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June 03, 2013

Rules for Raising Daughters

Grim links to a post called 50 Rules for Dads of Daughters and asks,

All of you will have guessed that I'm interested in the list in part as a way of exploring the differences between sons and daughters. How many of these rules would be different if written for sons? Are there other rules you'd advise for sons but not daughters, or especially for sons, that are not on this list?

One that strikes me as an obvious choice is number 7, "She will fight with her mother. Choose sides wisely." This is not a problem with a son: you are always on his mother's side, even on those occasions when you take her aside later and persuade her to change her mind.

Unsurprisingly, the Editorial Staff found itself unable to resist such shameless Cass-baiting :p Several years ago, we penned a list of rules for raising strong sons in which we asked our own set of questions:

What is the essence of masculinity and how can we cultivate and honor it in our sons? Harvey Mansfield once defined manliness as “a quality that causes individuals to stand for something”. If men have a salient quality, surely it is strength of body, mind, spirit and character. Is it still possible to raise strong, adaptable sons in a society that views manhood as a debased currency?

When we were writing the post, we almost titled it, "12 steps for raising good (as opposed to strong) sons". Strength, if not harnessed to some moral end, is anything but an unalloyed good. But after some consideration we felt that male strength - be it force of will or physical force - has been under attack in popular culture. The Left loathes and fears it, the Right often seems to fetishize masculine forcefulness. We would be far more supportive of the popular conservative mantra of boys-and-men-as-cruelly-oppressed-victims if its adherents weren't so determined to defend any and all manifestations of masculinity. Where we get right off the bus is when we read that deliberately refusing to pull one's own weight is a rational response to ... well, anything, really. "What's in it for me?", while possessing a certain natural allure, is hardly the philosophical grounding upon which great civilizations are built.

In all fairness, we have lodged the same complaint against the more self absorbed elements of the feminist movement.

Women now have the opportunity to choose careers over marrying and having children but no one owes us a path in which the natural opportunity costs of choosing X over Y are gently airbrushed away... generally at considerable cost to others. We can't get excited about the endless parade of articles bleating about the terrible injustice of "not having it all". Men have never "had it all". They have had some things at the expense of others. Traditionally, men have had greater freedom but that freedom carried a whopping price tag: a life spent working to support their wives and children, the strong possibility of being drafted and sent off to war, shorter life spans, a (comparatively) narrow emotional life that some men find not at all hard to bear but others find intolerable.

Whether we're born male or female, growing up involves the distressing realization that life is anything but fair. None of us competes on the much ballyhoo'd level playing ground the press are always nattering on about. We are born male or female, taller or shorter, smarter or dumber, better or worse looking, weaker or stronger, with more or less natural self control or foresight. We share an utter lack of control over our genetic inheritance, but possess a great deal of control over what we do with the chromosomal cocktail we're handed at birth.

Before answering Grim's question, we'd like to quibble with this:

One that strikes me as an obvious choice is number 7, "She will fight with her mother. Choose sides wisely." This is not a problem with a son: you are always on his mother's side, even on those occasions when you take her aside later and persuade her to change her mind.

Should a father of daughters always be on their mother's side? If so, why? Having raised only sons, the Editorial Staff always (publicly at least) supported the father of our sons, but this had nothing to do with the sex of our progeny and everything to do with presenting a united front to our children. Often, we were actually on the side of one or the other of our sons but this was conversation that took place in private, where we worked out the shape of that united front.

As for different rules for raising boys and girls, the only ones I can think of are slight variations on the same theme:

1. Never reward manipulative behavior (unless you want to see more of it). This rule strikes us as equally necessary regardless of the sex of the child involved. Girls are slightly more likely to cajole, charm, or wheedle to get their way but this is anything but an absolute rule. Boys whine and cajole all the time, and little girls can be extremely overbearing when they are allowed to be. As boys grow larger and stronger, whining can turn to aggressive or bullying behavior. Never give in to either.

2. Teach your child to be secure and to stand up for him or herself. Again, for boys this often means teaching him to deal with physical aggression. Girls may need more help dealing with verbal aggression. Both sexes need to learn to stand up for what is right. Boys and men pressure each other by shaming or questioning each other's bravery or masculinity. Girls will often play the loyalty card - "go along with the group or you'll be ostracized". Children need to know that their parents will support them, but they also need to know that their parents expect them to do the right thing even when it's hard.

