Why Do Men Fail To Trust Women?

My latest post on Passing the Salt Shaker went online earlier today. Within it I raise the question of why men so often fail to trust women, even when they are telling the truth, and especially in cases of abuse, suggesting several obstacles to trust.

In a recent article on the Huffington Post website, Damon Young asks why men don’t trust women. He argues that, even though we may trust women’s character, promises, and opinions on many matters, we don’t trust their feelings. When a woman comes to us annoyed about something, our instinctive assumption is that they are overreacting, even though we may go along with them. While this failure to trust women’s feelings is a problem, Young believes that it gives rise to far more serious issues. In particular, the belief that women characteristically overreact causes men to distrust their testimony on far more serious matters.

Read the whole thing here.

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
This entry was posted in Culture, Ethics, Passing the Salt Shaker, Sex and Sexuality, Society. Bookmark the permalink.

42 Responses to Why Do Men Fail To Trust Women?

  1. The Man Who Was . . . says:

    It sounds like there are actually a lot of good reasons for men to not trust women. Which means that building trust between the sexes is going to require some effort on both sides. You’re not going to get it by just telling men to trust women more.

    • There are a number of good reasons why men find it difficult to trust women. This is rather different from saying that there are a number of good reasons why men should distrust women (I am not sure that this is what you are saying, but your comment could be read in such a manner).

      And, yes, even though this definitely isn’t a symmetrical problem, it isn’t a unilateral problem either. Certain of the barriers to trust and communication are reversible, the first two that I list in particular. However, for the most part, men are trusted by women far more broadly than women are by men (and when they are not trusted it often isn’t without reason).

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        If those reasons are there and not properly dealt with then, yes, men are justified trusting women less. However, that isn’t the end of the story and doesn’t mean that the burden is entirely on women to prove their trustworthiness. Arguably, men would still have an obligation to reach out to women and start building the kinds of relationships that lead to greater trust.

      • Perhaps some clarification would help: what do you think are the good reasons for men not to trust women?

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        Let’s start off with these:

        1. The otherness of women’s thoughts and perceptions.
        2. The untrustworthy track record of those arguing for men to simply trust women more.

      • Would you agree that the same reasons could be given for women not to trust men?

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        On the first, definitely. On the second, I’m not sure there is quite the untrustworthy track record on the other side. Nor are there many making the reverse argument now. But, assuming such an untrustworthy track record, yes to the second as well.

        Men and women have reason to distrust each other.

      • I don’t know: I have encountered several women who say that they never trust men, typically on the basis of painful past experiences.

      • The Man Who Was . . . says:

        I don’t see that that has much to do with a message of “trust men in general more” though. In fact, I can’t think of anyone who promulgates a “women should trust men more” message.

  2. bethyada says:

    Young writes a more generic trust article, and your appears to be more based on abuse claims? Which to me seem to be different issues.

    Another considerations are do we mean a woman versus women as a category? Stereotypes may be true of a category but irrelevant to an individual. Though I assume the question relates to women as a category, the examples still rest on specific people (Young gives the example of his wife). Even if I were to trust men more than women generally, there are specific women I would trust more than men generally, and specific men I would trust less than women generally.

    And are we talking about trusting them about general claims or believing specific claims? To take an arbitrary example, I may believe general facts from a female but withhold judgment concerning her interpretation of the facts. Rather than distrust, I am more likely to withhold judgment.

    As to feelings, I would listen to my wife say that some guy gives her the creeps and thus we may be more careful with her or our children around such a person, yet I would *not* assume an sexual accusation against such a person is likely to be true or false based on the same assessment of creepiness. Note I think I would modify my behaviour based on her intuition but not assume that this relates to guilt. I think she would be more likely conflate these distinct issues.

    Why this might be the case (which is hard to assess without delving into the abovementioned distinctions)? I think it is that feelings are more likely to colour a female assessment. As such their judgment may require more discernment.

    Further, I think memory needs to be considered. There is good evidence that memories of events change over time. They may change more (I am uncertain) the more they are played over in one’s head, though they perhaps they are also more likely to be memorised? I have at times heard my wife make claims that are incorrect: either independent correlation, or she herself recognises the truth when she is reminded of the exact situation. But prior to this she would be adamant about the fact. I think that females are more possibly more likely to remember things slightly incorrectly by virtue of reliving the experience more than males. I am uncertain as to whether they are more or less likely to second guess their memory of events than males. While they may be _less_ forceful in their claims, they may also be less likely to believe their own memory may be faulty?

    • Thanks for the comment.

