A few months ago, from a comment on a message board, I discovered Alison Armstrong and her study of relationships, but especially of men. Since reading her book Keys to the Kingdom, I have been reading or listening to everything she has published out there, as the information is fascinating and helpful. The most helpful part about what she does is explaining to men and women that we really do not understand the opposite sex and how different we actually are. Our society today, and even men themselves, often think men are simple and maybe even shallow. Armstrong herself used to think this until she starting actually researching and asking men about themselves. What she found surprised both herself and them: Men are complicated and very deep creatures, with a staggering amount of thoughtfulness put into everything they do.
In learning more about men and why they act the way they do, Armstrong has also unearthed a lot of information about women as well. I decided to give her Understanding Women workshop a listen, especially because her In Sync with the Opposite Sex workshop was hilarious. The first thing I have to say about the workshop audiobook is please, please don’t make this your first listen or read of her stuff. Armstrong’s information about women is difficult for both men and women to hear, and I realized immediately that it would have been worse if I didn’t already know some of it from her other works. I say this, because although Understanding Women is about women, it’s actually about Armstrong’s continuing studies on men. Men are often reacting to women in ways that both sexes scarcely comprehend. Much of the time, the workshop does not put women in a flattering light, and Armstrong’s goal, which she states at the end, is to get women to realize they have a responsibility to check themselves. The information is a far cry from the feminism and women power of today, while at the same time being empowering in its own right. The good thing is, Armstrong offers solutions and explains just how beneficial men are for women. Men, you can actually help save us from ourselves, which is a pretty awesome feat if what all she says is true!
As I had so many thoughts about the workshop, this article will be pretty long. I will give each topic a heading to make things easier.
Women and men handle criticism differently. Men may not know this, but women actually deal with constant criticism, sometimes coming from others, but mostly coming from themselves. Armstrong calls this criticizer the “Perfect or Ideal Woman.” This Perfect Woman is one of the main problems between men and women, because women not only feel they have to be this Perfect Woman, but feel and think men should be this Perfect Woman also. The Perfect Woman has little to do with realistic expectations and can be a complex that keeps women in constant guilt that they are never good enough. Well, who is good enough, anyway? Only Jesus Christ, that I know of. Men have told Armstrong one of the most attractive qualities in a woman is self-confidence. She can only have this by overcoming the Perfect Woman in her head and telling her to shut up. This is much easier if the woman is secure, safe, and loved, and men are rather good at doing those three things for women.
Criticism is not often handled well by women. I know for myself, being one. Even a comment that is not actually a criticism is easily taken as one. We will never wear that skirt or those shoes again. We change or adapt to actual or perceived criticism. According to Armstrong, men take criticism as a suggestion or interesting thing to note. It doesn’t affect their whole sense of self as if often does with women. They will consider it more if it comes from someone they respect, but their behavior doesn’t necessarily change because of it.
I think this is why it can be very easy to take all of this workshop as criticism of women, especially by women. The information is really much the same as her information on men: Many of these behaviors are hard for both sexes to control unless we know they are happening, why, and how to curtail them. Some can’t be controlled, and most aren’t “wrong,” just ways in which the sexes differ. Armstrong shares how women react to criticism to men because she says, “You may not have meant to change her by what you said, but you did.” Sounds like a heavy burden to shoulder.
The most well known difference between men and women is that men are single focused and that women multitask. Armstrong takes this a step further, saying that women actually don’t focus at all! We can, but it takes a lot of energy for us to do so. This is because women have what she calls “diffuse awareness.” Women are aware of everything in their surroundings, often paying attention to a plethora of things at once all needing to be fixed or beautified in some way. It’s the reason why women often wander from one task to the next, often working on a number of projects at one time. Too ignore a messy environment screaming at her to clean it, a women has to zone out, often by getting involved in a story or something like that. That, I can relate to. I often hole up with a book or K-drama when my house is a mess and I’m too tired to do anything about it.
Is it true that women don’t focus? For myself, yes, it is often difficult and truly focusing on a project or task tires me out quickly. Focusing at work all day is super draining and many jobs are geared towards single focus. Armstrong describes diffuse awareness as women going to the meadow to gather different things for their family/tribe. It’s sort of like shopping. We go out to look and see all the possibilities out there and bring back what’s best. I imagine a job involving diffuse awareness would be something creative–decorating or party planning, etc. Secretary or personal assistant jobs can require a similar kind of creativeness and also multitasking. Women do multitask, but often we are not focused on one single goal at a time, so a lot gets done, but it can appear chaotic to men. Armstrong says this ability in women is what makes it possible for them to have all the dishes ready for dinner on time, plus have the house picked up, all while keeping an eye on the kids and making lunch for the next day. She also says that some men and women are the reverse. Often creative men will have more diffuse awareness and career women often have single focus. Their partners, then will usually have the opposite trait.