3. Teach respect for others by example. Never, ever allow your child to treat you (or others) with disdain. Again, girls and boys may vary in the way disrespect is expressed, but the offense is the same.

This is an area where I often have trouble with modern child rearing practices. Parents sometimes seem so afraid of damaging their child's self esteem that they allow flagrantly inconsiderate and disrespectful behavior to go unchallenged and unpunished. One of the most important parenting tasks is developing a natural love of justice in a child. This is what will help a child regulate his own actions when no adults are present.

A few 'rules for Dads' that I had trouble with:

12. It’s never too early to start teaching her about money. She will still probably suck you dry as a teenager… and on her wedding day.

Realizing that this rule was probably meant to be humorous, why on earth would any parent allow their child - male or female - to "suck them dry"? Parents can't purchase good behavior or happy children with material things. Children need to learn to live within their (and their parents') means. The single worst mistake we see parents make with daughters is overindulging them - giving them everything they want. How is this good parenting? A wife, if she doesn't work, must be thrifty and learn to stretch her husband's income. If she does work, she shouldn't consider her paycheck to be her personal slush fund - it goes into the family pot.

22. She’s as smart as any boy. Make sure she knows that.

No, she's not "as smart as any boy". Some boys will be smarter than she is. So will some girls. One of the things my father got 100% right was not talking down to me because I was female (in the 1960s, no less!). He was perfectly happy to explain how a carburetor worked, or let me help him change the oil in his convertible. Just treat her like the person she is - that's enough. Don't assume she can't do this or that simply because she's female, but don't give her the idea that she's in some kind of unspoken competition with boys. If Dad treats women with open respect, his little girl will get the idea.

Feel free to posit your own rules in the comments section. And here's a question for you: what's the single biggest mistake you see parents make with boys?

Posted by Cassandra at June 3, 2013 06:54 AM

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My rule was ALWAYS Parental solidarity, at least in front of the children. Sex of the child does not matter.

Posted by: CAPT Mongo at June 3, 2013 09:28 AM

The single biggest mistake I see parents make with raising boys is not letting them take risks. Of course, I see this as the single biggest mistake I see parents make with raising girls, too.

I think you once mentioned a sign on a playground from back in the 1900's: Better a broken bone than a broken spirit.

Let those kids walk on the wall or railing. If there is concrete on one side, then walk on that side so you can cushion any fall. Bleeding, scrapes, cuts, and even broken bones are part of growing up. Shielding kids from those sorts of things does them no favors.

One of the roles of the dad is to counter the over-protectiveness of the mom, but in a smart way. For example, don't just let kids climb trees, but teach them how to climb trees safely. The rule of three is a good place to start--two hands and one foot, or two feet and one hand, always on the tree, and it is *impossible* to fall. As they gain confidence and ability, they will naturally and safely deviate from this rule. And having your spouse hear you teach this rule goes a long way to overcoming any resistance on his/her part.

We raised our kids that way, and they are raising their kids that way. And our kids' spouses have come around to that point of view, too. That's been a funny progression to watch, as our D-I-L was raised with only sisters, but has had only boys. She's adjusted well, but it's taken some time. Our S-I-L us actually more careful and strict than our daughter when it comes to our g-kids playing around, which I find somewhat curious. I suspect it comes from his remembering all the shenanigans he pulled when he was young.

Posted by: Rex at June 3, 2013 09:34 AM

spd's rules for raising daughters:

1. Play with them when they are young.
2. Dance with them at every opportunity.
3. Teach them to drive a stick shift.
4. Tone it down a bit, dad. They can hear you just fine.
5. Direct any criticism first to their mother. If it's valid, she'll pass it along, but much more productively than you. Follow up a little later on. If you were right, explain. If you were wrong, explain that too.
6. Girls seem to have more "bad days" than boys, for any number of reasons. Try to avoid being such a dick. This could be one of them.
7. Stop whatever it is that you're doing and just look at them for a minute. They are beautiful creatures, aren't they? Now say that out loud.
8. Take them to lunch every now and then - just the two of you. You'll be impressed.
9. You'll never understand their lifelong fixation with diamond rings and wedding dresses. It just is, so just enjoy the way their eyes light up.
10. Knowledge is power, but thinking critically is super power. Ask them what they think, then listen. Perspective. Different.
11. Broken hearts come with the territory. Sorry, Dad, but this is something that you just can't "fix." Patience.
12. Plan to die broke. Just sayin'.

spd's rules for raising boys:

1. Be a man.


Posted by: spd rdr at June 3, 2013 10:44 AM

"The Left loathes and fears it [masculinity]"
Ergo we need more of it; fill the empty spaces, down to the nooks and crannies, with masculinity – overhaul the culture, rehabilitate the betas, bulk up the deltas, restore the balance.