      Young writes a more generic trust article, but then argues that this general lack of trust provides a basis for lack of trust in cases of abuse. My argument, by contrast, is that there are obstacles to trust more generally, but that many of the obstacles to trust in cases of abuse do not follow directly from a failure to trust women more generally, but arise from the particular dynamics that surround abuse.

      Yes, many of the things that we are saying about women involve dealing with women as a very general category. And, lacking direct information about particular individuals, often it is good to trust a well-informed understanding of female tendencies more generally, not least because stereotypes often underlie the scripts that we use to connect with people (for instance, when talking to a male peer I don’t know particular well, I will often start by discussing professional sports). I completely agree with you that our degree and aspects of trust will vary from person to person, though.

      We are talking about trust more generally. However, the distinction between facts and interpretation of them is an important one, especially in ‘he said/she said’ situations. This distinction isn’t always made in practice, as the interpretation is often embedded in the description of what took place. Unfortunately, if you question one, you can be thought to be questioning the other. For instance, the first piece that we discussed on the Passing the Salt Shaker blog focused upon experiences that women often experience in churches, but recounted them from the perspective of the presumed mindsets of the men who were interacting with them. While I definitely believe women when they say that they experience such things, I know enough about male perspectives and mindsets to dispute the way that these are interpreted at a number of points within the article.

      The memory issue is one that I have raised in conversations surrounding the Huff Post article in three separate contexts (Twitter, private correspondence, and an email discussion list for the site). Memories must be treated with considerable care, as anyone familiar with the literature should know. Memories can sometimes be like playing Chinese whisperers with ourselves. I had exactly the same experience that you describe with your wife recently with a close female friend. She was absolutely adamant about a number of things that later proved false. Her memory has turned out to be highly unreliable on several occasions, leading her to make accusations that were unfounded. And the key factor leading to these unreliable memories was a strongly emotional way of ordering her perceptions and memories. And, yes, on the basis of this and several other similar experiences, I would place much less trust in the memories of someone who processed their memories in such an emotional manner.

      Feelings are like symptoms. They can reveal important and significant things, but they can also mislead us and we are on dangerous ground if we presume to know exactly what has caused them, what they mean, and how to respond to them without a process of critical interpretation.

    • Another key ‘stereotype’ factor here relates to the way that the difference between high agency and low agency modes of functioning often fall roughly along gendered lines. The very high agency women that I know typically have little problem fitting into male contexts and a number have remarked that they find it hard to understand why many women feel that they are the objects of discrimination. It is my suspicion that many of the tensions between men and women relate to the difference between high and low agency ways of moving through the world.

      Some of the characteristics of ‘high agency’ or ‘agentic’ ways of moving through the world are as follows:

      1. High threshold and tolerance levels for rough and combative interactions are associated with strong agency. Desire for protection from such interactions is associated with weakness and vulnerability.
      2. Expressions of emotional vulnerability, falling apart emotionally, inability to control one’s emotional reactions, or going to others expecting to find comfort in one’s feelings are all regarded as behaviours that exist in some tension with strong agency.
      3. Capacity to define oneself over against a group and bend it to your will is associated with strong agency. High dependence upon group identity and conformity to the group is associated with individual weakness and vulnerability.
      4. The ability to stand on your own feet and fight your own corner is associated with strong agency. Appeal to and dependence upon third parties to step in on your behalf is associated with weakness and vulnerability.
      5. A higher tolerance and threshold for harsh physical treatment and exposure is associated with strong agency, in contrast with physical weakness and vulnerability.
      6. A sense of one’s own power to effect one’s destiny in one’s situation is associated with strong agency. A strong sense of vulnerability and victimhood is associated with weakness.
      7. A pronounced sense of personal responsibility, accountability, and the appropriateness of facing the full force of the negative consequences of one’s actions is associated with strong agency. Others taking responsibility for you and protecting you from the full consequences of one’s actions is associated with weak agency.
      8. A willingness to expose oneself to serious risk is associated with strong agency. Protection from danger and risk is associated with weak agency.
      9. Association with other independent actors in more combative, competitive, and rougher groups is associated with strong agency. Association primarily with dependent and vulnerable persons in protective and sensitive groups is associated with weakness. Low agency persons are often threatened by high agency contexts and can seek to close them down if they are not acting on their behalf.
      10. The capacity and propensity to assert oneself and put oneself forward is associated with strong agency. Dependence upon other persons advocating for you and putting you forward is associated with weaker agency, as is frequent apologizing for one’s presence or requesting permission. Low agency persons tend to exercise their agency indirectly, by appealing to others to act on their behalf.
      11. Strength of nerve and the capacity to take extremely unpopular action or withstand opposition is associated with strong agency. A need to be affirmed in one’s actions and the inability to take unpopular action is associated with weaker agency.
      12. Economic self-sufficiency is associated with strong agency. Poverty or dependence upon support from another party is associated with vulnerability and weakness.
      13. The ability to master one’s emotional reactions, to articulate oneself with fine precision, and to keep a cool head in tense and antagonistic situations is associated with strong intellectual agency. Vulnerability to reactivity, to hot-headedness, and to the contagious emotions of those surrounding you are associated with weak intellectual agency.
      14. A pronounced external focus upon actions, ideas, and tasks is associated with strong agency. A more pronounced internal focus upon one’s feelings and relationships is associated with weaker agency.
      15. The ability to create a commanding physical impression, physically dominate a situation, and have physical traits that sharply distinguish one from children is associated with strong agency (robust build, muscularity, aptness for violence and extreme exertion, health, lack of disability, depth and power of voice, height, roughness of skin, facial hair, more expansive body language, more extensive and assertive command of one’s physical space, etc.). By contrast, weak and vulnerable bodies and bodies that retain more childlike features are associated with low levels of agency.
      16. High levels of confidence and the ability to take criticism, opposition, and negative messages in one’s stride are associated with strong agency. Lack of confidence, dependence upon external affirmation, and vulnerability to negative messages and criticism are associated with weakness.

