~Image Source: Roger Ebert~
It was at my niece's birthday party that I discovered how useful it is to "play it like a man". We watching the happily screaming kids, and their party food was laid out for them, while we adults were due to eat our "grown-up" meal a couple of hours later. I was starving. I could have eaten a whole child, with or without sauce. What to do? Sneak away to the cafe and order a quick sandwich? Carry on starving stoically? See if anyone else was hungry too, take orders from them and nip down to the nearest hawker stall?
In a guy's shoes
"What would a guy do?" I asked myself. I knew the answer: forget the rest of them, forget etiquette. I'd been up since the crack of dawn on a Sunday morning to help my sister prepare this party, skipped breakfast and missed lunch. So I simply walked to a nearby cafe, ordered a sandwich, came back and ate it. No explanation. No "Oh I'm so sorry to eat in front of you all, it's just that..." Didn't bother with any of it. It wasn't a crime. Why should I explain? All I did was put my needs first. Further, I didn't explain myself nor hope that everyone still loved me despite my refusal to self-sacrifice, to think of others, to empathize, assume some of them might be hungry too. And this is how women are conditioned to act. Even if we're the main earners in our families, most of us are either expected to, or take on, an additional caring role. We may do the same job as men now, but we've kept the essentially "female" roles too. Don't you ever find it truly exhausting?
If we're to occupy the same place as men in the workplace, or at least strive to, shouldn't we also have some of their privileges? The best one being the right, occasionally, to put yourself first? To think of your own needs and not bother charging around, trying to please others all the time? Of course this can sound dangerously self-centered. But there's a Chinese proverb too, isn't there? If I am not for me, who will be? Men find this much easier to adhere to, I think, than women. We're taught to please, and we're afraid to court disapproval; terrified of being too selfish. It makes some kind of sense too because we do bear children - so perhaps some of this need to nurture others is innate. But most of us are way off bearing children, so there's no need to constantly put others first in the way that we'll have no choice but to do once we have given birth. Why not take advantage of our childfree state while we can? Why not take a cue from men?
Feel guilty? Naah!
"It's like asking a man if he feels guilty for eating too much chocolate or drinking too many beers on a night out," says my friend Lil. "They look at your like you're crazy or something. What? Me, a man feel guilty? What on earth for?" In fact, time spent in male company can be quite a tonic after too many girlie nights moaning about the size of your thighs (yawn) the number of calories consumed (even bigger yawn) and whether he loves you or not (zzzzzz). Lil again: "Men just don't angst like this. They are far more straightforward in their dealings with their bellies and their wallets. "Okay, maybe they worry a bit about someone they really like and whether she likes them too, and should they make a move now or leave it because she might think they're a bit too keen... That sort of thing. But they wouldn't dream of beating themselves up the way we women do for eating too much or drinking too much."
Men put themselves first because they're allowed to. Not all men are raised by male-worshipping mothers who teach them to expect the best because they deserve it. But many are. And if you have brothers, you'll know how infuriating it can be that you can do three hours of household chores a day that don't even get noticed, but he only has to offer to wash up once in a blue moon to be showered with gratitude. It's like the story of the brother and sister, both busy executives who have moved away from home. The woman visits her parents every weekend, carries out chores for them, bring gifts, is in every way the dutiful daughter? The man comes home for the odd holiday, doesn't do a chore, doesn't offer any financial help and forgets to bring a gift. His mother is always overjoyed to see him but thinks her daughter an ungrateful, selfish child who only visits once a week. No wonder man rarely feel guilt and find it easy to put themselves first. They've been trained to be No. 1 in their world from day one.
Too much empathy
Why should we women act that way sometimes, too? One gift we females tend to have over the boys is empathy. We can feel our way into someone else's soul. We've frequently been taught to think of others first, to imagine how they feel, so why not turn these lessons to our advantage for a change? Let's say they're looking for volunteers at work, to put in a few extra hours on the weekend because there's a big audit due and it'll really help the company. You're planning to move. This is a going-nowhere company and you've already had offers. There is nothing to gain from working over. It might make you feel good to do a good deed but this is work we're talking about. The cut-throat world of commerce, not a friend or family member who needs you. As a woman, the appeal would undoubtedly be directed straight at your heart. It's hard to refuse. Why not duck and let that arrow miss your heart and hit your head instead? Look at it with cold logic. What's in it for you?