Rules for dads and daughters
Ahhh. My favorite subject – rules of engagement and theories social. Thank you John Dewey and Ben Spock for making everyone an expert. My parents were uneducated immigrants, made human mistakes but managed the big stuff – parenting – as by genius - gifted with the common sense God gave them. I am living proof of this and would have the psych evaluations to prove it had I ever needed psych evaluations.


"what's the single biggest mistake you see parents make with boys?"
They, as much of society, believe that the word (spoken or written) is mightier than the model – it is not.

Posted by: George Pal at June 3, 2013 10:56 AM

I laughed, too, at the idea that a daughter will suck her father dry when she's a teenager and on her wedding day. It wouldn't have occurred to me to try. As naive and self-centered as I was in youth, I didn't think it was OK to impoverish my parents, especially for fripperies. Sometimes they had to set me straight on what was feasible, as I had so little notion of it and so little comprehension of what they were sacrificing to make sure we all got good educations. Even so, they weren't about to pay Harvard tuition, get real.

And the "she's as smart as any boy" advice: I took that to mean she's neither more nor less likely to be smarter than any boy she happens to run across than to be smarter than any girl she happens to run across, and she won't know unless and until she learns something particular about that specific boy or girl, which was pretty much the message I got. My father never addressed the situation head-on, but simply gave me a life-long example of never trying to guess ahead of time how smart someone was by any characteristic except, well, the brains he or she had demonstrated so far. He so loved finding a good mind to interact with that he wouldn't have cared if it resided in a man, a woman, or an extraterrestrial. And while he didn't often discuss his passionately mourned late wife, my mother, so many of his rare stories about her involved his scholarly work with her as an equal colleague that it was impossible to miss the point. So he never advised me to pretend to be dumber than a boy I wanted to attract (perhaps because such a ruse wouldn't have attracted him), and he never had to advise me to drop a boy who seemed to expect such a thing (because I'd have automatically lost interest anyway).

The only rules I saw that wouldn't be equally applicable to raising boys involved the inherently ambiguous sexual attraction between a child and the parent of the obvious sex, such as when a father should dance with his daughter. There are things a daughter learns from how her father treats his wife that can't be the quite the same lesson as she learns from how her mother treats her husband, even if there are important overlaps.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 3, 2013 11:05 AM

"what's the single biggest mistake you see parents make with boys?"

Believing that boys grow up slower.

No! Boys grow up as quickly as you make them.

Generally speaking, I think what boys and girls need are exactly the same thing strategically. Tactics may differ, though.

Boys don't need the pearls. But that is tactics. The strategy is that occasionally (and only occasionally) it is OK to indulge them. Kids need you to be the parent and to set and enforce rules, but you can't be a hard-ass 100% of the time.

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 3, 2013 11:14 AM

Let those kids walk on the wall or railing. If there is concrete on one side, then walk on that side so you can cushion any fall. Bleeding, scrapes, cuts, and even broken bones are part of growing up. Shielding kids from those sorts of things does them no favors.

The one thing I would note is "unless the property owner has a sign telling people not to". One of my pet peeves is parents who let their kids climb on other people's railings, especially when there are signs saying "Do not climb on the railing". For one thing, the sign is there because people CAN sue you if they get hurt falling off your railing, so the sign is intended to protect them. Two, it's a lack of respect for other people's property. And while I understand that maybe that kid can't read the sign, their parents can, but can't be bothered to control their kid. So yeah, let your kid take risks. But don't let them take risks with other people's stuff, and certainly don't sue the people if your risk taking kid gets hurt through his own fault.

Posted by: MikeD at June 3, 2013 11:39 AM

[Rex] Our S-I-L us actually more careful and strict than our daughter when it comes to our g-kids playing around, which I find somewhat curious. I suspect it comes from his remembering all the shenanigans he pulled when he was young.

Heh :)

I think temperment also has to come into it. One area where I'm always a bit at odds with the definition of traditional gender roles is your comment here:

One of the roles of the dad is to counter the over-protectiveness of the mom, but in a smart way. For example, don't just let kids climb trees, but teach them how to climb trees safely.

