Threat to society
No hablo Estrogen! Becoming bilingual with opposite sex
I knew something was wrong the second I said it.
While on a speaking tour of Australia, our host had filled
us in on what words not to use "down under." For instance, a
proper Aussie would never say, after dinner (which is not called dinner
but "tea"), "I'm stuffed." That's a rather improper
word for pregnant. In fact, avoid "stuff" all together, since
that's a very improper word for sex.
Well, I thought I had avoided all the
foreign faux pas, until the auditorium full of high school studentswho
were "bonkers" about American basketballasked who is my favorite team.
"I don't really have a favorite, but a lot of my friends like to root
for the Bulls." Suddenly, silence punctuated by some suppressed snickers
swept over the crowd. "Root" I later was told, is Australia's
version of the American f-word!
Although we both spoke English, my
fair dinkin (genuine) Australian friends spoke "Ausie English"
and I spoke "American English" and they are two very different
I've discovered that even though males
and females in English-speaking countries speak the native language, they
speak two totally different dialects: Androgen-English spoken by males
and Estrogen-English spoken by females.
Here are some of the theories I've
developed over twenty-five years of attempting communicationoften unsuccessfullywith
1. Androgen-English tends to communicate for information; Estrogen-English tends to communicate for validation
Don't believe me? Okay, how many times
has this scene played at a home theater near you?
She: I don't want to watch TV. Let's
He: Okay. (Actually, many males don't
exhibit enough self-preservation to answer this way. Most will mutter,
"Not right now. The Norwegian National Curling Playoffs are just coming
She: So, how was your day?
He: Okay. (So far, so good, and he's
only missed the Norwegian National Anthem.)
She: So, how are things between us?
She: I wish we spent more time like
this just talking.
She: Thanks for listening. It makes
me feel so special. (Phone rings.) We'll have to do it again sometime soon.
He. Okay. (All right, nobody's scored
Here's my first theory. Men tend to
communicate for information. "Where are my clean socks?" "When
do I need to take the cat to be neutered?" "What's our middle
child's name again?"
Women, so my theory goes, are not communicating
for information, but for validation. They want to be assured of their value
to those they love and be certain those people love them.
Let's go back to our exciting he/she
She said, "I don't want to watch
TV. Let's just talk."
The perceptive male (that's not
an oxymoron!) will sense that his spouse needs to know that time spent
with her is more important to him than time with the Norwegian curling
team. (And he's the one who will "score" if he clicks off the
Men tend to have their worth validated
by what they do, whether it's closing a deal at the office or getting the
'78 Cougar purring like a contented cat. Women, however, seem to receive
more validation from the break room conversations than board room confrontations.
Spending time together talking subliminally says, "I value you. You're
important to me."
And, as we'll see in theory four, males
don't need to voice a lot of verbiage to validate. "Okay," "uh-huh,"
and the sure-fire winner "I understand," are often all that's
Translation tip: Guys, listen
more, talk less. (And turn off the TV occasionallyyour team will do just
fine without your armchair coaching.)
2. Androgen-English tends to be
literal; Estrogen-English tends to be literary.
A best-selling book claims Men are
From Mars, Women are From Venus. My theory, however, is that men and
women are not even in the same communication cosmos! Men tend to speak
with the bleakness of the red planet. Women, however, are inclined to share
with a rhetorical richness which can distinguish between three hundred
shades of "red" such as aniline, Bengal, carmine, crimson, cerise,
garnet, magenta, nacaret, ruby, russet, rust, scarlet, etc. etc. (Do any
of those names mean anything to anyone with a "Y" chromosome?!)
Thus, I believe the more accurate book title would be Men are From Mars,
Women are From Vermilion.
For instance, when Lois would say,
"You never listen to me," my original response was often, "What
do you think I'm doing right now? You just said, 'You never listen to me.'
See I was listening."
I heard the literal words, but I completely
missed the emotional meaning. She meant, "I don't feel you understand
me." (See, same words, different meanings!)
We men are more literal in our thinking.
We're used to talking about three-eighth-inch wrenches, thirty megabytes
of random access memory, twenty-five-hundred revolutions per minutes, and
a score of 104 to 96 in NBA playoffsthings you can see, measure, quantitate.
So, men's communications encompass all the emotion of Martian bacteria.
And thus, when women use word pictures, superlatives ("never,"
"always"), and poetic license, we men tend to respond literally.
A woman may say, "We never go
out" which may mean in Estrogen-English, "I just love going out
with you. It makes me feel so special. Let's go out this weekend."
But our literal male mind mouths, "What do you mean, 'we never go
out'? We went out to dinner and a movie during the last solar eclipse!"
To further confuse communication, men
occasionally do attach emotional meanings to literal words. For
instance, I recently spent an afternoon with my brother target practising.
My wife thought it was merely a testosterone festival with small caliber
conversation. But if she could have translated what was being said, she
would have found it a touching time of brotherly bonding."Great gun,
Tom! Wow, Smith and Wesson. Cool!"
