Unmighty men, almighty women

2009-10-20 00:00

ONE would have had to be living on another planet not to have noticed the profusion of books, magazine articles and talk show time focusing on gender relationships over the past few years. Most have been undertaken in a spirit of developing more constructive relationships between men and women, recognising and respecting the different ways in which we experience the world. Books like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus are pioneers in this regard.

As a result I think that we have all learnt a lot more about one another. For example that women have an innate ability to multitask, and are more “emotionally intelligent” than men, while men are able to read maps more easily, and would rather die of starvation than ask for directions.

But there is a characteristic that as far as I can see has been ignored completely. I am talking about “emotional stamina”. “Emotional stamina” is the ability to experience the world and/or interact with people in an emotional capacity for an extended period of time. It is a characteristic that women get in bucketfuls, while men, if they are lucky, get maybe a cup. The upshot of this is that regardless of how emotionally educated a guy may think he is, in an argument with a woman, a man abandons the fortress of logic for the waterways of emotion at his peril. A recent experience with Josie, my nine-year-old daughter illustrates this

perfectly.

I was helping Josie with her homework and she started becoming distracted and dawdling around. I scolded her gently, telling that she needed to get on with it. The next minute I was on the receiving end of a tirade.

“Nothing I ever do is ever good enough for you,” she protested. “Nothing I ever do ever makes you happy.”

I felt a momentary wave of guilt come over me, momentary because Josie is doted on by me for most of her waking life. Her two brothers, Thomas and

Francis, constantly remind me of this. Besides, I felt my chiding was gentle and entirely reasonable, so I tried to reason with

Josie.

I suggested to her that she was blowing things out of proportion, that in fact she received an abundance of praise and love from me.

“No”, she insisted. “Nothing I do makes you happy.”

She then resurrected the fact that I left her at home one morning because she was late for school, and did I know that the next day she had to lie to her friends because of me, and that her friends probably still remember this.

“That happened about four years ago,” I reminded her, and suggested that her friends had probably forgotten and moved on.

But Josie wasn’t having any of it. Feeling quite exasperated, and hoping to get things into perspective, I tried a comparative approach. I told Josie that my irritation with her dithering with her homework was the size of a flea, and my love for her the size of an elephant. Josie loves animals, and I was sure this would do the trick. Silence.

“Only one elephant,” she declared, looking hugely disappointed.

By now I was exhausted and struggling for oxygen. I made a last-ditch attempt to rescue the situation.

“No, my irritation with you is the size of a flea, and my love for you the size of twenty elephants,” I corrected myself emphatically.

This was obviously an improvement, but Josie didn’t look entirely convinced. She got up off the bed and walked through to the kitchen. As far as emotional stamina goes, my cup was empty, and I was more than ready to raise the white flag. I buried my head in a nearby pillow. A few minutes later, Josie came back and lay down next to me. She put her hand gently on my shoulder and looked at me.

“You can say sorry to me now,” she told me.

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