I basically see things this way too, but ironically in our family I am the risk taker and my husband (the Marine!) is by nature more cautious. He is also very athletic - he was always rated high on physical courage (whatever that is?) in boot camp/OCS but by nature he is a very pragmatic, careful man. I think this is what makes him such a good long range planner.

I'm better at adapting quickly, but don't have his natural ability to plan for the worst, though I have learned a tremendous amount from him over the years. He was generally stricter/more cautious with the boys than I, so when we blended our parenting styles we got a pretty balanced set of rules. I love the emphasis on smart risk taking - that's exactly what we want our kids to do: take risks, but don't take *dumb* risks. I remember talking to my boys a lot about calculated risks - there's nothing wrong with risks but someone who takes them without stopping to assess whether the reward is worth the costs isn't thinking.

Posted by: Cass at June 3, 2013 11:55 AM

spd's rules (which I loved, by the way) reminded me of something else: I think you do have to adjust tactics/tone a bit - in general - depending on whether you're dealing with a daughter or a son.

The biggest two surprises from raising sons:

1. Don't even waste your time with subtlety when they're small. Saying "No" often works with girls (I watched them for 3 years) but some little boys will just ignore you unless you physically reinforce that "No" by moving the object or moving them away from it.

2. Boys are just as emotional as girls, if not more so. They just control/hide it better. One of my biggest mistakes as a mother was thinking that stony face and defiant body language meant my sons weren't listening, or that I wasn't getting through to them.

I don't regret enforcing a single rule or even a single punishment. I often regret mistaking outward indifference for lack of caring. On my worst days, I wish I had learned earlier to speak my piece and then just shut up and trust them to think things through.

Posted by: Cass at June 3, 2013 12:05 PM

Believing that boys grow up slower. No! Boys grow up as quickly as you make them.

I think the biggest mistake parents make with sons is expecting too little of them - the 'boys will be boys' mentality. My two couldn't have been more different, as boys or as adults.

They both were just as capable as girls of behaving well and treating others with respect and consideration.

Posted by: Cass at June 3, 2013 12:08 PM

The difference (so far) between my oldest boy and my daughter is that I can, from across the room, say "Yagette, stop that" and she will stop, turn to me and whine and cry about it. With my boy, I have to follow that up with walking across the room smacking him gently on the back of the head and he will look up at me and say "What?".

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 3, 2013 12:10 PM

I wasn't just Cass-baiting! I was also baiting several other people who read the Hall. :)

Actually, it's an area of interest of mine as well. Trying to understand women, for a man, is much like trying to understand the divine: though one lacks the capacity to achieve the goal, it is the mark of a noble soul never to abandon the quest. Trying to understand the differences is one way of approaching the problem.

Should a father of daughters always be on their mother's side? If so, why?

I have two things to say about this. First of all, I have not had a daughter, so I am taking the gentleman's advice as read that it is wise to be careful in choosing sides when wife and daughter fight. But I don't read his remark the same way you did: I read it as advice to be very careful before getting involved at all.

My model here is my own father, who had both a son and a daughter. Now never would he hesitate to back my mother up against me when there was a conflict, but he would linger long before he would get in between the women when they began to quarrel. That was a good opportunity to go mow the lawn, or work on the cars, or otherwise to attend to one of the myriad things that always need doing around the house. The best, and perhaps the only good, thing he could do was get out of the way and let them sort it out!

On the other hand, a boy must be taught by his father to show respect to women, and his mother is the first and most important example. If you teach him well here, when he marries he will have learned not to undercut his wife in public, to listen carefully to what she has to say even where he disagrees, and to approach disputes with her diplomatically and with respect. These are important lessons!

The other thing I wanted to say is that, this weekend, I happened to get to spend time with a friend from Iraq and catch up. I hadn't seen him since Baghdad, so I wanted to know how his family was doing. We have very similar parenting philosophies, but he only has a daughter while I only have a son.

