The always worthwhile Caitlin Flanagan recently penned a gushing essay about Oprah. Oprah possess remarkable range–in a single show she can interview a guest who was abused by her husband and then, later on in the program, do a segment on the wonders of a panini sandwich maker. There are few others who handle light and heavy topics with equal aplomb, Flanagan says.
Along these lines, the paragraph below from Flanagan caught my eye:
THERE ARE CERTAIN things about women that men will never understand, in part because they have no interest in understanding them. They will never know how deeply we care about our houses—what a large role they play in our dreams for ourselves, how unhappy their shortcomings make us. Men think they understand the way our physical beauty—or lack of it, or assaults on it from age or extra weight—preys on our minds, but they don’t fully grasp the significance these things have for us. Nor can they understand the way physical comforts or simple luxuries—the fresh towel or the fat new cake of soap—can lift our spirits. And they will never know how much our lives are shaped around the fear of bad men and the harm they can bring us if we’re not careful, if we’re not banded together, if we’re not telling each other what to watch out for, what we’ve learned. We need each other’s counsel, and oftentimes it comes when we’re talking about other things, when we seem not to have much important on our minds at all.
It's not that a woman's anxieties about body image might be equal to the delight of a new cake of soap; it's that to fully understand a person (woman or man) you need to know what keeps them up at night, yes, but you also need to know their favorite bike route, or ice cream flavor of choice, or the story behind the shirt they always wear on the weekends.
Oprah gets this. It's part of what makes her so successful.
14 comments on “Things Men Will Never Understand About Women”
Although I am a female, I understand almost nothing about the Flanagan paragraph you quote. What in heck does she mean by taking delight in a new cake of soap? Why gush about babies, which are disgusting (I gave birth to three, and yes, they’re cute, but they’re only tolerable when they’re yours). Why wear makeup? Why like Oprah? Why write sexist articles about how different women are? It’s all a mystery to me.
I couldn’t be much more annoyed. Typed out what I thought was a fairly thoughtful response, clicked “Post”, *BRIEFLY* saw some sort of “prove you’re not a robot” script appear, which went away along with my response.
Sorry. Comments seems to be having problems tonight. Upgrading soon.
I’m sick of this sexist horeshit, Ben. (Kidding.)
On a more serious note, I’ll toss out a challenge because I just finished writing about this: I’m not sure why I, as a regular human, should care about understanding the women or people in my life. It makes sense for Oprah to understand her audience/customers, sure, but what do I have to gain? Will I like them more?, respect them more?, be in some crucial way closer to them? Or will I just be constructing an image of someone being more coherent than they really are?
Not sure how much I (as a woman) relate to the thing about houses, or the joy derived from a fat cake of soap, but the part about being ware of bad men affecting us and taking counsel from each other is true. My mother and I watched DVR’ed shows of Oprah, but we watched the shows for the content less and used them more as jump-off points for spirited discussions on those topics with each other. My father would watch with amusement as we jumped on the remote to pause the program at least 10 times in one episode.
“Gushing” essay is right. Oprah Winfrey is the scariest person on TV. This is the woman who promoted that godawful pernicious self-help tripe “The Secret”. She rouses the primal idiot that resides in every woman. An Id-iot lives in every man too, but Oprah doesn’t target us. How could she? She’s not speaking our language.
Her success, though, would indicate that she speaks the primal language of US women very well.
You could never convince a foreign visitor from the planet Tralfamador that women are intelligent by showing him their most popular magazines or TV shows– the ones that pander to the “needs” created by ad men. That goes for men, too.
Oprah Winfrey was more genuine and a better talk-show host when she was a brassy fat black chick with too much makeup and an Afro a foot and a half high, rather than this stylish media icon who wants to share her emotional feelings with all and sundry.
She doesn’t just cater to women’s neuroses– she helps create them on a massive scale with her media reach. Witness Flanagan’s confession of a weird compulsion, excuse me, I mean “a fierce desire”, to buy two Breville panini makers, Oprah’s favorite “Favorite Thing.”
This is the part of Flanagan’s essay that leaped off the page to me:
“…leaving the child with the grandmother, who beat her regularly. Oprah recalls this experience without rancor: it was the way people raised kids in the South, she says; “she could beat me every day and never get tired.”
That explains a lot about Oprah Winfrey. Glory, my ass. And I mean that literally. My ass was one getting beaten by Southern primitives who now wistfully recall those good ole’ days when you could legally beat the shit out of your kids.
With all due respect for her own very real suffering, she just casually devalued the suffering of hundreds of thousands of kids raised in the benighted Bible Belt. By the way, a belt has traditionally been the favored instrument to beat your kids with down in NASCAR/Baptist land.
Oprah was raped and molested, abused physically and emotionally. She recalls getting beaten by her grandmother without rancor? That’s supposed to be good? And she dismisses this particular horror with the truism: “it was the way people raised kids in the South.” Forget the “Secret”. This woman needs psychiatric help, and Flanagan needs it even more. Neither of them will ever get it in the Cloud-cuckoo-land of that cultural institution, “Oprah.”
Yes, you will be closer to them if you understand them better.
…What Flanagan infers as Oprah’s versatility is in fact a talk show host’s characteristic indifference or call it `neutrality’ or the professional arm’s length-ism that she displays in respect of the dire predicament of her subjects, perfected over the years…
ben, i know you are a smart guy, so i was wondering if you have looked into the topic of men’s rights, and the pervasive and insidious cultural meme that men as a whole are the more aggressive, violent, and destructive gender, and that women are the kinder, “more evolved” gender — and the consistent victims of all these “bad men”.
just wondering. cause you are spreading that meme.
Why on earth would anyone who doesn’t appreciate and love babies have any of their own? It’s unnatural. It gives me a sick feeling when I hear someone talk like this. To think that someone with so little human feeling would be in charge of bring up little ones kind of hurts my heart.
“I think it’s impossible to really understand somebody, what they want, what they believe, and not love them the way they love themselves.” – Orson Scott Card
I really liked the passage that you posted here but it’s funny to me that I identified with and would have highlighted other parts of it, like “THERE ARE CERTAIN things about women that men will never understand, in part because they have no interest in understanding them. […] And they will never know how much our lives are shaped around the fear of bad men and the harm they can bring us if we’re not careful, if we’re not banded together, if we’re not telling each other what to watch out for, what we’ve learned. We need each other’s counsel, and oftentimes it comes when we’re talking about other things, when we seem not to have much important on our minds at all.”
I don’t disagree with what she says about the love women have for domestic arts and comforts, but men have their own little loves like that. My father wrote my just today about a new car that he bought and how he hoped I could some day afford a decent car like that. It was rather touching but I just could not relate. Cars don’t interest me in the least, but many men I know are fairly obsessed with them.
Before reading this article i thought that i know each and everything about girls(women) but now i got some points. Thank you!
I too cannot relate to the connection to traditional female roles (child rearing, housekeeper…) but I can absolutely relate to the lack of male understanding of what it is to be a woman. I don’t use the word understanding to mean sympathizing but to really understand. Rape, domestic abuse and discrimination are real issues that men cannot relate to. Even just on a risk level. For me it’s summed up in a single statement from an article I read (and I’m terrible because I can’t remember the source)…a man looks at a key as a tool to open a lock, a woman looks at a key as a tool for self defense. That was one of the first things I was taught when I was beginning to leave the house alone, your keys can double as a weapon.