Over the years, I’ve come to notice that there seems to be a double-standard in terms of male and female communication.
It seems that often, females are not quite allowed to say some of the things that males can say, or perhaps women can’t say them in quite the same way as men can.
(Very) generally speaking, males seem to be able to “get away with” a lot more than females.
Men generally tend to make more matter-of-fact statements. When they do, it is usually accepted at pretty much face value. Less is read into their statements. The listener reads hidden meanings into those statements less often.
This is not so much the case for females.
Some might groan or roll their eyes at this idea. That’s OK; they might never have perceived or experienced this phenomenon before. It might have never happened to them, or if it has, it might have slipped through unnoticed. After all, this is largely a Nonverbal Thing, and the listener’s response can be quite subtle.
I’m keenly aware of some aspects of nonverbal communication. Probably excessively so, to the point of potentially coming across as jumpy, over-reactive, or possibly even paranoid.
This may or may not be the case; I’m often too frayed to tell. Frayed by past experience, most of which has taught me hard lessons. It’s the accidental misstep into a proverbial, relational mine in the social mine field. The first sign of such a misstep is that one figuratively loses half of one’s face before they know what hit them.
Welcome to my world, and that of many on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum. This is a long and thick chapter in the story of many of our lives.
The sharp watch for nonverbal responses was ingrained and learned over time, because it did not come easy to me. I have seen people of any gender react differently to the same statement made by males vs females. I’ve experienced the (surprising) negative responses when I’ve told someone something versus when my male partner tells them the same thing. So I know that this situation is real.
For example, someone in my workplace made a request that went against policy. I was the first to tell them, politely enough, that no, what they wanted could not be done. This person got unreasonably huffy, feathers ruffled all over the place. They tried to do an end-run around me and talk to my partner (who works in the same office as I do). He told this person the same thing, only not quite as diplomatic as I did. I was “masking”, well-seated in my public acting role, pretending to be a neurotypical female. My partner has no need to mask; he tends not to care as much about what other people think of him. So his denial of the person’s request-turned-demand was far more matter-of-fact.
This person kept trying, though; they kept asking him every week or so until finally, he got tired of the antics and put his foot down. He told them firmly that NO, that is not going to happen. Ultimately, this person (finally) took “no” for an answer. I thought for sure that we’d never see them again, but they kept coming back–and they still do. Not to me, even though they originally started out working with me–but to him. The person still won’t talk to me much, but remains among my partner’s regular clientele.
Numerous examples of this type of situation exist. They’ll generally be more obvious and memorable for those whose anatomy includes female parts. Biological females likely know what I’m talking about; males might as well.
In short: if a biological male says something, especially if that “something” is not pleasant to hear, the man more often gets a “pass”. The listener takes the statement “as is” and often doesn’t think anything less of the guy. They don’t tend to assume that he’s an asshole (quite as often).
If a biological female says the exact same thing in the exact same tone of voice, with the exact same body language, she’s not quite as well-received. Suddenly, she’s perceived as a “bitch” or a “hard-ass” or whatever other term fits the bill.
This is likely because females are “socialized” to be more “agreeable”, to “let it go”, and to “keep the peace”. They’re taught to be more “diplomatic” and “sociable”. They’re taught to go along with…whatever.
And “whatever” is right. Where does society get off by using this kind of double-standard? In 2017, there should be no double-standard and yet, there is. It glares at certain people. And that glare is a frosty one, when you’ve drawn the short end of the biological stick.
Now, enter Asperger’s/autism. Not only is there the potential for the nonverbal/body-linguistic misread, but there’s also the tendency (which applies very strongly to me) to “tell it like it is”. When I do this, I’m not trying to be mean, harsh, cold, or distant; I’m just saying what I mean, without beating around the bush or risking sending double-messages. I simply want to state my thoughts in pure form, to maximize the odds that they’ll be received the way I intend them to be.
No more, no less.
