Thursday, March 15, 2012

What Men Want

Just a quick entry, because it's been a busy couple of days, but I came across a comment on an article in Jezebel and thought I'd share.

Why? Because in the Expat Echo Chamber in Taiwan, and often back home, one hears a lot of "What women want" and "what men want", and I think this deflates it beautifully:

This is the sort of thing that always goes through my mind when I hear the phrase, "what women want."
Yes, of course, you're a genius. You've found out what all women want. The straights, the lesbians, the pansexuals, the mothers, the women struggling to pay the rent, the Latina in a wheelchair, the Serbian-American woman who is cramming for her engineering final, the queer mixed-race geologist who plans to cook pasta tonight, the woman in a burqa who's just tired of all those assholes who won't get over her clothing and keeps reminding herself she needs to get around to changing the oil in her car, the Filipina who gets home from her job tutoring elementary school kids to toast to her mother, who died X# of years ago today. Yes, all these women, and all the women yet unmentioned, at every intersection of every walk of life ALL want the EXACT same thing, and YOU figured it out. Congratulations!!! 
(from the comment section)

It's particularly important to remember that this also applies to men. So the next time some dude in real life or on the Internet goes all "We men in Asia only date Asian women because MEN WANT [insert stereotype of Asian women here]", I am going to laugh at him. I mean, I already would have laughed at him inwardly, but from now on I might laugh at him openly. Right in his face. He'd deserve it, after all (even though he is entitled to his views, just as I'm entitled to laugh at those views).
Because, you know, clearly that guy who thinks all men - especially all foreign men in Asia - want the same kinds of things, is clearly right. The young guy passionately studying Chinese, the gay English teacher, the older married businessman with kids, the missionary who loves stinky tofu, the couple who moved here together, the Taiwanese guy married to a foreign woman (oh, wait, I forgot, the kinds of foreign men who talk this kind of crap don't acknowledge Taiwanese men as being actually men, or actually existing, sorry, my bad), the guy teaching at a cram school when what he really wants is to break into the music scene, the guy from who can't go home because he has nothing to go home to, the ABC who came back to discover his Hoklo roots, the quiet young man who was bullied in school and has a passion for traditionally brewed tea, the handsome, somewhat quiet, giving, intelligent and generous guy from Maine who married his best friend (yeah I know that one)...they all want exactly the same thing, and that's [insert stereotype about Asian women here].


Readin said...

At some basic level we all want to feel good. We all want to like ourselves.

We have other desires that depend on many things, but at the more base levels they are things like food, shelter and reproduction. We have spiritual needs as well.

How we express these needs and desires depends on many things, such as our age and our current circumstances. But it is undeniable that each individual's culture and gender play a huge role. So making a general claim about people of a specified culture and gender is not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is to assume that such statements are stupid unless they apply to every single individual. If we were to apply such strict standards to every statement we would be speechless. "Dogs have four legs." "Yeah, well you're an idiot because I saw a dog with only three legs because of an accident/birth defect." Such conversations are both unfriendly and unhelpful.

Rather than denying the value of stereotypes,far better would be to make them more accurate as in your recent observation and speculation about apologies at the office in Taiwan.

Jenna Cody said...

Well, no. I think you're wrong. Stereotypes have very little value (they have some, but very, very little - especially when it comes to huge swaths of the population like "men [of any given culture]" and "women [of any given culture]".

Your analogy is also flawed: assuming that the only "dog" that "doesn't have four legs" was either in an accident or has a birth defect, where I am talking about an entire range of human emotion, background, desire, predilection and personality, none of which has anything to do with accident or defect.

So, I think you're wrong.

Readin said...

Perhaps what many of the people saying "What women want" or "What men want" aren't talking about "an entire range of human emotion, background, desire, predilection and personality" either, but merely one driving force - in particular a force that may be expressed by ranges of human emotion as modified by predilection, background, circumstances, and genetics.

If I saw "all women want water", that doesn't prevent each women from wanting water in her own way (as tea, soda, bottle water, tap water, mountain stream water, coffee, etc.), nor does it discount the fact that there may be one or two women may hate water so much that they have to be forced by IV to keep them alive.

As for me, I will continue to rely on stereotypes to help me navigate social situations. If a Taiwanese woman person I don't know well visits my house, I'll offer hot tea first rather than coffee.

Consider a hypothetical: You're strolling down a sidewalk of Taipei and you see a person on the other side of the street lying on the ground surrounded by a small crowd of onlookers. He appears to be seriously injured and requiring help. You're not a doctor nor do you have special medical training. I assume you keep walking because adding to the crowd won't help the injured person and may even make things worse (for example by obstructing any medical help that arrives).

