Saturday, July 18, 2009

Talking Past Each Other.

Recently I was engaged in a an interesting discussion over at Clio's blog. Namely, has the definition of rape changed? The discussion was basically a continuation of two previous discussions; one from Roissy's and one from the 2Blowhards site. Link 1 and Link 2.

Basically my assertions were that:
1) That in cases of rape, there is a degree of legal and social prejudice which renders the presumption of innocence ineffective.
2)Women interpret things differently to men.

It's on this second point that I wish to concentrate since the discussion itself turned out to be a fascinating example of my second point.

It is my belief, that men and women process information differently and this in turn affects the way that the they interpret events. Male/female misunderstanding is a common enough experience which seems to confirm my belief, but where this misunderstanding can lead to potentially tragic outcomes is in the area of human sexual relations, where frequently consent is not explicitly given but implied

Now in normal human intimacy, sexual escalation does not usually proceed through negotiation, the partner does not explicitly ask if he can kiss the woman, he proceeds and then waits for her response. If the man initiates actions which the woman finds agreeable, the combination of non-resistance, moans, etc. is enough to imply consent. The point here is that the escalation of human intimacy usually occurs through implicit rather than explicit communication.

Now the point of all this is that men are frequently terrible at understanding implicit meaning. A girl may be quite friendly to a man and having only friendly intentions while the same man may think the girl's actions are an attempt to initiate a relationship. This of course may cause offence to the girl and embarrassment to the man without any malice actually being present. For example a man my wish to complement a woman but she may interpret it as a form of harassment, once again without any malice being present.

Communication between parties can be though of as occuring in a first and second order manner. First order communication is unambigous transfer of information without implicit meaning. Implicit communication is what I would term as second order communication, perception is dependent on both the mental make up of the perceiver and the message. So for example a woman who is a militant feminist may interpret a complement as sexual harassment another woman who is not, won't. The point here is that the signal has a different effect depending on the "software/culture" of the receiver.

When Viagra first came on the market, I was surprised at the number of women who would not let their husbands take it or got angry when their husbands did. Initially, I interpreted this as the woman not wanting to be sexually bothered by the man. Until one day I was having a discussion with a lady who was unhappy about her husband using Viagra and I asked her why. "I should be able to get it up for him without him needing medicine". Upon further questioning it became apparent that this woman was unhappy about her husbands Viagra use because it confirmed her self-perceptions of unattractiveness. The husband, whom I knew well, thought his wife was gorgeous and he felt that his wife--whom he felt other men regarded as gorgeous--would leave him if he did not sexually satisfy. Now this was a classic situation where two people drew different conclusions from the same situation. Anecdotally, when I now prescribe Viagra I tell my male patients to go home and reassure their wives. The men are frequently quite perplexed when I point this out but surprised when they find out that their wife was anxious about their sexual allure.

Now what seems to have become apparent to me in my years of practice, is that human thinking tends to be a mix of first and second order communication. While both sexes are capable of both, men in general seem to operate more on a first order basis while women on a second order basis.

Now second order communication has both its benefits and its drawbacks, and these will be dependant on the culture of the recipient of information. Now, if a woman is obsessed with sexual politics she is going there is going to be a very wide variety of "signals" which she is going to interpret in sexuo-political way. More importantly, prejudices of any kind have a profound impact on second order thinking, since information is interpreted in context of the prejudice.

Where second order thinking assumes a dangerous dimension is when the second order thinker asserts that their interpretation is objective and not subjective.

A perfect example of this second order thinking is expressed by Clio in my exchange with her. Clio consistently imputes to me opinions which I do not hold. Now I can see how she could interpret my comments in such a way, but I would ask the reader to go over our little exchange and see if I explicitly make any of the claims she imputes to me.

For example:

Here’s a snippet of what you said to me in your last comment:
(The Social Pathologist)Now a sane and rational man would look at the facts in toto with due regard to each of them and come to the conclusion that this woman was grossly irresponsible in her behaviour. She did not deserve anyone’s sympathy or support. Yet your interpretation of the facts would nullify pertinent features because the conclusions would be “distasteful”.

(Clio) This is the comment to which I was responding when I took your words “personally” and argued in support of my own detachment. It certainly implies that I had been irrational and unreasonable.

It logically implied nothing of the sort, yet Clio perceived it to. Now it could also mean that a sane and rational woman would look at the facts differently. It does not logically follow that a different opinion is necessarily the opinion of an an insane or irrational person. Now it is possible that my writing was ambiguous, but if there was any lack of clarity on my part I suppose the appropriate thing would have been to seek clarification. I am quite capable of stating that women are idiots(even though I don't believe it) or utter other disagreeable comments if the situation arises. The point here is that Clio attributed sentiments to me which I did not posses and then proceeded to vigourously assert that I possessed them. Interestingly she self-identified with her position, perceiving an rebuttal to the subject at hand as an injury to her self.

This is the typical Men are from Mars, Women from Venus, stuff and quite frequently both the source of both mirth and marital misery. A fair portion of my time is spent counselling couples who are in marital strife because of the differences in their perceptions of their marriage.

Now this type of thinking assumes dangerous implications when it comes to sexual harassment (and rape) Suppose a man makes an ambiguous comment which is interpreted as an unwanted sexual advance by a woman. Now the man may have meant one thing but it has been interpreted as another. Whom do the courts believe; the woman who has "experienced" sexual harassment, or the man who has not intentionally offended? A man is dead in the water if his legal system is feminist prejudiced.

The point here is that we as a society need to recognise that men and women both think and perceive differently and take account of it. This does not mean that one is superior than the other. In fact, both forms of thinking have both the benefits and drawbacks, the point is however, that non-recognition of this fact does an injustice to both sexes and is a source of much male female grief.

Here is a LINK to a video by Deborah Tannen, a linguist who has studied how men and women miscommunicate. It's well worth the view.

Further proof that masculinity and femininity are not social constructs; they are innate.