Males and Females are an interesting study
Unconventional is an accurate descriptor of my academic record. Not because of untraditional classes, professors, nor teaching methods. I spent 4 years in university, albeit in a non-American city, though the buildings, structures, and curriculum followed status quo.
Though, in selecting the two components of my degree, the student body comprised of two very distinct populations. One, predominately male. The other, predominantly female.
The moral high-ground claims a dominant female classroom would be congruent with a dominant male classroom. Though, of course, class curriculum aside, I noticed stark dissimilarities.
The two classroom experiences
I’d step inside my Information Systems classes with (mostly) inward-looking, technically-minded guys. I’d sit beside them discussing Silicon Valley, a frat party, or an upcoming iPhone release. Our curiosity hungered to understand how systems worked, and we cheered reading materials that supported a futuristic expansion of data for decision-making.
Then, I’d attend my Labor-Management Relations classes with (mostly) bubbly, empathetic girls. Before I took a seat, they’d introduce themselves and delve into civil victories in far-off countries, the unrelenting winter weather, or the shoes I wore. Each class was a lesson in empathy, understanding people and the legal bindings between worker experiences and policy.
From my time in each fish bowl, I recorded years of observed interactions between guys and girls. There is nuance to trends, and it’s dangerous to make generalizations – especially as an admittedly biased watcher. Though I do affix value to my experiences, even if it is only a sampling of the worldly communications that happen between cis-male, cis-females in a big, diverse world.
Guys communicate in punches
Guys communicate with straightforward bravado. My male friendships start with luck, an assignment of random group members or a passing comment that perks my ears. Honesty, even if unflattering, is welcomed, laughed off, and thrown under the rug. Memory centers on stories, not facts. Rarely can my male friends rattle off names of my siblings nor my preferred dog breed. But they do remember an epic night, who did what, and how the night was won (or lost).
Girls communicate in handshakes
Girls dance in dialogue, asking questions, finding commonality, and building upon each other’s histories (herstories?). I’ve fostered friendships on inklings as insignificant as a unique bracelet or as consuming as a shared passion. Conversations regularly feature validation, whether it be in commiserating over romantic relationships, confirming an outfit’s appearance, or commenting on societal injustices. We want agreement. My female friends hunt for details, cataloguing my personal baseball card inside a fold of memory, next to the passwords for Streaming accounts and their significant other’s birthday.
I have illustrious dialogues with my female friends, whereas with my male friends, I am often a conversational foil to their Hero’s story.
Supporting this idea, Leslie Brody and Judith Hall – researchers on the differences in emotions between the sexes – posited that females developing facility with language earlier gave females an advantage in communication. Females spend more time articulating their feelings and expanding their reactionary vocabulary to substitute physical conveyances of frustration, anger, resentment, excreta (explored in greater length in Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Coleman). We rarely punch, instead we talk.
So, why are male friendships “easier”?
Even with all this considered, my identity as a cis-female and my preference for conversations of equal talking time, I’ve found male friendships easier to manage.
The secret sauce of female friendships, balanced and even conversations, doubles as a poison. I cannot count the Sunday brunches where I’ve played partner in decrypting conversations. My girlfriend and I sit across the table, waiting on coffee and omelets, questioning how someone could have said that.
The offense surfaces as a one-off slight or an unintended remark with the assumption that when female friends talk, they say what they mean. Staying silent is no safer. Failure to reach out, respond, or raise a point in a timely manner provokes equal ire.
We call foul on fellow females for speaking and saying the wrong thing, speaking and not saying the exact right thing, not speaking in a favorable time band, and not speaking at all. All of these (and more) have yielded side conversations where I’ve played mediator, apologist, and yes, even the complainer.
Our female conversation drowns in undue emphasis and backtalk. The post-conversation debrief is similarly hefty. We assess our fallible memory of what friends said and meant against an unachievable standard. When we fall, as we doubtlessly do as human beings, forgiveness is a scarce resource given to those who relinquish any sense of superiority and righteousness. Someone has to be right. Someone has to be wrong.
Why this matters
For me, this causes unintended consequences. Female relationships often rely on tinted conversations, where we pitch our voices at an octave higher, and tread carefully around saying *anything* that might rock a boat or cause frustration. Concentrated topics center around pithy generalizations and known-safe-areas of agreement.
Eggshell-walking becomes status-quo, and as adaptable as we are as females, we grow “used to” this.
Any topic painting these broad strokes deserves analysis. Of course, anecdotal experiences do not resemble an entire population. Nor should it be pinned against males and females (and other gender-identifiers) who consistently harvest fulfilling friendships.
But I do worry we, as females, do eachother a disservice. Given our incredible capacity to listen, learn, and love, we might appraise the intentions of fellow females without that same compassion that initially received that love into our hearts.