Androgen translation: I admire your
discriminating taste. You obviously have given as much thought to the purchase
of a .32 caliber revolver, as you have given to your car and wardrobe.
"Good shot! Right through the
Androgen translation: I apologize for
all the times I put you down and told my friends you weren't really my
brother, but a brain-damaged baby my parents adopted. You are obviously
a competent person whom I wish to affirm and validate."
So, when a husband tells his wife,
"That dress looks great on you," "That was terrific meat
loaf," or "Thanks for taking the car in for an oil change,"
the intended meaning may be "you are obviously a competent person
whom I wish to affirm and validateand have sex with as soon as the kids
are in bed."
Androgen-English tends toward technical
languageeven when attempting to express emotional messages; Estrogen-English
toward emotional words.
Translation tip: The secret
then, is to simply ask for a translation.
When I give a "just the facts"
answer, Lois now switches into her talk show host mode and asks "So,
how did you feel about it?"
When Lois says, "You never listen
to me" (or some other phrase that I think is an over generalization)
I'm trying to display enough self-preservation to reply, "Help me
understand what you mean." Then, I attempt to keep my mouth shut until
she is finished explainingwhich is not always easy because of my third
3. Androgen-English makes for good
newspaper articles; Estrogen-English for epic novels.
For instance, when a male returns home
from a job interview, he usually blurts out "I got the job!"
or "@#$% *&+X!" When a women arrives home, a male may hear,
"I couldn't wait to get home to tell you." "So, the answer
is?," he foolishly replies, trying to read her facial and body language.
"Sit down and I'll tell you all
"But did you get the job?!"
he says more forcefullyand foolishly.
"I had a really tough time picking
out what to wear. You know, I wanted something professional, but not pretentious.
Well anyway, I decided on the gray suit, but I wore this blouse because
it looks a bit more casual."
By this time the significant other
has resigned himself to not getting an answer until the next presidential
election. There's a detailed description of the office ("There seemed
to be a lot of tension in the office. Everyone was nice, but something
didn't seem quite right") plus a complete transcript of the actual
interview and emotional responses to each line of dialog ("The man
I'd be working for seemed nice enough, but I could tell he was a bit of
a sexist from his exclusive language").
"So, did you get the job?"
"You weren't listening to me!
I told you there's a lot of tension in the office."
In journalism, male communication is
called an "inverted pyramid." Give the reader "who,"
"what," "where," "when," "why,"
and "how" in the lead paragraph and then, in each subsequent
paragraph, give lesser and lesser important information.
So, if you'd like the thirty-second
"Headline News" version of our trip "down under," ask
me. If you want PBS's "News Hour" version, ask Lois.
Translation tip: With this in
mind, Lois now tries to talk with me as if she was sitting at an anchor
desk with a thirty-second "news break." She provides only the
information that's important enough to include in our annual Christmas
letter or to demand the services of a plumber, neurosurgeon, or lawyer.
And once I know the five "W's" and an "H," then I'm
more willing to listen to the "indepth reporting" of less important
details and her emotional reaction to each.
And I'm trying to provide her with
more than a "sound byte" of my day. But sometimes, we males are
incapable of even that as we will discover in my final theory.
4. Androgen-English is often expressed
with silence; Estrogen-English with words.
Men, under stress tend to withdraw
and escape, while women need to express their feelings. For instance, a
male sitting on the couch with his nose in the newspaper may not be saying
a word but is silently shouting, "I've had a hard day and I want to
escape into the world of murder and mayhem to console myself that my life
isn't as bad as it is in Iraq or Gary."
Sitting on the couch mindlessly clicking
TV remote may be translated, "I am totally stressed and I need some
time to try to think it through. I love you and care about you, but I need
time to myself."
This is understandably upsetting to
the female who believes every carbon-based life form has a God-given need
to talk when stressed, depressed, or trying to figure out a 1040 tax form.
When the female does attempt to draw out feelings from this pile of protoplasm,
she is lucky to get one-word responses.
For instance, "Fine" can
mean anything from "fine" to "I'm passing a kidney stone."
"Okay" may translate "I
was fired from my job, but I may get it back pending the grand jury investigation
of my expense account" or "I just found out I have six weeks
The underlying message is, "I've
got to work this out myselfpreferably in the garage, on a lake, or golf
coursebefore I can talk to you about it."
Silence, then, is a perplexing mode
of male communication for the female who has the need to talk about the
Translation tip: Lois has learned
that when I am in my persistent vegetative state to simply toss me the
TV remote and say, "You look like something's really bothering you.
Let me know whenever you want to talk about it." And then she waits
patiently for me to begin verbalizing.
And I try to fight the urge to provide
an immediate answer when Lois shares a problem. All she often wants is
for me to listen and say, "I understand."
Lois and I both speak American English
words, but we have come to understand we communicate with two very different
dialectsAndrogen-English and Estrogen-English. And we are attempting
to become "bilingual" using the translation tips listed. We're
not always fluent, but we are at least attempting meaningful dialog.
Copyright © 1991 James N. Watkins. All rights reserved.
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