It was interesting how much difference that makes. We both believe in being our child's most severe critic, but also greatest ally and teacher; we both believe in firm discipline coupled with tenderness when the child is behaving well. But we discovered a lot of differences in outcomes, one of which is that my son calls me "Sir!," and his daughter does not so call him. He wanted her too, he said, but his wife just wouldn't support it -- she didn't think it was right to inflict that on a daughter. I don't know how my wife would have felt about it if we'd had a daughter, but she was extremely supportive given the rather rambunctious and bull-headed boy we do have. :)

Posted by: Grim at June 3, 2013 02:06 PM

Lots of interesting ideas here! Let me take them singly:

My model here is my own father, who had both a son and a daughter. Now never would he hesitate to back my mother up against me when there was a conflict, but he would linger long before he would get in between the women when they began to quarrel. That was a good opportunity to go mow the lawn, or work on the cars, or otherwise to attend to one of the myriad things that always need doing around the house. The best, and perhaps the only good, thing he could do was get out of the way and let them sort it out!

This may be a terminology thing, but something about the way this is phrased really bugs me. I'm not offended (because I've heard men say this sort of thing so often) but I *am* completely mystified by it. Parents don't "quarrel" with children. Parents tell children what to do, and children are supposed to obey.

OK, I'm a Nazi that way, but in my mind it really is pretty simple. So the idea that Dad would be interfering in some kind of quarrel between peers seems wrongheaded. And the idea that Dad would be wrong to support the mother of his children in a contest of wills also seems wrongheaded. That's precisely what fathers *ought* to do, I think.

On the other hand, a boy must be taught by his father to show respect to women, and his mother is the first and most important example.

But how is this different for girls? Do they not need to be taught to respect their mothers? I think they do, and I think it's pretty much on Mom to make sure that happens. Dad can undermine this by being passive or avoiding conflict or taking the daughter's side against the mother, but the one thing he should NOT do is treat this as "women's business". It's parenting business.

If you teach him well here, when he marries he will have learned not to undercut his wife in public, to listen carefully to what she has to say even where he disagrees, and to approach disputes with her diplomatically and with respect. These are important lessons!

Absolutely, but they apply to girls as well - just not in the same way. Girls need to learn not to mouth off to legitimate authority figures, and they need to learn to give (and demand) respect. Mothers are leaders. Their authority is not derived from their husbands, but many women absolutely are uncomfortable exercising authority (especially when doing so requires some show of force, whether intellectual or physical). I didn't happen to suffer from that particular problem, but I observed it plenty of times.

But I've also seen waaaaaaaay too many Dads who undermine discipline by always being the good guy and letting Mom take all the heat :p So I don't think it's really so much a matter of sex as of style.

I have a relative who is a great Mom, but for years her husband undermined her when she attempted to set firm limits and enforce them. He really caused a LOT of problems. The father of a little girl I watched full time did the same thing - he just could not say no to his daughter but was very strict with his sons. It wasn't good for her character.

One thing I see a lot with mothers - especially single Moms - is parenting fatigue. The most invaluable service my husband performed for me was always backing me up. The thing is - I didn't need this most of the time, and absolutely couldn't rely upon it because much of the time, he was gone. But his support helped me not to give in when the boys started to wear me down.

Girls are (IMO) actually harder to raise in this regard because they're better at wearing their parents down than boys. So a father who "opts out" when his girls clash with Mom is doing her a real disservice.

Just my two cents :)

Posted by: Cass at June 3, 2013 02:29 PM

Their authority is not derived from their husbands, but many women absolutely are uncomfortable exercising authority...

Well, not my mother. :) She was 100% with you on her authority not deriving from her husband, but quite capable of asserting it vigorously on her own.

In fact, knowing her, I suspect that if my father had joined in on her side he'd have ended up taking fire from both of them -- from the daughter (in the ways daughters have) for taking mom's side, and from mom for daring to presume to intervene in something she could handle quite well on her own.

There's also Sun Tzu's dictum: "Know thyself and thy enemy, and you can fight a thousand battles without defeat." The corollary to that is to keep out of the fight if you don't really understand the combatants, or what they're even really fighting over: when my mother and sister fight, it is not always clear to anyone else what is really at stake.

Parents tell children what to do, and children are supposed to obey.

So was I raised, and so have I raised my son -- with the addendum that his duty is not merely to obey, but to be cheerful about it. I punish sulking obedience nearly as much as defiance.

Not that I see much defiance. Yet I have seen that others get it from him, even though I do not. Ultimately, respect must be earned by the individual who claims authority, I suspect.

Posted by: Grim at June 3, 2013 02:45 PM

Having thought it over some more, I want to qualify what I said in the last comment about Dads (or any parent) intervening.

Here's a positive way I could construe the advice: if Mom's handling the conflict (but in a way different from the way you would handle it) then I agree - keep out, and make darned sure that if the child comes to you, you're singing the same tune as Mom.