But apparently, that’s “not allowed” in neurotypical, stereotypical gender-divided society. I was born with female parts and thus, it is assumed almost universally that I will also act, think, and communicate in a certain way. Peoples’ expectations are different. Because females are typically socialized a certain way, the world often gets a little bent out of shape when a female acts or communicates in a way that doesn’t jive with their social indoctrination.
That’s a fundamental ingredient in my difficulties relating to the world. It’s not that either side is wrong, per se; it’s just that we’re different. The problem is, other people don’t know that, and they expect you to be the same as they are. And up until a little over a year ago, at age 38.5, I didn’t have that information in hand, either. That left me wondering what the hell was wrong, why I couldn’t achieve the same success when interacting with people on a plain, regular, everyday level that everybody else did. It seemed so basic, so easy, so fundamental. I got the impression that everyone else had been doing it for years; they made it look so easy. It wasn’t so easy for me.
My Asperger’s/autism makes me much more likely to say what I mean without first putting what I planned to say through a mental neurotypical-friendly filter. When this happens, people are taken aback, surprised. In turn, I’m surprised by their response, wondering what I did wrong this time.
My Asperger’s/autism also makes me a lot more internal than the average bear, which also thus translates to my internalization of peoples’ negative responses. It monkeys with my processing speed and procedure, which then involuntarily replays the conversation over and over in my head, making mental “edits” to my side of the conversation as I go, knowing that it’s a fruitless activity because the conversation is long over and the other person long gone, and it always surprised me how fast other people could “get over” things, at least for the moment. In similar situations with loved ones, I’ve called them back later to get–and put–closure on the conversation, only for them to be all bouncy-back-to-normal, like nothing had ever happened. Oh, they’ll often hold my statements against me later, but at that moment, they seem happier, even if their feelings toward me haven’t changed.
Trying to make the sudden jump up to their comparatively care-free mood requires yet another adjustment on my part. I don’t want to seem “too down” or, heaven forbid, “difficult”, or someone who can’t let go of something that’s long over with. So, I feel I must adjust up to their level, to try to match my frequency to theirs, to try to mimic them in order to establish some kind of artificial rapport.
I’m always the one doing the adjusting. And I often feel artificial.
When will I ever get the hang of this thing? All these social rules are confusing. What had I even done wrong in the first place? I hadn’t lied; I had told the truth. I have learned that sugarcoating what I say too much leads to people getting the wrong message, and I didn’t want to be misleading in any way. I hadn’t raised my voice (that I’m aware of); I had remained as calm as possible. I didn’t hurt anyone or lose my cool or fly off the handle. I didn’t hurl any insults or swear words. So what did I do?? What else is there to do wrong? Does this mean that, even after all this time and effort, my mental checklist still isn’t up to par? Sometimes, I never actually find out. At times, my gaffe remains a mystery. I often don’t even know where I went wrong.
It can be tough enough being part of a society in which, because of your anatomy, you’re expected to play a second fiddle of sorts. It gets even tougher when your neurotype bestows upon you a natural inclination to think act, and communicate in ways that run directly opposed to those anatomy-based expectations. And it gets even more challenging yet, when the fact that anatomy-based social and psychological expectations exist, doesn’t even make sense in the first place and you see no need for such concepts and customs to even exist.
Being female in a society such as this one carries with it a certain set of challenges.
Being on the Asperger’s/autism spectrum comes with its own, different, set of challenges.
Sometimes, this creates an ocean of choppy waters and potential undertows that can be hard to navigate. Society, with its nonsensical rules, often gets in my way–my way of being me and getting on with living my life.
I’m not sure I’ll ever “get it”. I don’t do what I do for the purpose of shocking others or rebelling in nonconformity or raging against the machine; I do what I do because that’s just how I roll. But if the world wants to be shocked in response to the fact that I do what it is I do while acting naturally, then so be it. 🙂
(Image Credit: Holly Sierra)