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WHAT WOMEN WANT

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In the movie What Women Want, released December 2000, a Chicago advertising executive Nick Marshall (played by Mel Gibson) gets a whole new outlook on life when a fluke accident gives him the ability to read women's minds. At first this 'gift' provides Nick with way too much information, but he then realizes he can use it to good effect, especially when it comes to outwitting his new boss Darcy McGuire (Helen Hunt). In spite of his best efforts, of course he falls in love with her...

I haven't seen the movie, but here are some reviewers' comments:

  • 'It's a puerile piece of junk'

  • 'A bit of farce, sometimes funny, but which will alienate both genders equally'

  • 'Set your standards on neutral, and enjoy it for exactly what it is -- mindless entertainment that will make you laugh but won't linger in your mind much farther than the theater's parking lot'

  • 'It's a great concept, but the movie doesn't do anything with it...'

    If you want to learn what women want, you won't get the lowdown here.

    One of the most interesting things I do is speak to women's groups. The title of my current talk: '13,000 hours counseling women, what have I learned?' The idea is that women bring their women-friends, the men do all the work - setting up, catering, waiting-on-tables, cleaning up. I generally ask: 'How many of you have _never_ been out to a dinner like this where men cooked, waited on you, and cleaned up?' A third to a half of all the hands will go up, and I see some tears glistening in the candlelight...

    Now I'm a mere male, and can't pretend to be an expert here. What follows is a summary of my reflections having been married to a wonderful woman for 42 years - with three beautiful adult daughters and two gorgeous granddaughters. And I counsel and listen to women most working days...

    WHAT'S NEW

    It should not surprise us that what women _do_ is changing - at least in Western nations. Take these:

  • By the year 2005, 40 percent of all American firms will be female-owned.

  • Four out of five Japanese small business owners are women.

  • Western women control 80 percent of household spending.

  • Women purchase 75 percent of all over-the-counter drugs.

  • In the year 2000, women bought 50 percent of all Personal Computers, and reached parity in the online community.

  • Women influence 90 percent of all car purchases.

  • Women own 53 percent of all stocks.

    However:

  • Women still constitute half the world's population, perform nearly two thirds of its work, receive one tenth of its income and own less than one hundredth of the world's property. Three-quarters of the very poorest people in the world are women and their dependent children.

    WOMEN AND MEN

    Women do some things better than men, and vice versa. For example, women are better 'nurturers' but men can learn to develop this role too. Women are more in touch with their feelings (men are better at chess!). When women make ethical decisions, they are concerned about relationships; men can be more abstract.

    In my calling as a counselor to pastors, when I ask how they're going, a woman pastor will invariably answer in terms of relationships, a man in terms of measurable success - numbers, programs, money or buildings!

    Publicly women may express sorrow, sadness, or joy, but never anger (the reverse is true of men). A woman's sexual experience is inextricably bound up with her total personhood and the total relationship with her lover; for men sex can be divorced from other dimensions of relating.

    One theory has it that of the seven deadly sins men have a greater temptation towards pride, women towards sloth: pride tempts us to be more, sloth less, than we really are; the first tends towards independence, the second towards dependence; each may be a denial of our God-ordained uniqueness. One of mens' greatest fears is to be laughed at; women have a greater horror of being raped or killed. Women commit far fewer crimes - especially violent crimes - than men; they are far more likely to be victims of sexual abuse (Kinsey estimated that 25% of women in America were victims of incest).

    Now why do women and men have different psychologies and abilities? Social scientists debate this issue with great fervour. Some anthropologists explain the differences in terms of the 'biogrammar' in our genes. Men are more aggressive because they have been hunters for most of their history; women bear and bond with small children, so their biogrammars predispose them towards enjoying the emotional dimension of relationships.

