that don’t you? And it is so girly like to pick the one thing she is sure of and ramming home her point ain’t it? No, wait a minute, it is not. I’ve never been in a burning building, Trav, but I’ve been in so many conversations with men who wish the building was burning so they could DO something rather than talk. Next time I want a man to know how I’m feeling or thinking without having to fix it I’ll give him something to fix WHILE I talk to him. “Here buddy – will you untangle this wire for me? Oh and by the way I want you to know that I feel really freaked out about X and Y and isn’t that awful?” Correct answer – “Yep, it is. How’d you get these wires in such a friggin’ mess?”

  2. February 12, 2010 at 4:41 am

    Well, I also give you a lot of credit for common sense. It’s more of an issue of communication styles, I think I have a pretty easy style and I love your example of taking male lack of emotive communication to an extreme. Can I use it? The idea of setting the building on fire to avoid having to talk emotionally is actually something I could imagine (at least when I exaggerate their behaviour to the extreme).

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