"It sounds so selfish to put yourself like this but it's what men do, isn't it?" says Janice, a fellow friend. "And it doesn't seem to fo their careers any harm." Janice is tired of watching the men skive as much as they can at work, ducking the difficult tasks, while taking praise for ideas not their own. "Women will work far harder than they need and waste much time trying to please people - instead of just getting on with the job," adds Janice.
Men are frequently exhorted to act more like women. We're told that the world of work is becoming more feminized, what with the "knowledge-based" industries like IT booming. Men must get in touch with their softer sides if they're to succeed, goes the mantra. Otherwise, they'll be left behind. Hello? I haven't noticed the world suddenly becoming woman-shaped and orientated, have you? Yes, men could use a few softer skills, the so-called feminine traits. But why should they? If they've nothing to gain from it, believe me, they won't bother. They'll still prefer beer-and-leer nights to sweet talk'n'empathy. They won't become more like us unless they perceive a reason to. And the only time they might be is when they want to get close to a woman. Then they cheerfully admit they'll "play the game" as Thomas candidly told me one night.
"Look, all men know the score: you have to do the touchy feely stuff, and I don't mean physically, unfortunately. Girls like talking and they like you to listen. But to be honest, this is going somewhere really special. I only pretend to be a sweet sensitive guy. I'm there for what I can get, I see no reason why women shouldn't act the same sometimes?" Some men claim we do just that. We pretend to care because we want the diamonds and furs some guys will shower on us. But that's not taking it like a man. Taking it like a man, rather than a gold-digging hussy is being straight, up-front and honest. "I wish women would be more like men," adds Thomas. "It'd sure make life easier if a girl would tell you straight-up whether she was interested or not. Or even when doing something simple, like trying to choose a film to watch together. I hate it when girls say, 'I don't mind. You choose.' You should mind. You should have an opinion. And chances are, you do. Why not come out and say it?"
Say it like a man
Being a man does not mean stomping over everyone else. It just means using your feminine nous to know there are times when saying straight out what you think or want, is far better than namy-pambying around. So the next time your boss calls you for an appraisal ask yourself, "How would a man handle this?" If you're asked to do more than your share at work or at home, think: "Would they ask this if I were a man?" Getting in touch with the inner male warrior inside us all is an excellent way to refuse to be treated like second-class citizens just because we happened to be born with a different set of chromosomes to the guys. Men aren't perfect but nor are they the enemy. We can learn from their straight-talking ways. So if you're ever in a bit of a fix and can't think of a way to deal with it, take a breath and think "man". It might just give you the answer your crave.
How To Do It Like A Man
You're asked to work late with no notice, and you have plans for that night. A woman's way: Reluctantly agree and cancel your carefully laid plans. Moan ceaselessly or mutter under your breath about "inconsiderate people".
A man's way: Say you have plans for that night so no, just can't do it. No more explanation offered. No great, crowd-moving speeches. Just a simple statement of fact: "Sorry, I can't. I have plans."
Your mother asks you to clean the house for the fifth time this week. You think that you're already doing more than your share. A woman's way: Complain, have a go at the homework, say it's not fair, and why doesn't everyone else do their share, look how much I've already done.
A man's way: Point out you've done plenty already and refuse. No more explanation. To the point. And repeat it, if necessarily, to show you mean it.
You need to take a faulty item back to the store. You know that you have rights but you're not in the mood for any kind of fight. A woman's way: You stutter and practically apologize to the sales person or manager because they sold you something that doesn't work.
A man's way: You point out that the goods are faulty, have your receipt to hand and demand a full refund. You refuse to leave the shop till you have it. Employ the stuck CD method where you keep saying what you want over and over again, until you get it.
Your love partner seems to be cooling towards you. You want to know where you stand but all attempts to sort this prove futile. He simply says, "Everything's fine." A woman's way: You assume it's all your fault. You must have done something wrong. You jump through fire-rimmed hoops, do whatever it takes, to try and please this person and win back the affection you know they once felt for you.
A man's way: You produce the evidence. You point out this person has been "out" several times recently when you called and appears to show little interest. You want to know, one way or another, is this still a going concern or not? (If the answer is not, you walk away head held high, then bawl your eyes out when no-one else can see.)
A friend owes you money. You're flat broke and need it back. Your friend shows no signs of repaying, despite frequent hints, but clearly could afford to repay. A woman's way: You go on and on about how broke you are. You ask ever-so-nicely if they could repay the loan and then meekly accept it when they say that they can't... yet, somehow, have funds for a $800 new dress.
A man's way: You say you want the money back and you want it now. You add the threat that if they don't repay, you go to their parents or employers for that sum. And you never call this person a friend again.