That was a big rule in our house - whoever started with the issue, that person handled it without interference from the other parent. My husband usually came down harder on the boys than I did, and sometimes that bothered me. But it was his issue to handle and if I disagreed, that was a private discussion.

Likewise, there were times (I'm sure) when he thought, "Jeez - just lay down the law. No need for all this talking". But that was my way of handling things as long as there was no open defiance. Luckily, we agreed about never tolerating disrespect, and our boys were never disrespectful. They might look mulish or drag their feet, but they didn't talk back or roll their eyes.

I've seen both men and women interfere with the other parent in disciplinary scenarios, and always thought it had the effect of undermining the other parent or signalling a lack of confidence. So if that's what's meant by "keep out of it", then I agree.

But not because it's women's business. A child isn't a woman yet, and I don't think the sex of the child or parent matters at all.

Posted by: Cass at June 3, 2013 02:46 PM

... knowing her, I suspect that if my father had joined in on her side he'd have ended up taking fire from both of them -- from the daughter (in the ways daughters have) for taking mom's side, and from mom for daring to presume to intervene in something she could handle quite well on her own.

Can't disagree with that! :)

The corollary to that is to keep out of the fight if you don't really understand the combatants, or what they're even really fighting over: when my mother and sister fight, it is not always clear to anyone else what is really at stake.

I think this has to be different between two adults (even when one is the mother) and a parent and child. I still fight with my Mom much more than I do with Dad. He occasionally intercedes to make peace, and most of the time I've found it helps us move past whatever emotional impasse we're stuck at. But we're both adults now, and he's not in a position of authority over me, though obviously I respect him because he's my father.

Posted by: Cass at June 3, 2013 02:50 PM

I laughed, too, at the idea that a daughter will suck her father dry when she's a teenager and on her wedding day. It wouldn't have occurred to me to try. As naive and self-centered as I was in youth, I didn't think it was OK to impoverish my parents, especially for fripperies. Sometimes they had to set me straight on what was feasible, as I had so little notion of it and so little comprehension of what they were sacrificing to make sure we all got good educations. Even so, they weren't about to pay Harvard tuition, get real.

It's pretty normal for children of both sexes to want everything they see. I can't honestly say I've noticed any difference between boys and girls in this regard.

With my sons it was expensive bikes and Nintendo Game Boys or electronics. Or that sports camp the rest of the team were all going to. Mostly we said "no" a lot, because these things usually weren't in our budget and we didn't think they needed them to be happy.

I must be kind of weird, or maybe it's that we didn't have a lot of extra money lying around, but I didn't feel any real push to buy my kids everything they wanted. Sometimes the answer was, "Hey - go out and earn the money. Or earn half and maybe I'll give you the other half as a birthday present". What I can't imagine is spending money I didn't have.

I wanted a lot of things other girls had when I was younger, but I never expected them. My parents just had different values and spent their money on different things. I was OK with that and didn't seriously question it (though I wasn't about to tell my parents that!)

My nieces all babysit, as I did. They earn money and save up for extra things they want and I think that's good for their character.

Posted by: Cass at June 3, 2013 03:25 PM

Ultimately, respect must be earned by the individual who claims authority, I suspect.

I couldn't agree more, Grim.

Posted by: Cass at June 3, 2013 03:27 PM

Trying to understand women, for a man, is much like trying to understand the divine: though one lacks the capacity to achieve the goal, it is the mark of a noble soul never to abandon the quest. Trying to understand the differences is one way of approaching the problem.

Funny you should say that, Grim. I was just remembering my father's advice on the subject the other day.

"Son," he said, "there are just two things a man needs to know in order to understand women. And nobody has a clue what either one of them are."

Posted by: MikeD at June 3, 2013 09:50 PM

One of the few things I can't understand about men is this insistence that women are incomprehensible. Otherwise they're as clear as glass, and usually perceptive enough to get through the day. :-)

Posted by: Texan99 at June 3, 2013 10:13 PM

MikeD @ 9:50 pm

that there was pretty funny. :)


You can make a lot of the right moves when your children are young, but at a certain age, they will pull away from you, seduced by the popular culture and their friends. At some point, if what you have taught actually sticks, they will come back to you.

But at some point in almost all of your children's lives, they will put you on a roller coaster of emotional turmoil. Not much you can do but ride it out.

