Monday, November 21, 2011

Men, Women and Discussions

Note: This discussion happened over Google Buzz. I reproduce it simply because I feel it deserves something less ephemeral than a buzz conversations. The reproduction is pretty much honest (through effective use of copy-paste). I have removed the timestamps, hyperlinks, and 'da' suffix to my name wherever they appeared.

Acknowledgement: I thank Pritesh, Ananth, Ayan, Hasan and Shipra for participating in the discussion.

You will find men often talking about women not being able to take part in serious discussions. Many impediments have been reported. They range from lack of originality, lack of breadth/depth of thought, taking things personally, not gracefully accepting it if their contribution to the discussion happens to be minor, getting too aggressive (as in turning a discussion into an argument) etc. 
I feel there are people like that. But they aren't necessarily women. I have met many women with whom it is a pleasure to discuss on a wide variety of things. They don't just make good listeners, but have such valuable inputs as is suggestive of wide knowledge and piercing intellect. On the other hand, there are men with whom it's a pain to talk anything beyond meaningless pleasantries. 

But more importantly, what we should realise is that such people who aren't good performers in discussions aren't necessarily intellectually inferior. Handling a discussion is by and large a matter of grooming. Good discussions follow certain patterns, which, through regular practice, are rather easy to catch. When a discussion is approaching one of its pitfalls, when it's straying, and how to avoid these and maximise the benefit of a session, are things which one could learn with practice and observance of discipline. 
To this, probably it is relevant to look at how things culturally are in our Indian families. When men discuss, women cringe into the kitchen or some other part of the house only to appear to provide refreshment. Even now, in a lot of families, men and women form separate groups. No wonder, if someone is routinely kept away from opportunities of learning something, she will not learn it. And then, we attribute it to their intellect. And the sequestration intensifies. It's a vicious cycle! It's not as if men are forcing women to this plight. Men and women are equal parties to this folly. It's more like men and women, all, are playing puppets to a strange illogical custom. If there's any semblance of fact in the opening statement of this piece, I feel, it could largely be attributed to this strange custom (In fact, I was recently made aware of this by one of my cousin sisters, and it struck me like a thunderbolt.) 

What a pity for us all that we lose out on about half the intellect of our race while discussing on matters! What a pity!

Related posts:

Pritesh Dagur - It's a very very valid and thought-provoking point Sujju. I can identify with the pattern of women escaping to the recesses of the kitchen, with or without realizing. In spite of having more than equal opportunities of discussing, I tended to do this too (maybe, I still do it to a certain extent). So, I don't particularly blame the less-educated or less well-treated women doing so. I guess, this goes back a long way and will change very slowly, just like many other things about our Society. Conscious efforts will need to be made to bring the other half of the Society into actively discussing matters and ya, the discussing half to get into the kitchen and bring refreshments too! :-) Change has to happen both ways! :-) The other half of my marriage already does this, I hope the others can learn too and we can have a wider variety of inputs in every discussion :-)
Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti - Yes. Also, the groups that get formed in the living room should be more based on interests, and not gender. Why is it necessary for men to talk about footfall and politics, and for women to talk about recipes and cosmetics?! These days we have women heading prominent countries. Aur to aur, ab to ladke bhi cosmetics use karte hain! ;)Edit
Pritesh Dagur - Hahaha, this is true. But yes, it is also about taking an interest in other topics. I can contribute a bit or two about football now and Ananth can talk about toners and facewashes too! :D
Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti - ...and I will make a good listener to both! :D
Hasan Raza - I may not agree completely. You are trying to relate two things together. However, you are right that it's not the women but people who behave like this. But is that those men who behave like this go to kitchen when intellectual talk is happening, and appear to provide refreshment. 

I didn't like the above post. As simple as that.
Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti - There should be one '[:(] Unlike' option for buzz posts! That would have been even simpler! :)
ananth krishnan - @Hasan: I think what Sujit is trying to say here is that, being part of intellectual discussions is largely a grooming issue, not a brain issue. Less women are able to join intellectual discussions because they are groomed to cater to refreshments, not indulge in intellectual discussions. So when they are exposed to an intellectual discussion, they may find themselves ill at ease, even if they may actually have the aptitude or interest to join in such a discussion. But on the other hand, some men don't like such discussions, but are forced to sit through them because they cannot excuse themselves to go and provide refreshments. 