Now suppose that same person on the ground is white. If you go to help with any English translation needs you are guilty of stereotyping in several ways. First, you're assuming that because he's white he's less likely to be fluent in Chinese. You're assuming that because the onlookers aren't white they're less likely to be fluent in English. You're assuming that because he's white he's likely to be from an English speaking country or at least a country where many people learn enough English to get by (Germany, France, etc.).

So then do you callously ignore his plight so that no one can accuse you of stereotyping?

Jenna Cody said...

Well, first, if a singular driving force is tempered by background, personality and predilection, then you can't really say it's the same thing for each person. A preference for coffee, tea, water, soda etc. doesn't mean "we all prefer water" - those are all very different things.

Also, there are different driving forces. There really are: some people don't want companionship, some do. Some don't want love, some do. Some don't want sex, some do. Ask any extreme loner or asexual person if you doubt this.

Finally, for the little analogy: I would treat the two people the same way: I would probably go over to either one - Asian or white - briefly join the group, see if there was anything I could do - and if there wasn't, I would move on (and you never know - you might be the person who stopped who has a sweet drink on them just when someone who went into diabetic shock needs it to stay alive until he can get medical attention).

I also happen to know just as many Taiwanese people who prefer lattes to those who prefer tea. In fact, I'm having some Taiwanese friends over in two weeks and I said I could make sure I had stuff on hand for good coffee, or we could make lao ren cha, or whatever, and they chose the coffee. So...I don't think that "stereotype" helps "navigate social interaction" at all. It could in fact result in a slight offense: "You think just because I'm Asian that I'll choose tea over coffee? That all Asians drink tea?" Now, someone who got offended by something so minor probably wouldn't be pleasant to be around, but that's not the point - the point is that you can't reliably assume that every Taiwanese person would rather be offered tea than coffee. You might more reliably assume they'd take warm water over cold, but even that is not definite. You can't really assume anything, so all you can do is offer a selection of whatever you have on hand, and go to hospitable but not ridiculous lengths to have a range of beverages available if you know you'll be having guests.

So...uh, I still think you're wrong.

Jenna Cody said...

Think of it this way, back to the original point:

A lot of men assume that "women want" strong guys, take-charge guys, providers, decision-makers.

I don't.

I like being the decision-maker. I don't mind being a breadwinner (in fact my ego kinda loves it). I'm OK with take-charge attitudes, but that's not necessary because I have one myself. I adore the laid-back, cool-with-anything, supportive, feminist guy I married, not only despite the fact that I tend to be the one to take charge, but BECAUSE of it.

Compare that to a more typical archetype female - you can't say that "well she prefers coffee and you like tea but deep down you both want water in different forms" - no, I want something so different from that that you can't really say that one is the other.

And I'm just one woman. There are a massive range of desires and preferences out there, both for women and men. I can't really think of much at all that is common between these preferences, including tired cliches about men wanting "sweet", "pretty" or "cute" women or women wanting "providers"...that are shown to be less and less true as time has gone on.

Readin said...

"I also happen to know just as many Taiwanese people who prefer lattes to those who prefer tea."

Just quickly, I'm older and living in the US. Taiwanese I interact with tend to be older, so newer fashions (like coffee drinking) haven't hit the Taiwanese people I know with the same force. They grew up drinking hot tea and still like it. It doesn't surprise me that the younger generation in Taiwan has different tastes.

The other thing of course is that there are always exceptions to general rules. Most people don't like pain - but there are a few who do. I'm generally going to play the odds and not hurt people.

Jenna Cody said...

Again, you're making it sound like those Taiwanese who prefer tea to coffee are not the norm, like people who like pain compared to most people who don't. But they're not out of the ordinary - just like people with different preferences are different, not "odd" or "not average" or "out of the ordinary".

Also, my Taiwanese friends tend to be 35-40 years old. I'm 31; I think my friends tend to be older not so much because of maturity but because of life stage - 31 year old Taiwanese folks are often unmarried, often still living at home, and those 35 to 40 tend to be where I am: married and living with our own created family unit. They grew up drinking tea. Now they like coffee. I wouldn't call them "the younger generation".

Readin said...

But they're not out of the ordinary - just like people with different preferences are different, not "odd" or "not average" or "out of the ordinary".

Are those negative things? If you see them as negative, I can see you getting defensive when they are used to describe people. However, being different is not necessarily good or bad - it depends on what the difference is.