The times I am most aware of having diffuse awareness is when I’m at an event or gathering with a lot of people, especially people that I know. Somehow I monitor everything around me, how I think others might be feeling, even. Is that a spill on the floor? Do we need more coffee? Why does Betty look so distraught? Why’s Luke standing in the corner? Why is no one taking that child off the table? It’s super hard to focus on whatever conversation I’m in. Armstrong says men are often hurt by our not focusing on them while they are talking to us. It can come across as not caring about what they are saying. It’s not that we don’t care, it’s that the environment around us is screaming for our attention. This is similar to how men in their single focus mode can often seem uncaring, too. He hears us say to take out the garbage, but he doesn’t HEAR it. Just like women have to choose when we make requests of men–not while they’re in the middle of something–so men have a way of getting women to focus. Actually, to me it sounds like a super power.
Armstrong says that for most women, touch is a big deal. It brings us back into our bodies. She explains it like that because women so easily lose our sense of self, while men have strong sense of self and physicality. It’s that awareness of everything going on around us and our monitoring feelings, etc. that does it. Armstrong says if a man wants his woman to focus on him (as much as she can) he has to be the “loudest” thing in the room. In touching her hand or arm, etc, he will immediately become the loudest thing in the room and her focus will be on him.
I can imagine this works, but I don’t know for sure, and will have to note if and when it happens. But it makes sense to me in a way, because the way women reassure and comfort other women is with hugs or a touch on the arm, etc. We are a rather touch averse society these days, so I definitely notice more if someone does touch me, but it will take some time to determine if that affects how I focus. Always ready to get the laugh, Armstrong instructs men that even while love making, “don’t let go of her.” Men anchor us with their touch, and much of that may have to do with them often being bigger, stronger, and the provider.
This one was easy. I know it’s true without having to watch and see. Women are constantly monitoring their own physical safety. Although we may lose our physicality in some ways, when it comes to danger to our person, we are acutely aware all of the time. Most men, Armstrong says, don’t have a continual fear of their physical safety. They just don’t. Being smaller and weaker than men, women do. The workshop offers a lot on this topic, and much of it is hard to hear. Logically women often know we are safe, but the “cavewoman” as Armstrong calls her, takes over. We cannot think straight around an angry man, for example, even if he’s not angry at us. At that moment he is the tiger in the room that might eat us. Even a man excited about something can seem threatening–all that testosterone has to be neutralized. Fear and concern over safety is one of the main reasons women emasculate men. Sadly, this is all too often because women’s threat radar is, as Armstrong says, “set way too high.” It’s not fair to men, but it is the reality. Again, touch can help. It can say “you are safe, you are loved, etc.” It’s why, bizarrely, a women might ask a man if he’s mad at her, when clearly he isn’t. She needs the reassurance because she’s worried if he’s mad at her he might not protect her when the real tiger comes around.
This is where things start to get really dicey. Armstrong says that the reason women fear an angry man, thinking that if he’s mad at her he won’t save her when the tiger or danger comes, is because a woman would be angry and let the tiger eat that person. She wouldn’t save that person. She says that women have no honor. She says this because honor is about doing the right thing even if you don’t feel like it and that women don’t act against their feelings.
I can say that when I usually think of honor it’s in regard to soldiers or battle, usually involving men. I don’t personally think much of honor connected to women, but I’m not sure we have zero of it. Armstrong states that if a women is angry at another women she’d let the tiger have her. Never could I imagine the women I know doing such a thing, but I’ve never really contemplated honor, so maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m mixing it up with integrity and courage, traits that Armstrong says women have a lot of. She says that things like honor, loyalty, team spirit, etc. all belong to the province of men, that they are essentially manly things and qualities and why it’s so important for male children to have dads or male figures around to teach them these things, because women can’t.
Do women have no honor? I have seen many women leave their men for the next best thing, but men leave their women for that, too. I have seen cruelty come from women that is not at all honorable and very different from a man’s cruelty. It can be true, as Armstrong says, that women at work can be even more vicious than men. They take on single focus and other male traits without being tempered by honor, loyalty, etc. I can say that this is sometimes true, that women are this way, but am reluctant to say that’s built into our sex. Armstrong doesn’t mean it as a criticism so much as to explain to men why we are compelled to please them. We must make sure they always are please with us so they protect us from the tiger. We are compelled. We need men’s protection and providing for us even if we have a gun and a million dollar job. Armstrong says in our modern life, a woman “needs to have a man to prove she doesn’t need a man.” It doesn’t make sense, but yet it makes perfect sense in our upside down world where both sexes are told they must act like the opposite sex much of the time.