@Sujit: One solution Pritesh and I tend to follow is the take turns in making intellectual (or non-intellectual) conversation and dropping into the kitchen to arrange for refreshments. If the party is smaller, then we shift everyone into the kitchen and talk while we preparing the refreshments with each of us handling some parts. In spite of that, Pritesh ends up spending more time arranging for the refreshments while I end up spending more time on the conversations. 
@everyone: Usually the women too end up making conversation among themselves, often in the kitchen while arranging the refreshments, in a typical Indian party scenario. I think it would be stupid for us men to label their talk as any less intellectual than that carried out by men. I would sometimes say, their conversation may be more useful, than the so called intellectual discussions by men. As Sujit puts it, it is a shame that one half of the intellect is lost on the other half :-)
Hasan Raza - Ok, let me be more clear. There are two discussions running above: 

(1) How to do a better conversation and lead a discussion to an end; and other interpersonal skills 
(2) Intellectual strength of women 

The first one is altogether different from the second one. I can't question the intellectuality of women, the difference is that the direction is different. Women put their intellectual strength in a different direction than men. Just take an example: 
Skill of not to give up in a discussion - it needs lots of brain power to keep going with the discussion and poke out new things which pierce the opponents mind and stature, and be present with another cross question or incidence which can cancel the opponents statement, and prove ultimately that you are wrong. 

The above is commonly found in women but even men sometimes behave like that (eg. here I am :) Now how does it relate to the way how women are treated in our culture and society? 

The only difference is that people who talk smart (be it a women or men), always follow a path in the discussion and do not deviate from there.
Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti Hello Hasan. Let me try to frame the above two things in one: 'Utilising the intellectual strength of women in discussions.' It's a composite topic. That's OK na?! 

If I try to go into explaining the unity in the topic I had started, probably I'll end up repeating a lot of what I said at first. Let me still try by writing something like a paper abstract. 

Women are intellectually equal. But they don't end up taking equal part in serious discussions in general. I have tried to analyse the problem. In the process I have agreed that the distinction between discussers and non-discussers exists but it's not fundamentally gender based, rather it's a matter of practice. I have concluded by giving a brief explanation as to why in the current society the bias of non-discussers might be towards women, by bringing in our social norms of isolating women from intellectual activities. 

Do you still think I am trying to force two topics deserving separate discussions to fit into one? 

Dear Ananth. Thanks for a solution to the 'refreshments' problem. I'm sure you understand, but for the benefit of all, let me just mention that I mentioned that issue more metaphorically, to represent the fact that normally, women in our society are meant to keep out of intellectual discussions. 
Also, whether women end up making meaningful discussions among themselves is slightly besides the point once we have agreed that the distinction between discussers and non-discussers in not gender based. What is important to highlight is that there indeed are people who never learn to make meaningful discussions not because of their own faults but because prevailing norms never allow them to learn it.Edit
ananth krishnan - I guess the confusion is caused do the assumption that intellectual discussions are restricted to the living room which is usually inhabited by men during a typical Indian family party. Where I beg to differ from Sujit in the light of Hasan's comments is that, women in our society are meant to keep out of discussions which men have, not necessarily out of intellectual (serious) discussions. Because of the different practices of discussions between men and women, the intellect is not shared between men and women. But I have never heard of a man winning an argument with his wife about anything without resorting to violence. So obviously men are ill-equipped at having the kitchen variety of (serious) discussion.
ananth krishnan - But what I agree with Sujit is that men often subscribe to the belief that women can't make intellectual conversations, because of the social milieu of the Indian family and the gender roles.
Shipra Agrawal - that is one reason I am fan of open kitchens, my current kitchen is open, into the living room, that not only allows me to talk while I am making tea or something, but also encourages everyone including Piyush to be more involved in arranging the refreshments.
Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti - Wow! That's really a cool aspect of open kitchens. Never thought of it!Edit
Pritesh Dagur - I so totally agree with Shipra. Open kitchens (like we have in our Pune house) are a really cool idea.........
Ayan Kar - I like to idea of being able to interact.. but I prefer the big separate kitchens that include the dining area.. I can sit and chat with my wife and also we get to do a lot of joint cooking of tasty bengali maach bhaat or spicy chicken masala's my present house has an open kitchen and me and my wife hate it because it limits the options of food we can cook. You can accuse of both of us of being food junkies.. ;-)
Sujit Kumar Chakrabarti - Bindu! Point! I'm fine with both. There should be good food coming out of them prepared and eaten over interesting discussions. :)

1 comment:


hi! The fact that groups are based on gender at get-togethers rather than interests is something weird. When I finshed school and was gettin into engineering it would look so odd when i'd b sittin with my uncles n granpas rather than being with my aunts in d kitchen. I wouldn't be interested in cookin or speaking about hairstyles or clothes n would get bored being in d kitchen. It is nice to see that there r people out there who share d same thought - "ppl with similar interests should sit together n discuss stuff that interests them"