    Sociobiologists, on the other hand, may begin with the fact that human males produce millions of sperm during their lifetime, but women usually produce only one egg at a time - about 400 during their lifetime. Men are therefore predisposed to be predatory, sexually, whereas women are highly selective in the choice of a 'quality mate'. This is supposed to explain why women can tolerate infidelity by their partners more readily than men: if the man's woman is unfaithful, he will have to devote energy to raising someone else's child, whereas women are always certain that the child is genetically hers.

    Radical feminists say women have always been exploited by men, and role differences are simply the product of the propensity of men to be violent to make women conform to their wishes. Other feminists may begin with women's biology: the 'handicaps' of menstruation, menopause, pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and caring for infants mean women are dependent on the males in their family, clan or tribe for protection and physical survival.

    Women suffer more often from depression than men (one theory, the 'learned helplessness theory' suggests that women are less able in all cultures to control the sources of reward and reinforcement in their lives than men). The 'brain sex' theorists tell us that boy babies react with aggression and girl babies with helplessness when confronted with a frustrating situation because they are genetically 'programmed' that way.

    So the 'nature versus nurture' theories fall over one another to explain why women and men are the way they are. But what women and men have in common is far greater than what separates them. Women's lives do not have to be conditioned by the biological reality of their capacity to bear children, nor do women because they are women have to provide domestic stability. You'll have to forgive my simple view on all this, which is: while some components of male/female differences may be genetic/hereditary/evolutionary or cultural/learned, basically they are different because God has created them that way, so that they may enjoy a God-ordained complimentarity.

    WOMEN ON MEN

    What do women want in a man? Two qualities basically - tenderness and strength. But not one without the other. Men who are tender but not strong are 'wimps'; if they're strong but not tender they're 'macho'. Women generally want neither. But tenderness and strength need another quality to make them work: love. In its highest form, agape love. This is 'the relationship between subject and object that creates worth in the object rather than responding to worth in the object.' It's grace, acceptance, love-before-worth.

    Paul's and Peter's words about women 'submitting' to their husbands are frankly not a problem when viewed both in the context of their cultures, and in the 'culture' of a loving relationship, and provided we submit to one another (Ephesians 6:21).

    But we don't have to submit to bullying. Often in counseling a woman and I discuss the 'Three sentences to your man': 'I love you as a person; I respect you as my partner/husband; but I am not going to submit to abuse - being treated as an object rather than as a person.'

    SO WHAT DO WOMEN WANT?

  • Respect. Throughout history, and in many cultures even today, women have been second-class citizens. Patriarchy is the still the most widespread injustice in the world. Women want to be honored and appreciated as persons. They don't want to be 'partonized' or treated as a child. One female counselor put it this way: 'Don't judge or criticize her. Don't ignore her or take her for granted. Don't be rude. Treat her like a lady at all times and she'll treat you with the respect that you expect and enjoy.'

  • A soul-mate. Someone to 'be there' as a companion to share life's joys and troubles.

  • Security. Women have a deep biological and psychological need to feel secure, to have a man provide for her and protect her. This involves unambiguous commitment to her - to her alone.

  • Communication. Most - not all - women talk for the sheer pleasure of talking. It's how they connect to / 'network' with people. And for a married woman the five words she loves to hear are, 'Darling, we need to talk!'. Most - not all - men talk to exchange information or solve problems. Men communicate more competitively, women more cooperatively. A female counselor's advice to men: 'You know how she's always trying to get you to be "more intimate"? All you have to do is look at her and pay attention; she'll think she's died and gone to heaven. It's that important to her, and that simple.' And again: 'Of course, she wants to hear you say "I love you," but anything you say to let her know you care and appreciate her will earn you major points: "You're wonderful, do you know that?" "I'm so fortunate to have you." "Do you know how much I love you?" Big points on that one. Whenever you say these things, look into her eyes and mean it.'

    Women are most responsive when their man sets aside time to attend to her exclusively... Who was it said: 'Treat a woman like a thoroughbred and she won't become a nag?'