      Many of the day-to-day differences between men and women are less differences between the sexes than they are differences between high and low agency persons, a difference that does not straightforwardly coincide with sexual difference, but which is not unrelated to it.

  3. Paul Baxter says:

    I appreciate your thought about the different perceptual/social worlds of men and women. Since I’m in nursing school now, I’ve been interacting with lots of women and reading lots of accounts by women on nursing forums. One example of what you are talking about is that there are seemingly an endless number of stories by women in nursing along the lines of “I was bullied by my instructor/my classmates/my colleagues/ my supervisor.” Generally speaking these accounts of “bullying” are simply personal and professional criticism and/or general dislike.

    As a man, I expect a fair amount of that from the world around me. Supportiveness is something of an unexpected pleasure in the workplace. If I worked with a group of people who were always focused on mutual support and encouragement to the exclusion of criticism, it would make me suspect their commitment to professional standards.

    This might be off topic a bit, but I recently had the experience of working with a highly experienced, professional actor on a two man show called Freud’s Last Session. He played Sigmund Freud, and I was C S Lewis. From the start of rehearsals he would critique every sound coming out of my mouth and every motion (or lack thereof) by my body. It was a fairly brutal process, but both of us knew and understood that if we were going to put together a good play, I was going to need lots of work, since I’m just an amateur actor with fairly limited experience. While the work was tiring, I never was angry or overwhelmed with the process of working with this man.

    By contrast, at school some of my classmates were working with a particular instructor in a clinical setting. I just worked with her briefly yesterday and found that she was also a person with exacting professional standards who would correct you immediately for a misstep. I didn’t mind at all, since I only worked with her for about thirty minutes, but my classmates who worked with her in the hospital found her exasperating and a couple of them told me they had been brought to tears.

    On a different note, I imagine there’s quite a bit more to be discussed about the notion of trust itself. What sorts of trust are appropriate for what types of relationships and interactions, etc. On a very broad scale, I found Bruce Schneier’s book Liars and Outliers to be a helpful look at how trust works at the societal level. Just as a brief introduction, Schneier is a fairly famous professional in the world of cryptography and computer security. His question in the book is about the tradeoffs necessary to balance security and costs. Minimal or nonexistent security allows and encourages predatory behavior, but maximal security inhibits and raises the costs of human interactions. Schneier feels that we simply have to put up with a certain level of antisocial behaviors because the costs of preventing them would be too great.

    • Fascinating and helpful thoughts. Thanks, Paul!

      Yes, your remarks very much resonate with me. Another context where these dynamics can very clearly be seen is in comments sections on blogs. Heavily female contexts often seem to have a much higher emphasis upon affirmation, intimacy, mutual resonance, and demonstrative emotional expression in comments. There tends to be relatively little exchange of argument, ideas, and disagreement by contrast with the more heavily male contexts of which I know. I’ve learnt from experience that the high agency dynamic that works well in male contexts is typically seen as highly threatening in female contexts. While I try to be polite in comments, I don’t think that I or most of the other regular commenters here shy away from sharp disagreements on occasions.

      I mentioned the difference between high and low agency (often the contrast between ‘agentic’ and ‘communal’) ways of approaching the world in another comment in this thread. I tend to approach contexts of intellectual engagement in a high agency mode.

