Sunday, November 7, 2010
I'm a Woman, and I'm not High-pitched
Now, I suspected the workshop wouldn't be my cup of tea, even before I went. Based on the way many people in my community speak about gender, I had a feeling this workshop would cast men and women in the traditional roles of bold male hunter and flirtatious damsel in distress. But what can I say - I'm morbidly fascinated by these stereotype-informed, pseudo-scientific presentations. I knew that if nothing else the presentation would amuse me. Well, it did. But the audience's reaction to our dating sage's advice did not amuse me.
Who is this guru who has me irritated and bold enough to publicly complain? Well, the dating coach is a woman named Alisa Goodwin Snell. She's published such gems as Dating Secrets for Marrying a Good Man and Want to Marry a Good Man? Here's How.You can read more about her on her website. While I admire Snell's drive and her dedication to helping people develop safe and healthy relationships, her tips rely on stereotypes that leave unconventional men and women out in the cold.
While she provided some rather good tips on how to effectively communicate interest to a potential romantic interest, particularly in terms of body language (taking a step forward, for instance), she undid much of the understanding she tried to build between genders by stubbornly representing men and women in stereotypes. According to her, men care more about being trusted and respected in a relationship than anything else, while women care more about feeling safe and secure. Yet, when she asked each gender to say what they valued most in a relationship... not even a majority of the group gave her the answers she was expecting. But that didn't stop her from pretending they had agreed with her.
Personally, I value a man showing me respect more than anything else. How could I even begin to feel safe and secure anyway if a man didn't respect me? But Alisa Snell didn't even build potential exceptions into her dialogue. She provided a handout that listed the 17 secrets to understanding the male and female psychology, and each item on the list built upon that main stereotype. What did this handout teach us? That women want immediate relationships, men love to feel like heroes, women like receiving gifts, and men like talking about things and activities rather than ideas and people. Again, her narrative did not leave room for exceptions or acknowledge that these traits may vary depending on class, socioeconomics, race, nationality, ethnicity, religion, biology, education, etc.
Then she gave us advice on how to initiate romance with the opposite gender. (Since her audience is comprised of LDS young single adults, she only talked about heterosexual dating. Given who her audience was, I think that's fitting, though I know some members of the gay rights movement would disagree with me on this point). Her advice to men seemed well-received by the entire audience. She gave them tips on how to come across as confident, and most of the tips related to body language and wording. She kept warning men that they couldn't come across as "too nice," a point that I found disturbing, but mainly because she never defined what she meant by "too nice" and thus may have unintentionally given a few men license to act like jerks. All in all, though, her advice to men seemed empowering. She was teaching them how to be confident in order to appeal to women.
And then she gave the women advice. Because men "like femininity" (as her handout on the male psychology explained), her advice to women focused on how to act more feminine. It hardly needs saying that there's a real problem in a dichotomy that instructs men to act confident and women to act feminine. Not only is femininity impossible to define - I'm pretty sure that as a woman I am by definition already feminine - but she helped us hear what a feminine voice sounds like by taking her voice back and forth between what she called "business-like" on one end of the spectrum, and "feminine" on the other end. There was no similar spectrum to show men the difference between a business-like voice and a masculine (or confident, since that's what she was telling them to be) voice.
When some of the women in the room bristled at her recommendation to talk in a high-pitched "feminine" voice, she told us that she hears two main complaints about this piece of advice and then offered her rebuttals:
1. She said that women say, "I'm not that kind of person. I don't talk like that," but that all women talk that way to babies and that they should also talk that way to the men they're interested in. When I later told some other girls in the audience that I don't talk to babies in a high-pitched voice, they said, "Yes you do." Even though they've never seen me around babies. Somehow, the fact that most men also talk to babies in high-pitched voices never came up. But I can see why she wouldn't mention that - after all, you can't let facts get in the way of a marketable stereotype.
2. A few women in the audience said that they don't want to sound ditzy or superficial. Alisa explained that women who talk in high-pitched voices only sound superficial or ditzy when they're trying to get everyone in the room to pay attention to them, but that if a woman directs that voice at a particular man, that voice will make him feel good about himself and not draw attention to her. No, I'm not making this up. She actually said this stuff.
Alisa then proceeded to act out how a woman could get a man to ask for her number and how a man could continue to persist even after a woman had given him a clear 'no.' When a woman in the audience asked for Alisa's perspective on asking a man out, Alisa explained how to do so. Here's the gist of it:
"I feel a little embarrassed, because this is really hard, but there's this Christmas party coming up at my work. And when I was thinking over all the guys I know, you seemed like someone who would make it really fun. Do you think you could help me out and go as my date?"
And then, "I never know how to do this when the girl asks - would you mind picking me up? Should I call you, or would you like to call me? Calling must be so scary! I don't know how you guys do it, I'd get so nervous!"
Remember, all of this was said in a high-pitched, breathy voice.
Now, am I saying that her advice is bad for everyone? Absolutely not. I actually found some really excellent tidbits in her presentation, and a lot of the other people in the room seemed to find her advice even more helpful. She offered great advice on how to use precise wording for the best effect, helpful ideas about using body language to help others feel comfortable, and excellent ideas on how to keep up a positive attitude in the face of dating failures.
But the bulk of her advice came back to the idea that men should present themselves as heroes and that women should present themselves as damsels in distress in order to make it easier for men to feel like heroes. And you know what? The men in the room quite vocally agreed. If that dating model works for most of the people who were there tonight, then hey - I'm sure that's great for them.
As for me and my voice, we will not be affecting a high-pitched, damsel-in-distress routine anytime soon.