Published on The Daily Femme – Friday, Jan. 28, 2011
Contributed by Annamarya
Ever wanted to know why your male friend, boyfriend, husband or fiance doesn’t listen to you? Ever wanted to know why your venting is met with shuttered ears? Ever wonder why you two experience communication breakdowns? Well, according to Robert Leahy, Ph.D and his riveting (that’s sarcasm, if you didn’t know) piece, Why Men Don’t Listen to Women, for the Huffington Post, the reasons for such a dilemma are seven-fold (paraphrased):
- Men view relationships as a “power-struggle,” and when “the woman is venting her feelings, then she is winning and the man is losing.”
- They use “sarcastic” comments, which he lists as “put-downs, contempt, criticism and condescension” to get “the woman to either shut up or help her see that she is being ridiculous.”
- If he validates or shows emotional support, it means he’s “unmanly,” and he’ll think things like: “You are trying to make us into wusses.”
- Because some men find venting “so upsetting, so emotionally arousing,” they either meet it with anger or withdraw.
- If they reinforce whining, they think, the complaining won’t stop.
- They find women venting irrational, and they want rationality.
- They don’t want to share emotions. They want to share facts and solve problems.
I find this entire article troublesome but what’s most problematic about this article is the language Leahy uses to support his theories. In his piece, Leahy paints men as power-hungry, problem-solving mates and women as seeking comfort and affirmation, all while declaring (before listing his reasons): “Now I don’t want to claim that men are always the problem — or that they are even more likely to be the problem than women are. No group is innocent, no group is perfect. But I can see that a lot of times men have a great deal of difficulty validating and emotionally supporting the women in their lives.” On one hand, he openly admits that “the problem” in such correspondences cannot be linked directly to men – that, in fact, communication, and such problems thereof, is a two-way street. Yet, he abates this logical admission by asserting that “a lot of times” men are too emotionally inept to understand the emotional aptitude of women – that they are stone walls and women are weeping willows. Really, it’s a blatant contradiction, and the leading part of the sentence seems to just have been thrown in for the sake of political correctness.
He also confirms each reason with such scenarios as “For example, some men respond with, ‘It must be that time of the month’ or ‘Get me a beer’…” (Sarcasm), while passively pinning women in the distraught role by using words like “complaining” and “apparent irrationality” to describe their attitudes. This only further reinforces the stereotypes of women/men relationships often purported by lazy and unimaginative basic TV sitcoms. In fact, taking in this whole post through, it reads more like a dissertation on the dysfunctional husband-wife relationship of “Everybody Loves Raymond” than it does actual human interaction. And that’s troubling.
This is not to say such negative dialogues outlined in this piece do not occur, however, we cannot simply breakdown communication issues to relationships between men and women, nor can we generalize why these problems exist. Even if Leahy’s assertions are supported by studies and observations, it is only one piece of the puzzle. Sure, I’ll admit there may be some characteristics unique to each gender when it comes to mutual expression, but I can’t help wondering how much of that is learned and how much of that is inherent. Are men naturally adverse to open dialogue with women or are they taught to be that way – at least, the way Leahy claims them to be? Is it really “men just being men” or are the “many” Leahy seems to base this article on just fulfilling some type of gender expectation? Still, he doesn’t allow for any discourse on women whose traits mirror those he attributes to men, or on men whose traits mirror those he attributes to women. Are they just exceptions to some sexist rule?
Towards the end of the piece, Leahy writes without gender-bias: “Let me go back to a fundamental part of intimate relationships. We want to feel that our partner cares about and respects our feelings. We want to believe that they have time to listen. We want to feel supported, soothed and that we are not a burden.” So what would Leahy say about same-sex relationships? Do men display these same characteristics when in relationships with other men? Do women need as much support and validation when with other women or is their relationship just perfect? How does communication work outside of heterosexuality – outside of gender? I’d imagine it’d work much like the above quote, but with the existence of articles, such as this one, that assign clear gender roles, we may never truly find out.