IF YOU’VE EVER ROLLED YOUR EYES when some guy says “I just don’t get women,” The New Yorker has an article you will love. “I Just Don’t Understand Women,” an essay written by Mike Gillis for the Daily Shouts column, brilliantly satirizes the bros who think we are somehow unknowable. Gillis’ meandering, poetic prose arrives at the conclusion that the guys who “don’t get women” must not have ever met any.
Normally, I have a few qualms about stereotyping nerdy guys as misogynist slobs who live in their mothers’ basements and are incapable of normal, respectful interactions with women. Most of the friends I’ve had over the years have been some variation of the übernerd theme, and it’s clear that, not only do many of them conform to our society’s prescription for adulthood, those who don’t aren’t bad people. Their identities should not be used to insult others.
That being said, I think Gillis is on to something. You don’t have to look far to find exemplary horror stories from Tinder and other social networks, in which men lash out at women for — well, everything. Not a week goes by that we don’t read about a woman who was attacked, or even killed, for rejecting a man’s advances. It is beyond problematic to think that the Venn diagram of Socially Inept Men and Men Who Attack Women for Saying “No” is a circle, but it’s foolish to deny that there is some overlap.
“I Just Don’t Understand Women” works on both levels, lampooning both those men who deem women incomprehensible out of willful ignorance, and those who hold women to an unattainable ideal and lash out at anyone who doesn’t conform.
Mid-way through his essay, Gillis writes:
Still, what I’d like to know more than anything—and I think all men are with me on this—is what women really want. […]
If someone could provide me with even a basic definition of “women,” that would be tremendously helpful. But, unfortunately, if you look up “women” in the dictionary, all you’ll find is a picture of a little guy shrugging his shoulders and looking at you as if to say, “Sorry, pal, your guess is as good as mine!”
Here, the writer paints a portrait of your run-of-the-mill sexist — the guy who complains that his wife didn’t come with an instruction manual, as if she’s some sort of electronic device instead of, you know, a person. Gillis hints at the old, self-defeating sentiment: if no one else has ever figured out how to understand women, why bother trying?
In the next paragraph, he tackles the arguably more dangerous breed of men who theorize women. These are your PUAs, Steve Harvey types, and other predators who profit —financially and otherwise — from exploiting women’s socialized insecurities and calling it “natural.” Gillis writes:
Some see women as a state of mind. Others as a type of matter that is neither solid nor gaseous. A few people—myself included—think of women as a sunny day in Central Park, when you’ve just purchased an ice-cream cone and are thoroughly enjoying it on a bench without getting even a drop on yourself. Each and every one of these answers is correct in its own way.
These aren’t the only gems in “I Just Don’t Understand Women.” In just a few short paragraphs, Gillis touches on the supposed unfairness of women-only spaces, the outrage at not being able to tell the difference between single and partnered women, and the unreasonable expectations men have for the women they date:
I’ve tried using online dating services to meet women. Honestly, I really have! But I always get hung up on the what-ifs: What if we aren’t compatible? What if there’s no chemistry? What if she’s the kind of woman who can grow into a hundred-and-twenty-five-foot-tall giant, pluck me up in her massive fingers, and then hurl me into the sun?
As exactly that kind of woman, I find Gillis’ insight disturbingly accurate.
Jokes aside, the nut of Gillis’ argument is that men just aren’t trying hard enough. You don’t learn to understand a group of people by relying on speculation from the diametrically opposed portion of society, or by putting your opinions and experience on top of theirs. You have to listen and empathize — something men, unfortunately, are never socialized to do with regard to women.
I won’t lie: being unknowable has its advantages, for the women who can harness that ability. Personally, though, I would much rather be understood and seen as a whole person. But that is an uphill battle, as Gillis points out. After all, how can I expect an individual who believes in mythologized accounts of women to think of me as anything other than a parceled-out concept, a collection of body parts with varied utility and only one true function?