I´m always fascinated by the difference of people’s sense for measure. My observation is that in general people allocate too much rather than too little space. For instance left over food is put into a vessel that would easily hold the double amount; the suitcases that seem to be too many fit easily into the car – with extra room for more…
Spatial perception is different among men and women
It´s also remarkable, that the perception of size is often very different among men and women. My Qi Gong teacher says that whenever she asks the participants of her classes to place their feet at shoulder width, men tend to put their feet too far apart and women too narrow…This distortion in perception pertains to the physical as well as to the psychological realm. It not only depends on personality but also on gender – and generally men tend to overrate their deeds and women underrate them. (Incidentally this matches exactly the already mentioned basic dynamics in my previous articles about narcissism and vulnerability.)
An astute illustration
There is a lovely cartoon by the German writer and cartoonist Walter Moers (inventor of Captain Bluebear and Rumo…) in his German book “Huhu”:
A little boy and a little girl are playing in the sand and we only see him working, while she is also in the frame, but not what she is working on. Meanwhile, frame by frame he monologues about how men create things of remaining cultural value, while women are condemned – because of biology – to pour their creative energies in pregnancy and birth. As this venue is not available to men, they cannot but make achievements of world renown… Obviously there is no female artist with a world reputation – exceptions confirm the rules. His speech is summarized in his final dictum: “You make children, we make art!” and moves on to asking her: “Talking of which – how do you like my sand castle?” And she admires his childish sand castle without criticism and says: “Oh, great!” However, behind her, we now finally see what she´s been working on during his long monologue: a huge multi-floored Roman palace complete with statues…
Conclusion perhaps: Men make great speeches and accomplish little, while women do great stuff but disregard it themselves, for the size of the speech is (still) more important than the size of the deed…
Has this changed since Moers drew his cartoon in 1989? Germany has its first female chancellor, the US their first female presidential candidate and women are in far more leadership positions than 25 years ago, at least in the West. And yet… the “shadow dynamic” remains: Women exaggerate in their modesty, men in the evaluation of their achievements and both often get hopelessly caught up in their assessment each other’s work.
Conditioning of perception
Why is that so? Because our culture has implemented the collective conditioning since the heyday of patriarchy that men are to be older, bigger, stronger, leading – and therefore their glass of water is always “already half full” while women are to be younger, smaller, weaker and in need of guidance and therefore their glass of water is always “still half empty”.
However there always have been women who were physically taller than their husbands or men, who were less known and successful than their wives – without this having seemingly damaged their relationships. However this is for many – to this day – a handicap: anything that is too far removed from the conditioned norm evokes discomfort.
Not only among the concerned but also and often more so in their social environment
A classic example is the age difference in both directions (that perhaps will become an extra blog entry). But also physical differences in height and income can disturb the harmonic balance of a relationship and even lead to its break-up. How intense this more or less subtle insistence on male superiority and female inferiority is influencing partnerships between men and women is a topic of its own, that I might discuss another time. Right now I merely want to illustrate how strongly we are conditioned concerning the role play of the genders and that this conditioned behavior can only be changed through making a conscious choice.
This becomes really important in the job environment where rank is crucial – interestingly enough it is less dependent on status and income, than on personal authority and expressed self-esteem. The latter can be learned and so there is a huge number of job coaches who train people in body and verbal language that will provide them with the respect and attention, they desire. The taught strategies are different for men and women.
Dangers of having coffee
For instance it is fatal during a conference meeting where men and women are partaking if a woman pours the coffee and distributes the cookies – this gesture automatically communicates an inferior rank. Whereas, if a man does this – it´s perceived as a charming gesture and he rises in the esteem of others especially among women.
The German communication trainer Kornelia Straub-Kuri gave an interview to the German Sunday paper Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung on March 8th/9th 2014. She recommends to women, who wish for more respect, to look for female icons who embody this in a positive manner. The most prominent one is the British Queen, whose alpha-status is never ever questioned.
Male and female perception in the job
In her Book “Rules of Leadership” (Translation from German) she compares how sovereign women and men are different from each other and also from their unsovereign gender colleagues:
A sovereign high ranking woman insists on guarding social rules, lets herself be served, permits, admonishes, has a fixed gaze, makes clear and direct gestures and uses the raised eyebrow frequently. Submissive women tilt their head, avoid gazes and have a high pitched, excited voice.
A sovereign, high ranking man gives orders, makes demands, takes space, lectures, has a strong handshake, consciously turns away and has a patronizing manner. Submissive men stand straight, serve, carry, give space, nod, have a hunched body posture and confirm.
And always the polarizations…
Contemplating this list I thought that a good male or female boss probably comes across expressing fatherly/ motherly qualities in the best of ways and always expect and demand respect from others. They become real sexy when they manage to also handle their gender role in an honoring way. I believe this is rather difficult for women in leadership positions in Germany. For instance, all of them generally avoid a low neckline and choose a neutralizing suit and little make-up. That is very different from France, where women in leadership positions are often, not always real women… with high heels, low necklines, and expensive perfume…
In the US women in leadership positions seem to be well, often expensively dressed and wear jewelry, but also avoiding anything that could distract too much from their public function. Hilary Clinton is an example for that. Oprah Winfrey however manages to maintain her sex-appeal in a sovereign way. The two are a good example as their age difference is only seven years (Oprah being the younger).
Always being able to meet at eyes’ level
But in the end it´s probably for most of us about being able to meet the other at eye level. However this only works if everybody has a healthy sense of self-worth and is not prone to up- or downgrading others in comparison to his/herself. That is actually not that easy, for we humans have a tendency to always compare ourselves with others in order to find our place and position. We are conditioned that this is needed for the functioning of society – just like chicken “need” their pecking order… But are we chicken?
This trap is always lurking somewhere, and often closer to us than we are aware. And not only in setting ourselves apart from the other gender.
These traps are everywhere
Until this article and the remark of a friend who pointed my own stumbling into this trap out to me and thus inspired this article, I had a phrase on this website under the link “About this Blog” that said: “And finally: this blog is also a personal experiment. Contentwise as well as formally I’m still at the beginning and it will certainly take a while until the professional quality I’m aspiring to is achieved. “
Said friend pointed out with indignation that blogs are always experimental in nature and that I shouldn´t reduce my work from the start – which she actually considers rather professional – in the eyes of the readers. And then the magic final sentence came: “A man would NEVER do that!”
Touché – and grateful for the insight I have now removed that embarrassing phrase: I stand up for the quality of my blog – however it might just happen to appear in the eyes of my cherished readers.
How do we get out of this?
Since then I´ve been trying to be even more aware of and dealing more consciously with these conditionings. And I often wonder how to act towards a man so he can feel masculine in the best of ways and what I´d appreciate in how men should act towards me, so that I can feel feminine in the best of ways….
Evidently this already begins with gestures of courtesy, like letting a woman walk first through a door, helping her with her coat, holding the car door open for her… Simple sovereign gentlemenly behavior. (There it is again, the chivalrousness…)
And women… should really appreciate this behavior in men and should be grateful…when he carries the grocery bags, picks a good table at the restaurant and gets rid of an annoying beggar in friendly way – very sovereign men do it with a generous amount of money and kind admonishing.
And perhaps all of us should complement each other a lot more often and actually say when we find him or her attractive – no matter what the specific cause for it may be at that moment! I keep musing about this and welcome input how this can work out even better – but I believe to honor one another more often and more expressively is a good start!