Sunday, January 11, 2009

How Do You Think?

When I was in college, I took a Women’s Studies seminar. The instructor was head of the Sociology department, had written a few books, was said to be quite entertaining, and so I thought it might be an interesting class. I was an English and History major, but everyone needs electives, preferably ones that don’t add a tremendous amount of further reading to an already maxed out class load, and this one seemed to fit the bill. And after all, I attended a women’s college and was (and still am) a lesbian; surely there was some criteria written down somewhere that I simply had to take at least one women’s studies class, right?

About a week into the class, which, by the way, turned out to be one of those round-table, discussion things that had never appealed to my more linear style of learning, my instructor informed me that I, “thought like a man”. This appellation came at the end of a rather vigorous discussion, the subject of which I must admit escapes me after all these years, but I do recall being quite vocal (as those who know me can quite imagine, I am sure) and arguing several points with a classmate and my instructor. I have to say I was taken aback at the time and the years have done little to alter that reaction.

I tell this story primarily because I was accused (if that word actually applies) again recently, and again by another woman, of “thinking like a man”, and being equally flummoxed as to how to respond. What exactly does it mean to “think like a man”? What does it mean to “think like a woman”? I know that I have a very logical perspective on things, that I prefer facts to supposition, that I have a tendency to travel from point A to point B, but are those exclusively “male” traits? Or are they “male” traits at all? Are all of these things, our need to quantify thinking as being of one sex or the other, merely societal inventions designed to perpetuate male-dominated hierarchies?

Given my own dearth of answers to any of these questions, I thought that I might put it to all of you, dear bloggers, to tell me what you believe it means to “think like a man/woman”. Any opinions? I'm quite curious to hear your thoughts.


rebelleink said...

I personally get rather annoyed with gender-essentialist arguments. Linear thinking isn't a quintessential male trait nor is tangential thinking female.

I'm really surprised you heard this from a women's studies prof. Or maybe I'm not. I don't agree with the statement that women and men are fundamentally different and our experiences of the world is different based on our gender. That concept was on I learned in my women studies class, at a small liberal arts college about 10 years ago. So if men and women AREN'T that different...then how can the way something thinks be defined by gender? said...

I agree with rebelleink that how we think shouldn't be a measure of gender identity. That said, I do think it's been shown (by whom or how I don't know, I just have a vague memory of reading some study) that women, for example, are better able to multitask than men, which may affect thinking along gendered lines. However, I think that, among many other things, could be attributed to social and not biological factors.

I've been accused of thinking like a guy, too, although I'd never really given it a second thought. I think there are certain ways of thinking that people conventionally attribute to men and certain ways attributed to women; all of its socially constructed and probably not even remotely accurate given each individual person. But that socially-constructed convention is what people are responding to when they say that you "think like a man". I'm curious...what did you do/say recently when someone told you that?

(I should add that I think its very possible that some people do think in stereotypically masculine or feminine ways precisely because that's how they were raised (whether by their parents or just the cultural environment) -- it's a vicious cycle!)

Unknown said...

Well, if we define "thinking like a man" or "thinking like a woman" by society's definitions of it, it varies for me. I think like a man because I am rational, logical, and straightforward. But I think like a woman because I am emotional, detail oriented, and empathic.

What this boils down to is that I think like ME. Not a man, not a woman, but Britni.