      This form of perception is especially present in the subtle and often subconscious ways in which many men in particular perceive, measure, and negotiate status within groups. For instance, if I find myself in a seminar with a number of other students that I don’t know, I will instinctively seek to identify the people who have the ability to assert their positions strongly and withstand critical cross-examination. This isn’t something that I do purposefully or consciously. I only know what I have been picking up upon from ‘noticing myself noticing’.

      Countless cues will alert me to the relative strengths of the people in the seminar: their physicality (do people instinctively react with respect to their physical presence?), the body language that a person uses (is it defensive and reticent or is it an expansive controlling of their space?), their voice (is it nervous or shrill, or is it well-modulated, firm, deep, etc.?), the way that they enter into the conversation (are they prepared to assert their place in the conversation, or do they feel the need to request permission, or apologize in various ways for speaking up? are they prepared to interrupt? do they always wait for someone to ask their opinion? are they always implicitly seeking group affirmation?), the way that others react to them (do others feel able to speak over or ignore them? do they have the power to command the respect of a large number of the seminar participants, even when those persons disagree?), the way that others respect them (do other members of the group feel a need to hear their viewpoint and request it from them when they haven’t spoken, believing it to be particular important to settling a debate?—a person doesn’t have to dominate the speaking to be the most dominant voice in a debate), the way they react to challenge (do they back down, reveal nerves, or do they relish the opportunity to spar with someone else?), the way that they challenge others (are they prepared to go against the popular position on occasions? can they directly and forcefully challenge someone or do they lack the confidence or nerve?), the way that they use humour (are they enough at ease to be able to make jokes? can they roll with jokes made at their expense?), the way that they express themselves (do they speak with calm determination and conviction or hesitantly and with uncertainty?), their command of the subject of discussion (can they make strong points that get right to the heart of things? do people often treat their voice as settling matters? can they raise challenges that effectively close down opposition?), their sense of their own authority (do they rely heavily upon the affirmation of external authorities or support of the group, or are they able to be confident in their own voice and thought, even when it goes against leading authorities?), their composure (do they ever lose their cool, become angry, highly emotional, or appear rattled?), their ability to avoid being caught up in the immediacy of the discussion and its feelings (can they keep a grasp on the bigger picture and the broader argument, even when particular details have a visceral intensity?), their reaction to attack (do they stick up for themselves and fight their corner or do they come undone and/or appeal to the group for help?), etc., etc. Many other things could be mentioned, but this should give you the idea.

      On the basis of such cues, I will instinctively categorize people. There may be a couple of people who I think can really hold their own and assert their viewpoint strongly in almost any situation. I will take those persons extremely seriously and I will focus upon and relish sparring with them (and often socialize primarily with them, enjoying friendly arguments in our free time). There will be three or four others who may not be so strongly assertive, but who hold firm positions and, when pushed, can argue well for them. I will pay attention to these persons too and instinctively respect them as competent voices. I will often push them to get them to demonstrate their strengths. According to this mode of perceiving the seminar, however, most of the rest of the persons could just as well be empty seats: they are like the wallpaper against which the real interactions are seen to take place and don’t really register in my consciousness, nor will I engage with them much (in large part because I recognize their vulnerability and don’t want to hurt them).

      However, this mode of interaction is really disliked by many low agency persons. They find it hard to interact in settings where you have to make yourself heard and need to be asked to speak up, not interrupted, and not challenged. When they are challenged they often regard it as a personal attack. They find the way that high agency persons don’t treat competence as immunity from questioning to be insulting. They tend to want to make the space ‘safe’ for low agency persons, appealing to authority figures to enforce this, fearing that the high agency dynamic will lead to their exclusion and often believing that it exists precisely for that purpose.

      • mnpetersen37 says:

        When a [someone] cries, is upset, or emotionally floods, any conversation is effectively over.

        I agree with this, and with the analysis when crying is used as a tactic to defend one’s position. But I think it’s also important to remember that this sort of sensitivity could, if properly trained, allow someone to have particularly important contributions that would otherwise be absent. For instance, such a sensitivity may be extremely important when writing lyric poetry. Likewise, they may be able to sharpen it into a gift of helping others who are hurting, or of helping more thick-skinned people see when they are acting insensitive, or help them be particularly moving musicians, or help a community find a depth that otherwise they would not be able to find.

        I don’t think that disagrees with what you said, but I think it’s an important point.