You say, "I don't mind being a breadwinner (in fact my ego kinda loves it)." That used to be an unusual trait in a women. I don't know about now, times do change. But if it is a common attitude, you shouldn't be ashamed of it. And if it unusual you shouldn't be ashamed of it.

And if it is unusual, (we could find out with a survey I suppose), you shouldn't be bothered if someone makes the statement that "women prefer their husband to be the breadwinner". The fact that not every such statement applies to you doesn't make those statements untrue, nor does it make you you bad or any less of a woman. In fact perhaps it should make you proud knowing that you've made your own choices.

Jenna Cody said...

I'm not saying it's bad if they're "different".

I'm saying it's that THEY ARE NOT THAT DIFFERENT. Actually, they're quite normal.

As for the breadwinner comment, it's not that I think I'm all that unusual, because I"m not. Not these days anyway. It's that it goes against a stereotype that still exists of what women are like and what they want...and my point is that the stereotype is not correct.

Just as the idea that Taiwanese mostly prefer tea is not correct.

Maybe both used to be, but not anymore.

It has nothing to do with being 'bad' or 'ashamed'. Those are your words, not mine.

That's all.

Kathmeista said...

I don't mean to interupt but I think perhaps there needs to be a clarification between what is thought of as a general statement and what is thought of as a stereotype. They're closely related, sure but they're not the same thing. A sterotype is a kind of general statement that makes use of over-simplification to characterise a set group of people (not dogs) based on prior assumptions.

The problem with stereotypes is that they reduce a diverse group of people which happen to share one trait in common, such as gender or ethnicity or hair colour, down into a singular statement or truism like "Women like macho men." Sure, there are women who like macho men out there and good for them - it's all about freedom of choice after all - but the issue lies within the reduction of this vastly diverse group named "Women" into something homogenous, implying that we all desire the same things and have the same ideas by virtue of our shared gender alone. It's this that is insulting. Whether or not you happen to be a woman who like macho men or not doesn't matter - it's the act of having your individual differences ignored that annoys and upsets.

Statements like "All women want water" are null and void because it is a biological fact that all human beings need water to survive. Nobody would feel reduced because all women actually, physically need water.

As for the hypothetical situation of the passed out westerner on the sidewalk - this seems to be a sidetrack of the point. The point is that stereotypes are generally unhelpful and sometimes insulting but in this situation you're positing, Readin, the person in question is operating under a range of assumptions (which again are different to stereotypes). The primary assumption at work here is that many westerners, regardless of their country of origin, speak english more readily than they speak chinese. With this in mind you might stop to see if you can help with translation. If it turns out that this particular passed out foreigner is (once conscious) perfectly fluent in Chinese then you can leave, knowing you have done your part as a good citizen of the world. You could only be accused of stereotyping if you went over to this crowd of people and said "All foreigners speak English better than Chinese" as if it were gospel truth.

The easiest way forward in the usage of generalised statements is to modify them. Rather than say "Women want macho men" you might say "A lot of women I know typically prefer macho men." That way there is wiggle room for debate and discussion about the wants and desires of women and you are offering an opinion rather than claiming some kind of universal fact abut this group.

Jenna Cody said...

Exactly. Thank you, Kath!

I'm fine with general statements. In fact I wrote a previous blog post about why I use them and why I'm OK with it (because talking as much about cultural differences as I do, they're sort of unavoidable).

But there's a huge difference between a general statement, which leaves a lot of room for variance, and a stereotype.

There's also the fact that these general statements, while they hold up in some situations ("Taiwanese white collar business culture vs. American white collar business culture") they don't in others ("What women want"). In the latter case the variances are so many and people who ascribe to them so great in number that stereotyping means that you're saying everyone who doesn't fit the stereotype is "outside the norm"...when they're not.

I look at it more as a mosaic with not-quite-but-roughly-equal amounts of different colored tile. You can't say of a mosaic with 200 blue tiles, 150 red, 180 purple, 120 yellow, 75 black, 162 white, 100 green and 42 orange that it is "mostly blue". It's not.

Readin said...

You mentioned that you're a liberal. What do you think about claims being made by some prominent liberals in America that Republicans are "waging a war on women"? Isn't that claim based on faulty stereotypes about women?

Not all women choose medicinal birth control, and many of those who do choose medicinal birth control believe that they should be responsible for their own choices, including paying for the form of birth control they choose to use.

Readin said...