Posted by: Don Brouhaha at June 3, 2013 11:07 PM

One of the few things I can't understand about men is this insistence that women are incomprehensible. Otherwise they're as clear as glass, and usually perceptive enough to get through the day. :-)

In my age, I've figured some of it out. Like when she's visibly upset but says nothing's wrong. As a young man, that baffled me. Now I understand that she is just unwilling to ADMIT she's upset, but that she doesn't want me to take her at her word. Now, perhaps that concept is very clear to women, but that was a two part learning process for me (one part was that she was mad, the second that I shouldn't just say "ok").

Another example is the asking of questions that don't actually have correct answers. "Do you think she's pretty?" (where regardless of how you answer, you get in trouble) or "Does this make me look fat?" (where it SEEMS like the obvious answer is "no", but that can get you in trouble as well if she disagrees). I've learned to say "I suppose so, if you like that sort of thing" to the former and while MY wife doesn't ask the latter, I learned the correct response was "I think it looks flattering" if it did or "I like the other [insert clothing item here] better" if it didn't look flattering. And then walk away. Cause the more specific you get, the more likely you were to get in trouble. Oh and one final note on the "do you think she's pretty" question... I saw an excellent piece of advice on that. It recommended picking out something, indeed ANYTHING, the woman in question did not (and preferably would never) share with your woman, and then criticize that. "Well, she's got those weird earlobes that don't attach [if your SO has attached earlobes], and that's just off-putting." That way you make her feel more secure about her appearance without making her worry that someday that might happen to her.

There are still communications that I do not understand, but I keep trying to learn. But that's what we mean when we say "women cannot be understood."

Posted by: MikeD at June 4, 2013 08:47 AM

This will probably get me into a whole lot of trouble, but I find the behavior of men to be just as [occasionally] irrational as women are said to be :p

Case in point: the stereotypical male plea to "Just be honest with me about what you want". You know that I love men dearly. I have had male friends from the time I was a little girl, and if there's one thing I've learned about men, it's that they often reflexively resist anything they believe to be an attempt to boss them around or limit their freedom.

And men see FAR more things - even simple requests to share work - as attempts to boss them around. I think this may be because men continually try to dominate each other, so they are more likely to interpret things that women view as negotiations as attempts to dominate or best them. The best men moderate this in themselves, but it's still there.

Here's another one. I'm being dead honest here, and hoping I don't cause offense. Women typically are far more self effacing in their interactions with men, and we are this way for good reason. Men often claim it is unnecessary, but don't you dare take them at their word because then you're being "butch" or masculine or bossy or a ball buster or any of the gazillion lovely epithets men apply to women who act the way men tell us we should because it's "simpler" :p

My husband loves me dearly and knows me better than anyone in the universe, but I learned long ago that I can't be totally direct with him. I run straight into male pride. I can say exactly the same thing (differing only in the amount of indirection and deference I exhibit) and get two polar opposite reactions.

I don't see how this is really any different from what men claim not to understand in women: that saying the same thing (once with deference to her feelings, which makes women feel more loved/respected, and once with blunt honesty) will get two completely different reactions.

The plain fact is that both men and women have feelings that are more easily hurt by those we love most. I used to offer sympathy to male friends who shared a problem with me because that's how we women support and comfort our friends. There's no loss of respect - we ALL have problems. And I've really never seen a guy who doesn't recoil (at least to some degree) from sympathy. They see it as demeaning, whereas I see it as basically respectful and caring b/c if I thought the guy was a jackwagon, I wouldn't feel sympathy for him at all.

Humans aren't terribly logical creatures, and the plumbing doesn't seem to make a whole lot of difference.

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2013 09:20 AM

This will probably get me into a whole lot of trouble, but I find the behavior of men to be just as [occasionally] irrational as women are said to be :p

At least, I'm sure. :-)

It's always easier to understand someone from your own mindset. This is true whether you are talking about genders or nationalities. In one of the articles about that Japanese legislator's "comfort women" remark, the writer interviewed another legislator who didn't want to comment because criticizing someone from the other party Just. Wasn't. Done.

*head explodes*

Posted by: Yu-Ain Gonnano at June 4, 2013 09:45 AM

That's pretty much the point. We can understand someone who's just like ourselves without any effort to speak of. For men to understand women, or vice versa, requires some effort. When men or women make self-congratulatory jokes about how incomprehensible the other sex is, it's funny to the extent we're poking fun at our own provincial denseness. It's not quite as funny if it's meant seriously. Men are as capable as women of understanding the perspective of a different person, if they think it's worth the trouble.