      • I very strongly agree. High sensitivity can be dysfunctional in its dynamics in many contexts, but it is an exceptionally important trait in others. This, for instance, is an article that argues for the importance and healthiness of highly sensitive emotions for women. Such sensitivity allows persons to pick up on things that others do not, but they do have to be handled with extreme care, especially in contexts of dispute. The main problem here is not with persons, but with a particular sort of egalitarianism and populism that demands that we treat all persons alike, or that all spaces are made ‘safe’ for lower agency and more sensitive persons, rather than giving everyone the space within which to play to their respective strengths.

    • The greater sensitivity to criticism and confrontation that you describe, along with the ease of being brought to tears are an important though delicate factor here as well, I think. When a woman cries, is upset, or emotionally floods, any conversation is effectively over. Others, especially men, tend to rush to her aid and the man who led to the woman being upset tends to be held responsible. Everything is re-centred on the women’s feelings. The logic of the argument becomes irrelevant. In fact, the mere fact that something caused offence seems to be sufficient to invalidate it in many people’s eyes.

      Most of us have experienced or witnessed these dynamics on many occasions. We also often have a fairly good read on the different comfort levels for different women. When a woman is easily upset I don’t think that I am the only one who instinctively avoids challenging her or criticizing her opinions, who goes out of my way to affirm her and put her at ease, and protects her from more hostile contexts of engagement. However, when I have a strong sense that a woman is easily upset, I have a pretty good sense that she has probably been receiving unreliable feedback regarding the strength and truth of her positions all of her life. People have been lobbing her softballs and never truly tested her. She probably is unlikely to have thought long and hard about the really tough questions that might unsettle her. She is likely to be surrounded by an affirming and protective community, within which opposing views are rarely encountered and even more rarely engaged. She is more inclined to react emotionally to positions that to respond thoughtfully. It is unlikely that many people have directly and strongly challenged the truth of her beliefs, because she is emotionally attached to them, sometimes as a sort of security blanket. When she has been challenged, it is likely that she has been affirmed in her false opinions when she was upset.

      This, for me, may be one of the biggest factors determining how much weight I give to a person’s reasoning. I find it very hard to place much trust in the thinking of a person who is very easily upset. And, thinking about this, I don’t think that it is an irrational prejudice to have.

      In Young’s article he observes that he doesn’t voice any of his reservations about his wife’s feelings to her, because he’s ‘both smart and sane’—presumably, she wouldn’t take it well. However, I know that I regularly voice my reservations about men’s feelings to them and also express my reservations about certain women’s feelings. I am always questioning my own feelings. When I don’t feel able to express my reservations about a particular person’s feelings because they are so volatile, I will be much more likely to presume that they characteristically overreact, because I know that they are unlikely to have learned enough about the healthy questioning of our emotional reactions by ourselves and others.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Alastair, I initially decided, for various reasons, to refrain from commenting on this thread, but then I thought it might be appropriate for me to make some brief comments. So although I find all your comments interesting, I will respond to just one here.

        ‘When a woman cries, is upset, or emotionally floods, any conversation is effectively over.’

        I think it depends on the context of the conversation. If this happens in the context of, for instance, a formal debate or a training day at work, I think it would be appropriate for the upset person, male or female, to take time out from the conversation/meeting. With ’emotional floods’, in my experience the flood can be a flood of anger as well as a flood of tears, and some men can also be prone to such ‘floods’.

        If the upset occurs in an informal setting, it can be an opening for further conversation in which the reasons for the upset can be explored. The reasons may be so deep-rooted that we do not have the time or the expertise to help the other person as much as we would like, but we can offer goodwill and prayer support, which I believe you and most of us do anyway.

        This is not as brief as I intended!

      • Thanks for the response, Christine.

        Yes, this sort of thing can depend on the context. It can also depend upon the person who has led to the upset. Some people can get away with this more than others. However, in the context of online discourse and informal conversations, conversation is typically over when someone reacts in such a manner.

        A person becoming enraged makes conversation difficult, but it doesn’t produce the same dynamic. When a person is enraged the conversation has overheated and we need to calm it down. However, people don’t typically rush to protect the enraged person, or to affirm them (unless it is the anger of someone who is perceived to be vulnerable). Losing one’s cool in the context of an argument will also tend to disqualify you in many contexts and many contexts have ways of putting the person who loses their cool firmly in their place, perhaps publicly shaming them. This is rather less likely to happen with the emotional person, because they appear vulnerable in a way that the anger person does not.

