The Other I

November 3, 2013

Turn left after turning right twice after passing the stop sign on the left, and then…

Filed under: Just Stuff,Survival Strategies — theotheri @ 4:27 pm

When I was living in Spain, I found that my high school Latin American Spanish skills were often insufficient to understand many of the Spanish dialects spoken in Spain.  So I often had to ask the speaker to tell me again more slowly what he or she had said.  Males inevitably spoke louder, but not more slowly.  Females, on the other hand, seemed to know intuitively how to help me.  They spoke more slowly, and often added gestures or examples that gave me an idea of what they were saying.

Intelligent tests from around the world show that females generally have better verbal skills than men, who tend to excel in mathematical and spatial skills.  These are averages, and do not always reflect individual differences.  And we don’t know how much these differences are due to genetic differences and how much to environmental opportunities.  But right now, women are on average better explainers.

In my last post, I said I was seriously challenged by trying to figure out how to get our new tablet to connect to the internet.  Well, we’ve finally solved the problem.  And it wasn’t all me who was the cause of difficulty.  The directions are abysmal!

It fits a pattern that I’ve noticed for years.  It’s almost as if the more clever a new object, the more obtuse the directions.  This seems to follow whether it’s a bookcase, a washing machine, a  vacuum cleaner or computer equipment,  I think part of the problem is due to the directions being written or translated by someone for whom English is a second language.

But I strongly suspect part of the problem is that the person who originally invents this clever piece of kit is also the one who first writes the directions.  And I bet more often than not they are male, and that their directions are the equivalent to those men in Spain who seemed to think that saying something more loudly makes it clearer.

So I have a suggestion.

I think all directions should be written by women.   I think the hours of frustration that this would eliminate world-wide could probably add a percentage to the GDP of every country in the world that implemented this directive.



  1. Certainly an interesting point of view!



    Comment by tskraghu — November 4, 2013 @ 2:33 am | Reply

    • I exaggerate, of course, for effect. But my basic point is that being able to explain something to someone else requires two things — the understanding of the process (or equation, or equipment, or whatever) in the first place, and also an understanding of the thinking of the would-be learner. I remember an interview with a teacher who was awarded the Best Teacher in America accolade one year, who pointed this out. “I’m honored to be called the best teacher,” he said, “But I’m not the smartest teacher, Sometimes I think having to learn first what I’m teaching helps me understand better the steps that my students need to take.”

      Men often have the kind of inventive intelligence that I think has made them leaders in the world of invention and discovery. But there is evidence to suggest that being able to translate and understanding of the work of that genius to others is often the greater gift of women.

      I’ve just noticed that the comment following yours from Kateritek offers some suggestions about why this may be so.

      What do you think? I’d seriously be interested to hear your further thoughts on this.


      Comment by Terry Sissons — November 4, 2013 @ 3:54 pm | Reply

      • There may be something in what u say. I have had the good fortune of working with two HR Managers who made such a difference. It was an eye-opening experience for me that showed what HR could do in an org. And both were ladies!. What made them tick earning everyone’s trust was their ability to empthaize and fearlessly call the bosses to account. I know it is a small sample that I am talking about.


        Comment by tskraghu — November 9, 2013 @ 2:09 pm

      • Thank you so much for sharing your experience. I was hoping you would.

        Yes, as you say, it is a small sample you describe. Research does suggest that on average women are better at this kind of thing than men, but averages also mean that some men are going to be brilliant explainers and some women are going to be miserable at it. At this point research doesn’t even tell us how big the bias in favor of women may be. To complicate things even further, both men and women may be changing as our environments change. In any given situation, it seems to me our only intelligent option is to be open, don’t you think?


        Comment by Terry Sissons — November 9, 2013 @ 3:04 pm

      • Objectively speaking, yed, I agree.


        Comment by tskraghu — November 9, 2013 @ 4:39 pm

  2. Not sure of specifics but females have two sites in the brain for processing language. This may account for the fact that with stoke victims who become aphasic , language returns on average, quicker with women. also stuttering and other speech abnormalities are more common with men. On the average, too, speech in girls is earlier than boys although there are also social reasons for this. It is interesting that men Authors so outnumber women. Any guesses!? I think in ancient china the poets/writers were women. To your point, ever call for computer help and get not only a male but someone from india with an accent competes with intelligibility with the crackling of the telephone wires?


    Comment by kateritek — November 4, 2013 @ 3:33 pm | Reply

    • I didn’t know that females have two sites for processing language. But as you suggest, that does offer an explanation for several speech-related differences between the sexes.

      Yes, I have been on the telephone to someone from India. And I don’t think even a woman could have overcome the interference of the crackling phone wires on a bad day!


      Comment by theotheri — November 4, 2013 @ 9:16 pm | Reply

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