[This post is part of a series, inspired by the book Why Men Lie and Women Cry (2003) by Allan & Barbara Pease. Previous entry: Introduction]
Chapter One: Nagging
Back in the day, nagging was considered an actual crime, and repeat offenders could expect to be dunked in a river on a “ducking stool”, or have their tongue clamped down by a scary iron mask called the “branks” (or “scold’s bridle”). Nowadays, we’re much more civilised, of course… except for the guys who straight-up kill their partners, that is: “In the USA alone, there are more than 2,000 cases a year of men murdering their wives and claiming that their nagging drove them to it.” (p. 14) Several other sections of this chapter end with a dire warning regarding the violence that could result from excessive nagging… which is characterised as a woman perpetually pecking away at a man’s ego, until he gets mad as hell, and can’t take it anymore.
I was the “victim” (their word, not mine) of nagging myself back in my student days, when I was sharing a house with some female friends… and it pretty much killed the friendship, stone dead. The problem is, from my point of view, their nagging was unreasonable. I’m not perfect, and I was raised in a very cluttered, sloppy household, so I don’t deny that I needed a little guidance… but try this example, and see whose side you’re on: One of my duties as part of the household was to deal with the bill for our shared phone. Every month I would go through the itemised bill, and identify who made which calls, using a notebook kept by the phone… then I would pin a note to the board in the hallway specifying how much everyone owed that month, and setting a deadline for payment. The other housemates would then pin their cheques to the board for me to collect, and post to the phone people. This one month, it was getting close to the deadline, and I hadn’t pinned my cheque up yet, so a housemate took it upon herself to knock on my door and remind me about it! Never mind the fact that I was the one who set the deadline, and collected the cheques… never mind the fact that I could easily write my cheque up two minutes before I sealed the envelope, and still send it merrily on its way, without incurring any penalties… never mind the fact that we’d never once fallen behind in our payments… for some reason, she had decided it was vitally important that I physically pin the cheque up, before handing it over to myself. Oy! To be fair though, that was towards the end of the year or so we’d spent living together, and as the book asserts, these petty gripes are often evidence of a general failure to communicate, and long-simmering resentment.
I don’t want to abdicate responsibility, but I agree with the book when it suggests that a more constructive alternative to nagging people is to “train” them from the get-go (p. 34). I can’t speak for all men, but personally I respond much better to concrete deadlines/targets, and the carrot/stick incentive, than I do to vague, coded or unspoken hopes and expectations. Which is why I love Judge Judy so much… she lays it all out there, in the most matter-of-fact and practical terms possible. The lesson that this show teaches, loud and clear is that “without a contract, you have no case”. You have to have a contract, either verbal or written, so that each party knows what their responsibilities are, and what the consequences will be if the contract is broken. Too many people lend money to a partner/friend/relative, on the vague promise that they’ll pay it back… and then keep lending them more money, even after they’ve failed to pay back the original sum. Judge Judy does not reward that sort of foolishness. She just shrugs, makes a mocking face, and dismisses the claim. I sometimes wish they’d market a portable Judge Judy simulator, so that every home could have one… because I do believe that domestic harmony requires a “benign dictator” to take a reasoned and dispassionate stand, regarding the rules and regulations of the household… and to mete out rewards/punishment where required.
On a more comedy-centric kick, I was interested by the claim that brain scans have revealed that women have a “far greater capacity for talking than men” (p. 20), and actually devote more space in their brains to speech and language than men do. So why aren’t there more famous female stand-ups, if Science says they’re actually better equipped for the job than men are? Having seen numerous panel gameshows where the token female guest got shouted down and talked over by the bullies either side of her, my guess would be that, in that kind of arena, wit and articulacy count for very little, without the aggression and amplification required to get your joke heard fastest and loudest. In other words, you have to hunt the laughs, not nurture them… tch!
Next entry: Chapter Two