        That said, both anger and emotion can be used cynically to close down uncomfortable conversations. A person who becomes angry can use people’s fear of angering them to force them to tiptoe around an issue that they really should be challenged upon. The person who calls out an unreasonable and angry person can be blamed for bringing discord, when it is really the angry person who is the problem. People need to stop pussyfooting around their tantrums. A person who becomes emotional sets off a different dynamic but, like the angry person, tends to make everything about them, forcing everyone to avoid key issues.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Hi Alastair, Thank you for your response. I can see that I’m about to release myself (if only temporarily) from my self-imposed ‘rule’ about keeping to brief comments on this thread!

        ‘…the person who has led to the upset.’
        Please could you say a bit more about this: I’m not sure if it means the person who feels upset, or the person who said something that became a stimulus for the flood of feelings in another person.

        ‘People don’t typically rush to protect an enraged person …..This is less likely to happen to the emotional person, because they appear vulnerable in a way an angry person does not’:
        Yes, it’s easier to ask people who are having tantrums to leave a discussion/meeting if attempts to help those people to cool down have been fruitless. I have just one query here: when you refer to an ’emotional person’, do you mean an unhappy, tearful person? I have heard the term used in this way by many people. I think of joy, sadness, fear and anger as ‘feelings’. I’m not complaining about your terminology – I’m just explaining mine.

        ‘A person who becomes angry can use peoples’ fear…’ : Absolutely. Some people do use their own tendency to have angry outbursts as a way of controlling people who don’t have the skills to respond effectively to such outbursts. I think it is also sometimes true that people who are prone to dissolving into floods of tears can become aware that they can use this as a way of controlling people who lack the skills to respond appropriately to such upsets.

        ‘…makes it all about them…’ With some people I think the opposite is true, and they wish they could just disappear into a hole in the ground when they are overwhelmed by sadness and floods of tears! I think some people are also afraid of their own anger, and temporarily go into hiding until it subsides.

        Thank you again for your response, and for opening up this conversation.

      • Thanks, Christine.

        In response to your questions and points:

        1. By ‘the person who has led to the upset’ I was referring to the person who was the stimulus, not the upset person themselves.
        2. By ‘emotional person’ I am referring to someone who is upset, tearful, hurt, offended, etc. Although anger is an emotion, I would distinguish such a person from an angry person. The emotional person displays a sort of potentially implosive vulnerability, the angry person a sort of potentially explosive volatility.
        3. Violent reactive anger (as opposed to a more ‘wounded’ sort of anger) tends to be a dysfunction associated more with higher agency persons. It is especially threatening to lower agency persons. The benefit of its association with higher agency is that the angry person can be held more responsible, shamed, or their behaviour pathologized. They can be called out very directly.
        4. Yes, I don’t believe that people who get upset very easily necessarily mean to exploit the dynamics that result. The same is true of people who react angrily. However, whether they want it or not, the dynamics will tend to result. Unless they excuse themselves from the context and take ownership of and responsibility for their feelings, absolving all other parties, the dynamics will tend to result.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        Thank you, Alastair.
        I will just respond to 1. ‘… the person who was the stimulus, not the upset person themselves.’ :
        Some schoolchildren are adept at being ‘the stimulus’. They know exactly which questions and comments will result in a teacher being upset. They sometimes do this when being taught subjects they don’t like or see as irrelevant, to disrupt the lesson. They then plead innocence: ‘I only said…’ and, when their exam results are below par, they blame the teacher and accept no responsibility for their own part in the disruption.
        I have seen a similar dynamic at work in other contexts, as I’m sure many of us have.

  4. Paul Baxter says:

    Your last paragraph is a perfect description of some people I know quite well.

    Those issues also become important in a different way when you are in the position of teacher/designated group leader/moderator. If your goals as the leader are to hear from as many people as possible, to assess the group’s opinion broadly, or to determine whether the majority of your group have correctly understood some point, then it becomes necessary to control the conversation in ways that allow for everyone to express their thoughts in a way that is comfortable to them. If, on the other hand, the goal is to stimulate debate at the highest level, then allowing for that participant-spectator divide is fine, assuming that the “participant” group actually has something worthwhile to say.

    I think some people, often, though not exclusively women, develop the feeling that such a debate isn’t fair since they may (rightly) feel that their thoughts are as good as or better than those coming from the loudmouths who dominate the discussion. But if a person simply doesn’t have the capabilities needed to engage in the debate, the sorts of qualities you describe above, that would seem to weaken the criticism.

    But all of that is quite context dependent, of course.

  5. quinnjones2 says:

    I find these conversations very interesting and enlightening. I can also see more clearly why I’m drawn much more to counselling/prayer support that to debating 🙂

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I am thinking in particular of ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.’ Romans 12:15
      and ‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.’ Matthew 5.4
      Comforted by whom? Certainly by God in the power of the Holy Spirit – but by which fellow Christians?

