So do you think women tend to need more pats on the back than men do? Perhaps we read pats on backs differently, I mean maybe we don’t even get it when men mean to encourage us? Or maybe they don’t bother because they believe our shiny veneer finishes, you know, the cool exteriors, the lipstick, the laughter. I know that I experience my women friends as far more consistent backpatters than most of my male friends, anyway, and it is such a relief to have those pats. I’ve had this conversation quite a few times lately, and now Hilde’s pretty much blogged it, with an example.

15 thoughts on “click here to pat back

  1. Jonathan Smith

    Yes, there is a difference in the way that males and feamles learn to give and receive pats. Needing less or more may be divided by factors more complex than gender.

    BTW: Saw a site on Metafilter for your students and you — fragment: a writing meme. One of the examples I saw there today had as much polish and oomph as some of your clips — Raspil: Pickup at the HEB

    It was unfortunate that there was a lack of distance collaboration before and during BloggerCon, David Winer’s conference at Harvard University. Your participation would have added to the discussion.

    There were two pats (from one perspective, of course).

  2. patricia

    I think part of it is that boys are brought up believing that everything they do is right. If you are in that mindset, then you don’t need all the pats in the back. I’ve had discussions with guy friends about this sort of thing, especially in regard to writing. I’ll show something to a male friend and not get any response back. When I ask, however, I get a general “Oh. I thought it was good. I figured you’d know that so I didn’t say.” What I’ve taken from that is that unless otherwise told, I’m doing things the right way. 😀

  3. Jesper Juul

    Come on, boys are not brought up to believe that everything they do is right, boys are brought up to believe that they have to work a lot to get really good at something in order to be respected (by men and women alike).

    I find that if I ask for comments on something, my female friends will usually be more positive and encouraging, whereas my male friends will tell me what they think …

  4. Jill

    Mm, interesting. I’m curious here, btw, I’d like to know how men experience the whole “need a pat on the back” thing. I’m doing well in the backpatting department these days, maybe I got better at asking for encouragemnet, or something.

    But, well, say the other day, I was in iChat when Liz pinged me to say she thought some of my recent posts here were great. That made me so happy – and that’s the kind of support I think women are good at. It’s not just about whether or not you “tell the truth” when someone asks for your opinion, it’s about making a bit of effort to point out the things you do like.

    It’s quite possible I don’t really pat my male friends and colleagues on the back as much as I do my female friends and colleagues, you know. They “don’t need it”, you know – ha. My awareness glasses are hereby on.

  5. Jesper Juul

    I will have to follow up on that later (I’m proofreading right now), but I just want to say that I read your blog every day, and I think you are great!

  6. Rory

    Patricia – “boys are brought up believing that everything they do is right”? Uh… no. More like the opposite. Try the lyrics to the new Proclaimers song, He’s Just Like Me:

    Where women praise, men criticize. Both with the aim of encouragement. Even though I personally try not to be too critical or too reluctant to praise, I see it all the time, and I’m as bound by the culture I grew up in as anyone. Praise from female friends is always appreciated, but because “that’s what women do”, it doesn’t feel as significant as praise from a male friend, which has value through scarcity. And on the flipside, male criticism, while annoying, is more easily shrugged off than female criticism – because while men often mean it constructively (even if it *sounds* negative), when women are critical you know there’s *really* something wrong.

    So I don’t know if patting your male friends will make a *big* difference, Jill; I doubt you’ll find that they respond as strongly as your female friends would. But they’ll appreciate it all the same, I’m sure.

    They certainly *won’t* be thinking that everything they do is right. They’ll assume it isn’t; they’ll be expecting criticism as a form of encouragement to improve; in the absence of criticism, they’ll assume they’re doing okay.

    So Patricia, when your male friends say, “I thought it was good. I figured you’d know that so I didn’t say,” they’re not saying, “We male writers always start with the assumption that what we do is good;” they’re saying, in a circular kind of way, that their silence indicated approval; they “didn’t say” *because* they thought it was good; there was nothing to criticize, so they said nothing.

  7. patricia

    Duly noted. Perhaps I’m drawing too heavily from my spanish upbringing — where boys are brought up like little kings and girls are supposed to be more accomodating. As usual, when making sweeping generalizations, they’re bound to not be 100% accurate.

  8. Francois Lachance

    I’m not quite with Rory on the gender differential. I am with him on the interpretation of praise from a person who praises little or sharp criticism from some one who usually delivers lavish praise.

    I want to add a question to the dynamic. Praise that is witnessed versus praise that is delivered in private…. rebound affect on the speaker of the praise different? I think age plays a part as much as gender (and, btw, Nancy Chodorow’s work on parenting, The Reproduction of Mothering, might help historicize certain observed gender differences): Adult to child and peer to peer and, what I believe is the most special praise of all — child to adult (a praise that is not always verbal but certainly is signified).

  9. Rory

    There probably are some national differences in all this, true. I’m coming at it from an Australian perspective. Depressingly high male suicide statistics in my home country…

    Also: I hope it’s obvious I was generalizing too; I don’t place myself in the ‘criticize to encourage’ camp, or believe that men never praise or need praise; and the most critical and reluctant-to-praise person I know is a woman.

  10. Rory

    Looking back over this, I feel the need to write a few thousand words of caveats around everything. Usually I’m the one arguing with those who say that women are X and men are Y, and trying to get them to recognise the shades of grey. Hey, according to the Gender Genie, I *am* a shade of grey.

    But I suppose that was where I started here, too. Some men might have been brought up believing they’re always right, but by no means all or even most do. And those who *claim* they’re always right might not actually *believe* it. The little king is wearing a mask; he might grow into it, or he might grow out of it. As Jill suggested in her post, you shouldn’t always believe the mask.

    But for better or worse, part of the standard-issue Anglo/Northern-European Male mask is to be economical with praise and quick with ‘constructive’ criticism, and the result is this general impression that men don’t pat or need pats as much as women do. As a generalization, there may be some truth to it. But the men you know might appreciate a pat now and then.

  11. Jill

    Mm, no conclusions here, but I’m interested in all the different perspectives.

    Jesper, happy proofreading, and that’s brilliant you’ve got all the way to proofreading! I’m looking forward to read the whole dissertation 🙂

  12. Anonymous

    I do believe that Jill struck a nerve! As to the Patricia — Jesper debate, perhaps, both perspectives are true. I recall a John Stoltenberg question, asked of men, “What characteristics that were like your mother, did you have to give up to please your father?”

  13. Norman

    Unless I outlive Methuslah, I fear I shan’t be around to see the day when affluent western society accepts what any analytically inclined observer, who genuinely tries to keep his/her preconceptions under control, can see as obvious. Of course there are overlaps; naturally there are shades of grey; and no one should deny that there are spectacular exceptions to the rule to be found at the individual level; but one thing is patently clear to anyone who has gone to the trouble of reading the research data, or even spending a little time observing young children.
    Boys and girls are different by nature, and the differences are there from vey young ages, no matter how we may try to manipulate their upbringing.
    Oooops. Shouldn’t be talking about such matters?

  14. Florine

    Aren’t this post and these comments *all* about differences between men & women?

  15. Norman

    Perhaps, Florine, but sadly there’s a strong anti intellectual push in western society to try to hide genetic differences and present them as far more dependent upon nurture than the evidence indicates.
    I had a discussiuon yesterday with two bright business studies students in their late 20s, who are in managment positions in what THEY called the “real world”.
    They complained about the bizzare views of their humanities component lecturers, who were obsessed with this approach. It saddens me to find the intellectually challenging attitudes of business students comparing so favorably with the more accepting attitudes permeating the humanities faculties.

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