I attended a professional function a little while ago that really irked me. I’m going to try to retell the events as objectively as I can, my remarks in bold are my subjective views that explain why I was so bothered.
The function was specifically for women. The speaker was a “life coach” who was ostensibly there to talk to us about improving our ability to communicate with men. The life coach opened her presentation by remarking that men and women have different styles of communication. She also noted that communication is really only 10% the words we say; the remainder is body language and tonality.
So far, I’m with her. I’m not sure I completely accept the premise that men and women communicate differently, but I’m willing to roll with that.
The life coach then provides us a square divided into four smaller squares. Each of the smaller squares describes a communication “style.” Under each style is a description of the communication traits within the “style” and some data showing the percentage of people who identify with the particular style. There is no breakdown of the data to show percentage by gender. The data is also presented in a way that suggests that people must identify with one of the four choices – no shades of grey.
My radar is up. I don’t deal well in absolutes. As I’m reading the four styles, I immediately know that I fall somewhere between two of them but not entirely in any of them. Also, to be fair, I’m irritated because the speaker has made an off-handed (and stereotypical) remark about autism. I’m already struggling to take her seriously.
We spend the next 50 or so minutes talking about the different communication styles in very, very general terms. We talk about how certain styles have difficulty communicating with other styles. Still, there is no discussion about how this impacts that woman-communicating-with-man thesis that opened this lecture. Then, the speaker says – and I’m not going to say this is a quote, but it’s a damn good paraphrase – that she doesn’t know a single woman who could spend a week talking about the Super Bowl, but men sure can. She then asks the group of women assembled whether we know of such a woman. When we sit there in silence, she takes that as affirmation of her generalization.
Now, I’m done. I’m furiously texting a co-worker. I’m watching the clock. I am praying I don’t shoot my mouth off before …
The speaker opens the conversation up for questions. She gets one or two obligatory softball questions, but then a couple of direct questions are asked, and the responses are less than direct. The “sports” thing comes up again.
… too late.
I raise my hand. When I’m acknowledged, I say to the speaker that she started her presentation with the statement that men and women communicate differently, that up to this point, I hadn’t really heard anything in her presentation that specifically identified those differences. In fact, I found myself troubled by the idea that we were sitting here talking about how all men can talk about is sports, and if the tables were turned, and I walked into a room full of men remarking how all women liked to talk about is shopping, I’d be pretty upset. So, I asked her whether she could provide information – either statistics or facts – that would help us, as women, improve how we communicate with men in the context of her four boxes.
I don’t think she liked my question, because her face squeezed into what I know well as the fuck-off-and-die-smile. I use it a lot in court. What the speaker did next, though, floored me.
The speaker responded to my question by saying a few things, but the one that stuck out for me was that women need to feel like they have the “right” to speak to communicate well. So, I asked her how we, as women, develop that sense of entitlement. She responded by smirking at me and saying, “It comes from experience. And, I have that experience that, perhaps, a younger woman – in her 20s – doesn’t.”
Wow. But, wait. It gets better.
The speaker then starts talking about stress and how “neuroscientists” have determined that women live with a consistently higher degree of stress than men. This causes, according to the speaker, women to balk at taking on additional responsibilities, because the woman doubts her ability to be successful. Whereas, men jump at the chance to accept more responsibility, because the “challenge” brings their stress level up no higher than what’s tolerable.
A co-worker asks the speaker about the science behind this. She explains that she had just recently spoken with her doctor about stress, and his feeling was that the level of stress a person experiences is not the product of extraneous forces but internal response, which varies from person to person regardless of gender. My co-worker then said, “This isn’t me talking – I’m not smart enough to think this stuff up – this is a medical doctor.” The speaker then says, “Ah. You see what you just did there. You said you weren’t smart. I mean, I don’t want to single you out or embarrass you, but that’s the kind of self-deprication that women engage in that really hurts them.”
Oh. You mean like how women are catty bitches to one another in the workplace and often their own worst enemies?
Listen, I’m not a big fan of women-only events. I feel like they serve only to highlight the gender differences that we (as women) assert are the cause of disparate treatment. And, communication is inherently a two-way event. How can you possibly hope to improve the way in which one group communicates with another unless you get both groups to the table? But, even putting that aside, the speaker is a “life coach” who proceeded to give a talk based on gross generalizations, bald assumptions and even stereotypes when she KNEW she was speaking to a room full of women with nothing less than professional degrees.
What are your thoughts, readers? Where do you come out on women-only events? Are they useful? Have any of you ever used a “life coach” with any success? Is this a “real” profession? Why do you think women tend to be so competitive with each other? Or, do you think that? The whole experience left me with way more questions than answers and a very uneasy feeling in my gut …