Over the weekend, I read Dr. Boyce Watkins’s column in which he posed the question: “Do Women Really Want to Think like a Man?”
In it, Watkins challenges the much touted advice given by some relationship experts (*ahem* Steve Harvey) that the best way to “win his heart” is to embody the traits associated with manhood. His thoughts are that the modern day version of manhood has been tainted by the commercialization of hip hop, in which sex is more celebrated than healthy relationships. He writes: “How about we write another book called “Act like a lady, think like a woman?” A real woman is not someone who tries to emulate the behavior and thinking of the lowest common denominator. She is not one who juggles men around like a circus bear on a unicycle. She is not someone with a pile of sexual conquests (and subsequent STDs) on her resume. She is someone who commands respect in her relationships, seeks out meaningful love, chooses the right partner, and consistently works to be the best partner she can be.”
I think Watkins has a good point, or at least a foundation for which to build upon. However, I actually get the spirit of what Harvey is saying, although I don’t agree with how he goes about telling women to implement his advice. However, the core of his message is this: Too often women settle for the first man that shows them the least bit of attention instead of dating around to find the right man period. There is no debating that. But is this idea simply a male trait only?
This sort of way that we categorize gender traits is nothing new. In the business world, women have been told that the best way to succeed is to think like men, because men are more competitive and motivated to find the upper hand in their business dealings. Last year, the Washington Post had a column about how women should shop with the same level of brand unconsciousness, and emphasis on quality of garment, as men. Even in advertising we find images of women using their heart to determine purchases and men, being the more stable of genders allegedly, relying strictly on their brains. The message is clear: women are emotional and men, well they are the rationale bunch of the genders.
Men and women are, of course, biologically different. Yet how we compartmentalize our differences has little to do with biological and more to do with societal influences and prejudices. It is not surprising then that the masculine/feminine dichotomy is used to classify things like strength and weakness, reason and nature and rationale and emotions. For instance, a few years ago I got into a heated debate with a high school friend, via Facebook, over his assertion that women were too emotional to lead and that men, were better equipped because it was there nature to be rational. I challenged his theory by spending the rest of the afternoon, intentionally and calculatingly pushing his buttons until he exploded with name calling and yelling, which was demonstrated by the overuse of capital letters.
The point is that men clearly can be guided by their emotions too, even if the emotional response is different. Even science has suggested that while men and women basically have the same hardware, it’s the software instructions and how they are put to use that makes the sexes seem different. That basically means that while he might not pour his heart out to you in sonnets and prose, he might be reduced to tears if his favorite football or basketball team loses the important game.
So what does this all have to do with Steve Harvey and his book and soon to be movie? Well, because it does the same sort of pandering to so called gender specific traits that suggest that women are naturally irrational and men are the only gender capable of being logical. For example, in one of Harvey’s infamous Strawberry Letters, a 26-year-old man involved with a woman started receiving anonymous texts from another a woman. He began sexting with this woman and soon arranged a date to meet this mysterious person at a public place. Upon his arrival, he learned that this mysterious woman was in fact an old college buddy, who was secretly in the closet. An argument ensued. The college buddy threatened to not only tell his girlfriend but also post all of this man business on social networking sites if he did not allow him to “touch” him. Did he oblige? Of course he did, there would be no Strawberry Letter if he simply said no.
Now, this doesn’t sound like the archetype of a rational being assessing whether or not his decisions are aligned with his aims and actions. No, this sounds like a person who is behaving irrationally. Nor does it sound like someone running off of emotions. A purely emotional response probably would have been to act out of anger, kick the guys behind and then think about how it will affect his relationship later. Or it could have meant ignoring the mysterious text messages all together out of guilt he would have felt about the possible hurt he could have bestowed on his lady. In the latter, he could have benefited from his rational and emotional – or as society deems it, his masculine and feminine – sides working together. Instead he acted stupidly, which knows no bounds or gender. In essence, instead of telling us to think like men to make better relationship choices, a better name for Harvey’s book would have been, “Act like a Mature Adult, Stop being Stupid.”
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