Posted by: Texan99 at June 4, 2013 11:40 AM

When I wrote:

Trying to understand women, for a man, is much like trying to understand the divine: though one lacks the capacity to achieve the goal, it is the mark of a noble soul never to abandon the quest. Trying to understand the differences is one way of approaching the problem.

I didn't actually mean things like what Mike is raising here. It's not the little jokes we tell that I'm thinking of at all.

Consider my wife. Over the years I have learned that the world that she lives in is not like the world I inhabit at all. For one thing it is more brightly and more warmly colored. Many things that seem grey to me are blue or green to her, and purples and reds pop out to her where I wouldn't notice them.

Her world is full of flowers, which leap to her attention. I might walk past a field of wildflowers and never see them at all, but each one stands out to her.

Moreover, it's a world inhabited by very different kinds of people. Her brain contains, science tells us, about 1/30th the testosterone of mine. We have learned that the hormone has a huge effect on your experience of the world. Of course she has entirely different chemicals that likewise transform her experience in ways I cannot but begin to imagine. As a result, the people she meets and knows are completely different from the ones I do, even though they are the same people.

It is actually impossible for me to really understand what it would be like to live in her world. But I never stop trying to understand as much as I can. One way to begin to approach the problem is to learn what some of the differences are, and try to imagine what that would be like. You can't really do it, and you certainly can't put it all together into the world she knows. But you can begin to imagine that world.

Posted by: Grim at June 4, 2013 01:59 PM

To back up what Grim is saying here, I am reminded of the time I think my wife actually understood that I meant what I said when I said I wasn't thinking about anything. I was zoned out, basically staring into space, and she asked "What are you thinking about?" The honest answer was "Oh. Nothing." There was a little back and forth, until I asked her, "You mean to tell me that you're thinking about something every waking moment? That sounds incredibly tiring!" And she got it. My brain had shifted into neutral, and she didn't understand that such a thing was possible. I'm pretty sure I've related that story before, and even the men of the Company agreed that this sounded weird, but it goes towards the idea that people who are not ME have very different perceptions of the world than I do, or that I can even conceive.

Now... I will admit, Ms Cass, than men can be equally obtuse in our communications at times. And I know I even drive my bride around the bend from time to time. But I kind of want to disagree a touch on your statement:
"My husband loves me dearly and knows me better than anyone in the universe, but I learned long ago that I can't be totally direct with him. I run straight into male pride. I can say exactly the same thing (differing only in the amount of indirection and deference I exhibit) and get two polar opposite reactions."

There's a far cry between the reactions you'll get with "Would you please take out the trash?" and "Would you please take out the trash?" regardless of who's asking. Stressing that one word can set hackles to rising, I know, even though both are asking the same thing using the very same words. And it wouldn't matter if it were my father asking me, my brother, my mother or my wife. The first is polite and reasonable. The second (again, regardless of who's asking it) is pushy. Now then again, I fully admit I'm a fairly muley guy, and I can easily get my back up if I feel I'm being pushed, but I'm pretty sure that would come across as pushy to anyone else.

Posted by: MikeD at June 4, 2013 02:52 PM

I don't disagree, Mike. Most people bristle at implied disrespect or exasperation, and warm to courtesy.

But this seems more of a male/female thing to me, and it isn't just my husband. It's a subtle nuance, but it's there. And I have no trouble admitting that we women have our own sensitivities - we absolutely do.

I just find it funny when men go on about 'how incomprehensible women are', never realizing that we see just as many things we find frustrating/odd/puzzling/illogical in male behavior but just assume these little foibles go with the territory (as opposed to being some special property of "men", as in "men are so unreasonable/emotional").

I do want to clarify that I haven't heard you say anything like this, but I hear it so often from other men that your comment reminded me of it :p

Posted by: Cass at June 4, 2013 03:09 PM

When men or women make self-congratulatory jokes about how incomprehensible the other sex is, it's funny to the extent we're poking fun at our own provincial denseness. It's not quite as funny if it's meant seriously. Men are as capable as women of understanding the perspective of a different person, if they think it's worth the trouble.

As you so often do, your comment captures my thoughts exactly. That willingness to try is what I loved about Grim's comment.

Posted by: Cassandra at June 4, 2013 04:44 PM

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