  6. quinnjones2 says:

    I’ve just read ‘What Easter says about trusting women’ by Bronwyn Lea via @passingthesaltshaker . Well worth reading 🙂

    • quinnjones2 says:

      Bronwyn wrote:
      ‘Jesus… trusted the women. And it tells me that somehow, when it comes to bearing witness to Him, He trusts me too.’
      In ‘The Politics of the Empty Tomb – John 20:1-18’, Alastair wrote about Mary Magdalene:
      ‘Here the eyes of Mary – the loving one who is the heart of the Easter Church – are opened not only to her nakedness but also to the risen Lord.’
      Beautiful words, Bronwyn and Alastair – thank you both.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        A former leader at our church, a woman, used to say that the women were ‘last at the cross, first at the tomb.’ They were told the breathtaking news that changed the course of history, and they were asked to tell the news to the brethren.
        This still brings me to my knees.

  7. Andrew says:

    I think the article, and perhaps your response, conflates a few things.

    Firstly, there’s a difference between subjective and objective reporting of events. In one sense, every statement that is not qualified with “in my opinion” or “I interpret” (or words or implications to that effect) is objective. But even “objective” statements can carry a lot more interpretation than we want to admit. For example:

    – “I scored a goal today”, “my annual pay is $40k”: there’s are most likely fully objective statements, trivially backed up by evidence that would convince any neutral observer of the interpretation of events. Note that this is different to truth / falsehood. One can lie about objective statements, and in some ways it’s easier to demonstrate an intent to mislead because the absence of evidence negates the claim.

    – “Everybody loved my performance”: it might actually be true that checking with every single spectator would reveal that each one of them would report as such, but what is actually being claimed is “I received lots of positive affirmation from many people for my performance”.

    – “Tom was mean to me”: This statement might be objective: “Tom came to talk to me for the purpose of saying something he knew would make me feel bad”. But it could also be subjective: “I felt Tom was inconsiderate when he spoke gruffly to me during a passing encounter”.

    We all, male or female, have a tendency to report our interpretation of events as the events themselves. Learning not to conflate “how I feel about what happened” and “what happened” is an important communications skill. As is the distinction between “making a claim about my feelings” and “making a claim about the event”. And as a third party, I can affirm your feelings about an event (“You feel angry / hurt about what Tom did”) without being obligated to adopt those same feelings.

    However, I don’t think the Cosby issue has much to do with “feelings” vs “objectivity”. “I was drugged” is a pretty objective claim. Rather, everyone operates within plausibility frameworks, and we usually require a significant weight of evidence to push us to deny our plausibility framework. This is healthy; not all claims and claimants are of equal value (any parent without such a framework is either uncaring or will quickly go insane). The problem comes in knowing when to treat an “implausible” claim seriously.

    Again, I don’t think this is a particularly male-female issue. It’s not just men who covered for Jimmy Saville, Roman Polanski or Marion Zimmer Bradley’s family.

    Alastair touches on this subject when he talks about advocates highlighting the most extreme examples which turn out to be false as damaging the cause. This demonstrates to others that the advocates have a faulty plausibility framework, which in turn provides affirmative evidence for their own competing plausibility framework. Unfortunately, both parties are misled; a few extreme cases don’t provide credible evidence of systematic abuse, and the falsification of those cases doesn’t credibly discredit anyone other than those directly involved in the particular case. But our plausibility frameworks are built to self-reinforce.

    I actually find the original article fairly sexist, in that the author moves from talking about differences in the way the sexes handle emotions in conversation to suggesting that the tendency to disbelieve surprising *objective* claims is a particularly male problem. Anyone who got angry that people would disbelieve the recent UVA rape claims – and there are many women (and men) in that boat – is displaying exactly the same behaviour.

    A more interesting question is whether there are sex-based differences in how we respond to evidence that contradicts our plausibility framework. Most people are biased in terms of trusted authority over those we perceive as having less applicable knowledge than ourselves (I’ve long since given up being offended when my wife insists on checking that yes, it is actually missing, and I’m not just over-looking it). However, I suspect that men have a more aggressive “prove it” response. Are there helpful or unhelpful ways of expressing skepticism that leave us open to receive additional evidence?

    • Thanks for the comment, Andrew. You raise some important issues here.