Regarding the distinction between a " general statement and what is thought of as a stereotype". I don't necessarily agree with that definition, but assuming for the moment that it is correct, I think there are very few people who stereotype. Instead, most people find it simpler to say, "Women like men" than to say, "Most women like men, but of course some women don't." Qualifying every statement for 100% accuracy make conversation clumsy and overly verbose.

So while you may choose to interprt their statement that "Women like macho men" to mean "100% of woment like macho men with no exceptions", what they're really saying is "Most women like macho men". (Whether correct that most women like "macho men" is a different topic - I think most women like men to be masculine, but "macho" can be overdone and how much macho they like varies quite a bit.)

Jenna Cody said...

No, I do not think at all that it is a claim based on faulty stereotypes about women. I don't think every Republican is out to wage a war on women but it has been clear for years - long before this all came out - that the Republican Party does not and, since it allied with social conservatives, has not - represented women's best interests.

I'm liberal in this regard because liberalism offers choice - so more conservative women can choose what they want, as well (and I'm fine with that), whereas if you go "conservative", it limits choices for all women to only the range of what a few deem acceptable.

I do feel that wanting birth control to be paid for by health insurance is not wrong, or copping out, or passing the buck. Sexual health is still health. So...why wouldn't it be covered like, say, anti-allergy medication, or anti-asthma medication, or Viagra, or hormone therapies?

I also feel that health insurance is a benefit that, while I'd like to see a system like Taiwan's, we're stick with as being a standard employee benefit from a workplace. I don't think expecting that a health treatment - whether for preventing pregnancy or other medical reasons - would be covered under this standard benefit that covers other health treatments is wrong. I don't see it as " women want us to pay for their birth control pills", I see it as "women want standard coverage which they receive for other health issues under their health insurance, which they help pay for and receive as a benefit of employment. They are working for that benefit just as they are a salary, so why shouldn't it be a part of that package?"

I don't believe that it's something women should have to "pay for themselves" any more than they would have to pay for asthma medication, allergy medication, blood pressure meds or whatever other medication if they have health insurance (leaving aside the fact that one does pay, in the form of premiums, deductibles and co-pays). Why remove this ONE THING from standard health care? I really can't think of a reason other than a latent fear of women gaining too much autonomy and control and **gasp ** the idea that women might want to have sex, might NOT want to have children, and might want to be able to make their own decisions about this HEALTH issue knowing that it is covered under their HEALTH INSURANCE, because, well, duh, it is a health issue.

Jenna Cody said...

As for the "religious freedom" debate: I would rather see a single payer system overall, but if the deeply flawed employer-covered model stays, I do feel that as an EMPLOYER as well as a religious organization, these guys have an obligation to provide basic health care as any other employer. They don't get to decide what "is" and "is not" health care regardless of what they personally believe.

I also do feel that those "religious objections" are more desire to control women's bodies: why else would a religious organization try to tell women what they should and should not do in that regard? I believe the only reason this debate is not one over, say, whether we should cover allergy medications is because it is about women, and old dudes in power get really antsy about women+power. Otherwise, why aren't we waging a war about whether to cover Grandma's blood thinners? Why this?

Finally, I simply do not believe that the answer is or ever could be "well then have less sex". It ignores human nature (and implies that wealthy women can have sex but poor women who can't afford birth control shouldn't). People are going to have sex. They just ARE. You can tell 'em not to all you want, but that didn't work in the olden days (where premarital sex was more common than you might think and shotgun weddings a very real and surprisingly common thing) and it certainly won't work now. From a public health perspective, it simply makes sense for birth control to be accessible and affordable, which means covering it under health insurance. Otherwise you don't get people having a lot less sex - you get people having very little less sex, using far riskier methods (like rhythm), and more unwanted/unplanned pregnancy.

Readin said...

Wow. I mean Wow! After all that talk how bad it is to make statements based on stereotypes without allowing for exceptions, you say, "People are going to have sex. They just ARE."

And people who don't (some people just aren't interested), are they too abnormal to be considered? How about people such as myself who chose to wait until marriage? I guess I'm too different for your consideration as well?

And you say " the Republican Party does not and, since it allied with social conservatives, has not - represented women's best interests." After all that talk about how women are different sudden you believe every last woman in the world has the same interests.

A lot of women vote Republican. Are they so weird that they don't matter either?

Contraception was the issue the Catholic Church spoke about not because of an anti-woman bias. Both men and women use contraception, and I believe the Catholic Church frowns on both equally (I'm not Catholic). The question isn't really even about contraception, it is purely a question of religious liberty. Religious liberty is guaranteed as a fundamental right in the U.S. Constitution. The right to bill your neighbors for your heath care is not.