  • A little romance - often! Romance is all the little things a man does to let her know she is special. He calls her just to say hi. Buys her a gift 'just because.' (It isn't the cost of the gift, it's the thought). And flowers, even the smallest bouquet... Mails a card or leaves a note where she'll find it. For a woman, romance and sex go hand-in-hand. As one psychologist put it: 'If he wants more sex, he should give her more romance.' When asked what sex advice they'd give to men, women almost always say, 'Tell them to SLOW DOWN!' (And women often complain that men don't kiss enough.)

  • Physical attractiveness. In our John Mark Ministries retreats, I might ask a woman how she feels about herself on a scale of 1 to 10. If her score is low, it's usually got something to do with her relationship with her father (particularly as a young teenager) and/or her feelings about her body image. A woman needs to hear from her man that she's attractive. In today's culture, because of what they are taught as girls and read in magazines and see on TV and in films, women get insecure about how they look. 'Hey you look nice' are very special words!

  • Her feelings need to be honored. Feelings are as important to a woman as work (and maybe sport) is to a man. That's why she likes to talk about them. She needs her man to acknowledge what's going on for her when she's being emotional. So it's best not to try to tell her that what she's feeling is "wrong" or 'fix' the problem unless she asks. And, husbands: Never tell her 'not to feel' her emotions. A sensitive person asks 'How do you feel about that?' then sits down and listens. Most women understand that most men get uncomfortable when she's being emotional, but if she can express herself and listen with her man's full attention, she'll think he's the most sensitive man on the planet!

    DISCUSSION STARTERS

    (Allow members of the group to nominate important questions for them).

    1. Men are From Mars, Women are From Venus (John Gray PhD). Are men and women so different?

    2. 'God made Adam a mate because he was lacking something. Woman completes and compliments who man is.' True? (But also discuss the gift of singleness - 1 Corinthians 7:7).

    3. 'Women tend to be more concerned about their marriages than men. They buy most of the books on marriage to try to improve them and initiate most marriage counseling. They often complain about their marriages to their closest friends and sometimes to anyone who will listen. And they also file for divorce twice as often as men.' Why?

    4. An experienced marriage counselor: 'Surprisingly few women divorce because of physical abuse, infidelity, alcoholism, criminal behavior, fraud, or other serious grounds. In fact, I find myself bewildered by women in serious physical danger refusing to leave men that threaten their safety. Simply stated, women leave men when they are neglected. Neglect accounts for almost all of the reasons women leave and divorce men.' Is that your experience?

    5. 'Wives tend to see themselves as the major force for resolving conflicts, and when they give up their effort, the marriage is usually over.' What do you think?

    6. A marriage counselor reflects: 'Husbands often feel that the expectations of women in general, and their wives in particular, have grown completely out of reach. These men, who feel that they've made a gigantic effort to be caring and sensitive to their wives, get little credit for their sizeable contribution to the family. They feel under enormous pressure to improve their financial support, improve the way they raise their children, and improve the way they treat their wives. Many men I see are emotionally exhausted and feel that for all their effort, they get nothing but criticism.' What can be done about that?

    7. Why do husbands and wives fight? What suggestions would you make to encourage reconciliation after a marital argument?

    8. What wisdom would you give to a woman whose partner is a 'bully'? How can 'assertiveness' produce more win-win outcomes?

    9. A feminist wrote this about Promisekeepers: 'The PK rhetoric is incredibly insulting to men. Their line is: "All men are pigs until they find Jesus." .. PK leaders call for men to do the right thing if AND ONLY IF their wives are willing to submit to their leadership. And they are pretty clear that men are entitled by virtue of their maleness alone to demand (by any means?) submission from their wives. PK claims that the problem is that men have been "feminized" and women are too strong. And their solution is to weaken women in order to strengthen men.' Some discussion material there!

    10. 'The study of power begins when we are young. Our teachers in the lessons of power are parents, the schools, bullies and bosses. As girls, we don't learn to exercise power. We live with it. Power frightens us. Instead of acting with power, we act against it. We become passive. Instead of saying clearly what we want, we complain, become passive or withhold affection. We hint or suggest, whine, tease or even lie. We use power, but mostly in destructive ways, not in winning ways. We could get much more, more effectively, if we weren't afraid of being outwardly powerful.' What do you think about that?