      The distinction between subjective and objective reporting of events that you mention was discussed to some extent further up this thread. Paul Baxter also discusses the different ways of perceiving critical or combative interactions between many men and women, something that I have noticed too. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that Young’s article focuses upon trusting women’s feelings as accurate representations of the objective reality of events. As you observe, this really conflates the objective and subjective dimensions of things. While I can take a person’s feelings seriously, I am less prepared to treat them as an accurate representation of reality.

      Yes, many of these dynamics aren’t straightforwardly gendered, even though women may primarily be at the receiving end of them, which is something that I tried to bring out at various points in my article (mentioning the recent actions of Jeremy Clarkson as an example).

      Putting the reasons for our distrust of advocacy in terms of plausibility frameworks is helpful.

      I agree about men’s tendency to have a ‘more aggressive “prove it” response.’ Men’s interactions tend to be more direct in general and are less concerned to affirm people. This instinct is often misunderstood too, I believe. Women can often experience this as distrust, rejection, or dismissal of their perspectives, rather than testing of their strength. Many of us come to trust positions through such cross-examination—as we see how much weight people’s stories bear in each respect—so people who resist cross-examination are much harder to trust. I think that men also often tend to be much more focused than women upon the objective parameters of a situation than upon the emotional ones. Hence our reputation for always trying to ‘fix things’, rather than just listening.

  8. Jonathan Bee says:

    it is because everywhere women are just trying to usurp and take men down,
    falsely accuse them of rape harassment etc
    and society’s laws favour women over men
    men must be trained to fear and never trust women!!.

    sad but that is the culture we live in

  9. Andrew says:

    Let me go on to state that I don’t think Bronwyn’s treatment of the issue is entirely fair.

    “That first Easter, nobody trusted the women.
    But I’m reminded on Easter that Jesus did. He trusted the women.”

    Except that these two statement are using the same words to refer to two different things.

    (1) The disciples did not take the women’s words at face value; rather, they needed to see the evidence themselves to be convinced. The twelve don’t “trust” the account. (That said, two other disciples spend several hours walking with Jesus and don’t recognise him either; it’s not as if the resurrection message is inherently believable. Plus, Jesus also appears to Peter, and when He does so doesn’t rebuke Peter for needing to check the women’s account for himself.)

    (2) The angel entrusts the women with a message. He trusts them to carry out a task.

    At no point in the narrative does Jesus respond (or not) to an account *provided* by the women, nor do the twelve consider whether to assign the women a task. To compare the two is to draw a false equivalence.

    That said, it’s not surprising (in retrospect) that the women are the first witnesses to the resurrection. The Scriptures have a common pattern of choosing unlikely messengers. Sometimes they are expected to run with it themselves; other times the messenger delivers the message to others (who take various degrees of convincing).

    • A key point about trust in relation to the resurrection narrative is that God trusts women to be the first witnesses to the resurrection of his Son. In entrusting such a task to women, God treats them as reliable witnesses, which women were not typically regarded to be in that culture. The response of the apostles in Luke 24:11 seems to suggest an instinctive disbelief and devaluation of the women’s testimony. Peter’s response is contrasted with that of the other apostles in verse 12 of that chapter: unlike the other apostles, he takes the testimony of the women seriously enough to take a look for himself. ‘Trust’ here is obviously not as straightforward as just taking the women’s word for it. Rather, it is a matter of taking women seriously as trustworthy witnesses, which doesn’t exclude all of the cross-examination, testing, and questioning that we usually bring to people’s eye-witness testimony.

  10. I’ve posted a follow-up post in the continuing discussion.

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I think it significant that Jesus called Mary Magdalene by name and that she recognized his voice.
      I am also mindful of this today:
      Jesus answered:
      ‘…I have come into this world to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice’
      Pilate answered:
      ‘What is truth?’
      Pilate then left a decision the the crowd.
      And the crowd chose Barabbus.
      I continue to pray for the healing of our wounds and for the healing of our broken relationships with God and with each other.
      ‘By his stripes we are healed.’

    • quinnjones2 says:

      I have followed this and will continue to do so.
      Though I am unlikely to engage in further discussion, I will continue to pray for all those who do engage, and for all those who are referred to in the comments.

      • quinnjones2 says:

        “..on either side of the river was ‘the tree of life’ , which bore twelve fruits, each one yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.
        And there shall be no more curse…’

  11. A further post in the ongoing thread, this time on the deception of Eve.

  12. Arvind says:

    We don’t trust women because at some point in our lives when we build relationships, most of us realized that women lie and manipulate a lot more than our guy friends do. Men lie too, it’s just that most of us draw the line to white lies. Women will flat out build false themes without any remorse.

  13. Nobody says:

    It’s not that we fail to trust women. It’s because we made the mistake of trusting them before.

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