“Yeah, your butt does look big in that.” “That scent is… different.” “I hope you’re going to shave!” Fair enough. You want him to look good right? But what if he said this to you?
It’s the 21st Century. The sexes have never been more equal. We’re nearly as likely to be doctors, lawyers and managing directors as men are. We’ve proven we’re tough. We can hold our own in boardrooms, courtrooms, even warzones. So, what’s the one thing that sorts the men from the girls? Insults.
Imagine this. You tell your man you don’t like that blue shirt he’s wearing. What happens? He probably doesn’t wear it around you again (if he remembers and has anything else that’s clean). Now imagine he tells you he doesn’t like your blue shirt. What happens? You get upset. You worry the cut makes you look fat, the colour washes you out, the style’s too old fashioned. You cry. You call your best friend. You throw the shirt out, along with anything else of similar style or colour and all of the chocolate in the house. He just thought the buttons were hard to undo.
Professor Deborah Tannen (yes, a female professor!) presented her Difference Theory in her book You Just Don’t Understand. She wrote that in conversations men seek “status” and women “support;” that is, men will call their best mate a pig if it lifts them up (socially) and gets them the girl in the bar, while women will happily tell strangers that they love their hair/shoes/make up (mostly to get a compliment in return!). So obviously this means to a woman, compliments = Very Good, but insults = Very Bad.
And the worst part is we don’t even have to be insulted to be insulted! Our “status anxiety” (permanent worry that we aren’t as good as men – ha!) makes us more likely to look for the pragmatics in a conversation, even when they don’t exist! (Yeah ok, I ate a blueberry muffin and a dictionary for breakfast. Pragmatics are the hidden meanings behind the words.)
So while maybe your boss can sometimes be a bitch, perhaps when she asks “Wow! How do you keep your desk so tidy?!” She doesn’t mean, “God, do you actually do any work? Anna’s desk is a sty, so she must be putting all of her efforts into her job. Now, who to put forward for promotion…” She really means “Wow! How do you keep your desk so tidy?!”
So could insults be the final hurdle to overcome? If we can learn to “man up” and just take them with a smile – and stop analysing every single conversation to death! – will we finally become men’s equals in the workplace? Who knows?
What I can tell you are a couple of tips to help you to the top. Men LIKE insults! A bit of banter with your male colleagues will help you bond and make male bosses see you as a real competitor. Promotion anyone? And next time your female boss compliments you, just smile!