The honor thing, however, was not the most shocking thing said at the workshop. One of the last things Armstrong goes through is how much women are controlled and compelled by feelings. She compares our feelings to a chakra thing different from our emotions, and I kind of understood what she was saying, but it sounded rather hokey. I don’t think of “women’s intuition” as we often call it, as a direct connecting line to God and universe. Maybe it is, but I’ve never thought of it that way.
Because women so often misinterpret what men are doing, really putting the worst construction on a given situation, women often get their feelings hurt for no reason. For more on how this works, I suggest reading Keys to the Kingdom and The Queen’s Code because those books are written in story format and illustrate the concepts very well and show how relationships can be so much better without the misinterpretation. Getting our feelings hurt is a big deal for women, or so Armstrong says. She then goes on to describe something she calls the “rage monster.”
I know I’ve been there, so angry and hurt that every bad thought you’ve had about someone rises to the surface and you just want to spit it all out in an argument, but know you would instantly regret it. I never considered it a uniquely female thing, though. Armstrong says that when our feelings get hurt it is devastating to a woman. She describes what it’s like and, well, the portrayal of it is rather repulsive. She makes it sound like in that moment women are worse off than children in a meltdown. The solution to this, the only solution, she says, that works, is for the man to say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.” This is also a time when touch is not wanted. The woman is hurt, needs the “I’m sorry,” and the time to recover, and then you can wrap your arms around her and dry her tears.
Maybe the rage monster is something that’s more unique to a romantic partnership or relationship. I’ve been in arguments, I’ve been angry, but not to the degree that she’s describing; or at least, it’s something I may have experienced a very long time ago, so long ago as to have forgotten it entirely. Never do I recall having to hear a man or anyone say, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings,” and then things being all better. The worst part is, that in the situation she’s describing, the woman’s feelings are hurt not because the man actually did anything wrong, but because she is interpreting his actions and behavior wrongly. Yet the only thing that works to snap the woman out of this “rage monster” is him saying, “I’m sorry I hurt your feelings.”
The men in the workshop were not having this. They struggled with the instruction to say they are sorry for something they didn’t do. Feelings were hurt, but it wasn’t their fault. They objected also to treating their women like children. I objected also and have trouble believing that this is the only thing that works. It also creates a situation in which some women will then use that as a way to treat the men as if they did do something wrong. Armstrong warns women not to do this, but it seems to me that if we indeed have no honor, the temptation here is just too strong. In the situation she describes, the man didn’t hurt the women’s feelings, the woman hurt her own feelings. If, as she says, a woman’s feelings are so, so hurt that she covers it up with rage all the while desperately wanting her man to save her from herself, and touch won’t work in this instance, wow. I mean the “sorry for the feelings” thing must make it stop, at least for some women, but there’s gotta to be a better way to resolve that. Certainly women being aware of when this is happening may help, but it sounds like a state of being so totally out of control that only God can lift you up. I guess it’s a warning to women to really watch how we interpret things.
All in all, I always find Armstrong’s research and information really fascinating and helpful, however, one has to remember that her focus is understanding men, and because that’s her focus, I think her works on men are far more positive and life affirming than this particular audiobook, workshop. Understanding Women many times makes women seem really crazy. The information was alarming at times, and more disturbing than any of her stuff on men. However, I like her goal, which is to get women to pay attention to what they are doing, how and why they are reacting, and so on. If as a women you can’t stop talking, consider, “what am I afraid of right now?” If you are with a women who can’t stop talking, touch her arm or hand. Anchor her. Focus her. Let her know she’s safe even though there’s no reason to fear. It doesn’t make sense, but as a woman, I can say that we often don’t make sense. What I mean is, perhaps understanding men is all about making sense–they have a good reason for everything they do–and understanding women is about connecting them to reality instead of whatever thing they may be imagining in their heads. From what Armstrong says, that’s the real dragon to slay. Throughout the workshop, she affirms again and again that women need saving from themselves, and that men are the best equipped to do just that.
It’s all about men and women being in sync with each other. We have certain needs that can only be met or best met by the opposite sex. Fortunately, the desire to meet those needs is built right into us. Men naturally want to protect and provide for women and women naturally want to please men and give them attention. The biggest problem, Armstrong often says, is that in our modern society we simply do not know this about each other. And that is why her work is so revolutionary, especially for women, who every day are taught by society that men are hairy misbehaving women instead of the honorable, loyal men they actually are, and are even more bizarrely, taught to be like those misbehaving men rather than their own feminine selves. Upside down world does not even begin to describe it.