It's not a war on women, it's a war on religious freedom. (The health care law is also a war on economic freedom, but I've alreadys strayed far enough from the topic of stereotyping about "women's interest" and the inability of all people to exercise any self control.)

Jenna Cody said...

You're completely misunderstanding me.

People - not all people, but a lot of 'em - are going to have sex. That's statistics, not stereotyping. Just because YOU or someone else chooses not to doesn't mean they can say that most people should also choose not to: those are your choices and statistically speaking, most people disagree with you. It's not a stereotype if it's a statistic. I've said above that general statements are one thing - and can be OK - but stereotypes are another. You're mistaking general statements (most people in America do have sex before marriage - which is true, backed up by science, not conjecture - studies show that the number is well above 50%, more like 80-90%) for stereotypes.

In which case, what you have chosen is irrelevant. Before we were talking attitudes and ideas, now we're talking cold hard numbers, and I'm sorry but the numbers are against you. Those who don't have premarital sex in America are abnormal, statistically speaking (socially speaking, I just dont' care what people choose in this regard). You definitely deserve to be considered, but you ARE in the minority, and public policy decisions do have to count for the majority.

I don't really care what you choose - what I care about is whether you think that your choice is right for me or anyone else. I am liberal because from that vantage point, I can choose one thing (sex + birth control, and I'm married: I use it because I don't want kids now or ever, but that was also true before marriage)...and you are free to choose another, and both of us have those choices available. It's fine with me if your choice is to abstain, but don't go telling me and others that we should make the same choice. Instead, you can choose not to avail yourself of the other options open to you. I'm cool with that.

But from the Republican side, what you get are people who want to force their ideas of what's best on others: they think their way is best, and want to force that on women who feel differently. Anti-abortion, anti-covered-birth control: all attempts to force their morality on others, when from my side, all I want is for all women to be able to make choices, regardless of what those choices are, and for public policy to reflect what's best for the public.

I'm not even going to get into "can't control themselves" - don't try to force your morality on me or anyone. I don't care if you believe it's wrong, honestly. Whether you believe it or not doesn't make the statistics untrue.

Jenna Cody said...

It's not a war on religious freedom - honestly, if an organization doesn't want to pay for basic health care, then they shouldn't be employers.

And it's not up to them to decide what basic health care is. Their religion should not dictate what choices their employees can and cannot afford in terms of health treatment.

If they don't like the national definition of basic health care - which includes contraception coverage, then they shouldn't be employing people.


Jenna Cody said...

But honestly, I don't really think that religious organizations or ANY employer should be on the hook for health insurance for employees (which I know somewhat contradicts my last post - which deals with the issue as it is now, but not as I'd ideally like it to be).

I would rather see a Taiwanese style system: public insurance, guaranteed for all regardless of employment, and private care. Then everyone can afford the care they need, but the system is sufficiently capitalist that it isn't a money suck on the government, and employers are left out of it so everyone can make their own private decisions. Their boss would have no say in their health care choices or sex lives, which is how it should be.

That way conservatives can go on living by conservative values (I'm totally down with that - I really am committed to CHOICE), and liberals can go on living by theirs, and we can all get out of each others' hair, and those who need help get it, and people who are economically disadvantaged have the same access to health care as those who benefit from the system...and we all acknowledge that we live in a society where we all need to do some giving and taking.

Kathmeista said...

Readin - what is your alternative definition of a stereotype? Mine was based on three different dictionary definitions which I think qualifies this definition of stereotype fairly widely accepted...

As for your claim that modification of a statement that could be construed as stereotype (or in actual fact just plain misrepresentation in the case of "women like men") is too verbose and clumsy for general conversation, I disagree. All it takes is the addition of one word: some. "Some women like men." The implied second half of that statement that some like women and some like both can be generally be taken as understood and does not need to be included.

When you speak of a group of people in terms such as "Taiwanese people do..." or "Men are like..." then the implied meaning of your statement is ALL of those people. It's not a choice to interpret it like this, that is what is being communicated. And as I have said before, it takes only the addition of one single word to alter this miscommunication.

If you find the addition of a single word within a conversation too cumbersome to avoid offense or misconstrual of your intended meaning then I really can't imagine what else I could possibly say.

Jenna Cody said...


Other words you can use include "many", "a few", "most" or "a lot of".

So why not use them?

Jenna Cody said...

Yeah...that's that. I'm done.