    11. 'Since the feminist movement, chivalry is out.' Is it?

    12. A woman parishioner says to you: 'The only time he pays attention to me is when he wants sex.' How do you respond?

    13. 'Men tend to offer solutions before empathy; women tend to the opposite.' What can women and men do about that?

    14. 'Women are more likely to ask for help when they need it than men are.' The classic observation by many wives is that their husbands refuse to ask for directions when they might be lost. Why is that?

    15. Title of a recent book: Why Men Don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps. What do you think?

    16. 'Because men receive so much significance from their vocation - what they do, and how well they do it - they can sometimes become "married singles", or "married to their jobs".' What do you do about that? Which raises another, most important question: 'What about the "church-as-mistress" syndrome?' Some pastors' wives complain that they're really in a bigamous relationship: their husbands are married both to them and to the church. Do you feel that sometimes?

    17. A controversial issue (from one of my books): 'There seem to be two paradigms relative to male/female relationships in the Scriptures - a male-dominated patriarchical or hierarchical paradigm, and an egalitarian one. Both are there, and it generally depends on one's religious, cultural and psychological predispositions which paradigm one prefers. We then interpret all the difficult texts to conform with that chosen paradigm... But fortunately God is not a legalist, and Jesus uttered not one patriarchal statement. Even if male-dominated cultures produced the Scriptures, God raises up a Deborah to lead the whole people of God. Some of us wouldn't have let him do that... The four daughters of Philip were prophetesses: can you name one or two in your church?'

    18. Brethren scholar F.F.Bruce suggests our understanding of male/female relationships must be viewed through the 'window' of Galatians 3:28: '[In Christ] there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus'. Agree?


    A PRAYER FOR WOMEN:

    So, Jesus, my friend and companion, I with other women are at a crossroad. All over the world, and throughout all of history, men have ruled us, sometimes in an authoritarian, and occasionally in a cruel way. I and my sisters have suffered and in some places are still suffering awfully. At the very least we are not taken seriously and respected by men; at worst we women are treated as objects to satisfy men's desires for lustful sex or power.

    Jesus, if you had been a woman, how would you have responded to all this? I am grateful that you were in touch with the 'feminine' side of your nature: you sometimes wept; you were gentle, very gentle, with those who were oppressed; you did not care for power or prestige or the superficial rank-orderings of people in society in terms of wealth or status or privilege. You reacted with dignity and restraint when others abused you, but spoke out fearlessly when the abuse was directed towards the helpless. You spoke words of healing; you honoured children; you enjoyed the companionship of both women and men; you enjoyed your family so much that you stayed at home until you were thirty; you noticed beautiful things like birds and flowers; you loved to pray in quiet places. Jesus, I want to be like you.

    I affirm that I am made in the image of God. I affirm that when God conceived of me before my parents did that I was and am a delight to him. I am not a 'mistake'. Therefore I will enjoy my giftedness, my beauty, my body, my emotions, my spirituality. I will allow myself to celebrate life, whatever hardships life has dealt me. I will not 'should' on myself. I will accept each new day as a gift. I will enjoy being a servant of others, and if they sometimes serve me, that will be a bonus.

    Thank you Jesus. Amen.

    A BENEDICTION

    May the One who invaded our history via the womb of a woman, and who modeled feminine and masculine virtues in a wonderfully-integrated human life, give you courage when times are hard, faithfulness in your calling to be a woman of God, whether that involves mothering and wifing or not, and above all, a delight in being a daughter of God Most High. Amen.


    RESOURCES

    Women and Men: Love and Alienation

    Women in Ministry - a sermon

    Women as Risk-takers for God

    A Retreat About A Marriage


    Written by Rowland Croucher, February 2001. [an error occurred while processing this directive]