Wednesday, 13 February 2013

No shorthand

It's been pointed out to me many times that I generalise too much about men and women. That we're all complex individuals, sometimes very different, sometimes very similar. Generalisations are hazardous.

So I'm going to try not to generalise about men and women in future. I'm going to treat them as individuals with their own particular identities. I look male, you look female. But maybe I swoon over my favourite lip gloss, while you swoon over the latest football scores. We can't be pinned down that easily.

It's a tempting shorthand to say men are emotionally repressed or sex-mad, while women are hopeless with machines or incurably romantic, but it's all half-baked nonsense that's probably false as much as it's true. It's the stuff of tabloid newspapers rather than real life.

People may say their man or their woman is "absolutely typical" of the gender stereotypes. They may say "Men - they're all the same." They may say "You know what women are like." But they don't really mean it. They know the actual men and women in their lives don't fit neatly into any gender boxes and have all sorts of unpredictable quirks and tastes. The throwaway statements are just lazy thinking.

So I've vowed not to generalise any more. Whether I'll stick to it is another matter. I might forget myself and slip back into easy clichés. I might forget that suits and ties or dresses and heels do not always a man or woman make. People are not what they seem. Appearances are deceptive. The public persona is not the private zeitgeist. Scratch the surface and glib assumptions quickly crumble away.

If I start backsliding, let me know. And none of that feminine shyness, girls.


  1. My view is: we are all on a spectrum of humanity, no one can be pegged into gender, sexual, spiritual slots even though the theocorporatocracy that we call freewill does it all the time.

    That's what makes us all so splendid.


  2. I cannot make up my mind.... We are either a bag of Liquorice Allsorts or a box of Dolly Mixtures. Right?

  3. www: Indeed, we're all on the spectrum of humanity and not many of us are firmly at one end or the other.

    Grannymar: Ooh, I hate liquorice. I'll take the dolly mixtures please.

  4. And atypical folks tend to be the most interesting, wouldn't you agree?

  5. Bijoux: Absolutely. But then how many genuinely "typical" people are there, when you start digging?

  6. Good luck with that, it's SOOOO hard not to generalise!!!

  7. The difficulty is that in evolutionary terms it's often quite a good idea to generalise, so in a sense it's got us where we are today. For instance, it was probably quite a good idea for the cave man to generalise about the nature of the sabre toothed tiger and make himself scarce when he saw one.

    More seriously, we gather information about the world we live in, and we extrapolate. It's the intelligent thing to do; you see a lot of cars speeding down the road at ten mph over the speed limit and so you generalise that 'cars speed along this stretch', and from that you reason that it is wise to assume that a car might be doing so when we decide to cross the road. Then you can act accordingly, and run.

    Trouble is, as a species, we often need to replace 'generalisations' with 'reasoning' and some of us can't aren't very good at it. We are still on an evolutionary curve, I think, so we're stuck in the old habits and haven't quite mastered the new ones yet.

    Of course, nobody actually thinks this through in the course of their daily interactions. ;)

  8. Suburbia: It's very hard. And now I'm reading the papers with this in mind, and noticing the incredible number of generalisations about men and women!

  9. Jay: The trouble is that generalisations can be as harmful as they're useful. If you decide that cars habitually speed along the road, you become nervous about crossing at all in case you get run down.

    Generalisations are so tempting because it's so much easier to lump everyone together than to look at each person separately and discover what they're really like.

  10. Nick - 'The trouble is that generalisations can be as harmful as they're useful. If you decide that cars habitually speed along the road, you become nervous about crossing at all in case you get run down.'

    Exactly. And I think this is another downside to generalisations. There are an awful lot of neurotic people around today (me included) who do this all the time in various situations. That's why I think it's an evolutionary process. We have learned to generalise (from which springs prejudice and jumping to conclusions about this and that) but we still need to incorporate intelligent reasoning in an instinctive way. Oh, we can do it, if we think about it, but we're still at the stage where this takes effort for most of us.

  11. Jay: As you say, it takes effort to recognise a generalisation and replace it with a more rational viewpoint. Or to recognise that "she's very feminine" doesn't imply a typical woman, or even a woman who's feminine to her roots, but only a woman who has a few visible "feminine" traits.

  12. You just go ahead and generalise or particularise. Just keep writing. We don't mind.

  13. Ramana: I think I've been generalising far too much about men and women, as if they were two separate species. In future I shall try and stick to specifics.