Flinching: Growing up, I noticed that I had quicker reaction times than many of my peers. My senses were always alert to possible danger. I wasn’t the strongest or the tallest, but I was fast. I dodged dodgeballs with ease. I held my own in fights with bigger kids (and smaller kids). I was proud of my near-constant state of readiness. I was easily woken to sounds that others slept through. When others made threatening moves, I quickly entered defensive stances. Flinching was never seen as a sign of weakness, but rather as a willingness and ability to fight back.
It was only in recent years that I picked up a bully who would make threatening moves just to get a reaction so he could make fun of me. Suddenly, the world changed. I was told by my peers that flinching was a bad thing. To make matters worse, I tried to bully the bully but my threatening movements were also seen as flinches, while his flinches were seen as threatening movements (the timing was so close that observers could not tell the difference and made assumptions of cause and effect).
Confidence: Growing up, I noticed there were people with high energy and people with low energy. Those with high energy were leaders. They were more talkative, more likeable, more engaging, and had a greater capacity to be intimidating. I understood that remaining calm and projecting confidence could gain respect, but knew that quiet confidence could never be as intimidating as somebody running in and out of my personal space and shouting so I couldn’t get a word in edgewise or even think. Projecting confidence in these situations NEVER worked; it only made me look weak, frightened, and as if I had nothing to say in my defense – at least this is how others told me they saw it.
For most of my life I believed that crossing my arms or legs was a signal to others that they had an uphill battle convincing me to take them seriously. It could also merely be done for comfort. Since it also tied up the limbs and thereby made my reaction times slower, it could also be taken as a way of projecting confidence, telling others that they were no threat. I was very surprised a few years ago when a supposed body-language expert on television told me quite the opposite – that crossed limbs is a way of appearing smaller and is a submissive gesture. I told this to a few people I knew and they told me that they agreed with me that this “expert” had no clue what she was talking about.
Sarcasm: Until I was nineteen, I had only heard sarcasm used for comedic purposes, whether on television or by my peers. When I got a job, my coworkers were all very sarcastic. Then one day, I used a bit of humor with a customer to be friendly. He didn’t take it well. I was then informed by several different people (including my parents) that sarcasm is always rude and never funny.
Charisma: While we might disagree on politics, one would think that we could at least agree on a character attribute such as charisma. Alas, the measure of charisma has a partisan bias. I think of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Barack Obama, Mike Huckabee, and John McCain as being charismatic, while I think of Mitt Romney, Al Gore, and John Kerry as being quite uncharismatic. Yet, some Republicans tell me that Barack Obama lacks charisma while some Democrats tell me that Al Gore and John Kerry do have charisma.
Dishonesty: It might not be surprising that perception over whether one comes across as honest depends on their politics, but even outside the political realm people seem to disagree an awful lot on whether to believe someone. Some liars are so good that it takes a special breed to detect them, but other liars are simply obvious. Yet, many people seem blind to their flakiness, and other people are unduly suspicious of those who are actually telling the truth.
Personal space: Even before I heard the term, I knew what personal space was. Everyone I had ever met (including myself and animals) respected it except under special circumstances. The fact that there is a term for it proves that I am not the only one who has noticed and therefore it cannot merely be an illusion. However, in recent years I have met several people who not only lack the instinct entirely, but have never heard the term before. They treated me like I was weird that I didn’t want to embrace every time we had a conversation.
What an idiom: We are so out of touch with each other that we also can’t seem to agree on the meanings of English idioms – even among immediate family!
Sports And Gender: When I was young, girls wanted to play boring games, such as “house.” They pretended to do ordinary things like shopping, rocking the baby, cleaning, cooking, and driving to work. Boys, knowing that they would one day have to do boring activities for the rest of their lives, took advantage of childhood to pretend to do exciting things like fighting battles, catching bad guys, exploring new planets, and dissecting monsters. Girls like to chant and do those cooperative clapping rituals, while boys would never want to do things the same as anybody else in synchronization like that. Because sports have very little opportunity for creativity or individual initiative (there is no I in team), I always thought of sports as very much girly games. Spectator sports are even more girly, because no self-respecting boy would ever merely watch others play a game he wasn’t invited to be a part of. How boring! I learned by the time I went to school that it is mostly men that play and watch sports in the USA, but it still today makes absolutely no sense to me. My father never watched sports.
Morality And Gender: Growing up I always had a strong sense of right and wrong. I encountered many instances in which the rules either did not apply, or if applied would lead to results in opposition to their intent. All the children I knew thought in terms of principles and outcomes, whereas all the adults I knew thought in terms of adherence to a pre-made list of rules – no matter how deleterious the results might be under unforeseen circumstances. When I got older, I read that there were different philosophical schools of thought on the subject and that while every human-made religion focused on rules, Jesus focused on principles. When I was older still and got my first job, I noticed that female managers (with a few exceptions) were VERY focused on rules, while male managers (with a few exceptions) were either focused on outcomes or else weren’t focused at all. While there were a few exceptions, over the years the pattern was so incredibly clear (even at other places of employment) that it there is absolutely no way it could ever reasonably be considered a statistical fluke.
When I took a sociology course, my textbook shocked me by claiming it was men that thought in terms of rules and women that thought in terms of principles. It also claimed that in development we all start by thinking in terms of rules until we are mature enough to understand principles. This is completely backwards from my experience.
Nudity And Gender: By the time I reached adulthood, I had noticed some other differences between men and women. Women dressed to impress, sometimes wearing skimpy outfits even during cold weather. Men don’t do this so much and are more practical. At the beach, swimsuits are much more revealing on women than men. In advertising and art, it is women that are much more likely to go fully or partially nude. Thinking about it, I realized that men had much more to hide than women, both in organ visibility and organ movements. I knew practically nothing about nudists/naturists at that time, but all my experience among clothed people made me believe that in a naturist setting, women would most likely outnumber men at least three to one. Many years later, I discovered that this was not true. In fact, men outnumber women about nine to one (and perhaps half those men are gay). I have been told that this is because women are usually more concerned with how they look, but the explanation still does not fully satisfy me.
The Talkative Gender: While girls can often giggle and scream loudly, they are not known for being aggressive or assertive. Girls are also much more likely to be labeled as shy. The two shyest people I have ever met were both female. I have always been taught that men are (statistically speaking) more dominant than women and take greater risks. Since one cannot dominate without communicating, it follows that men will usually tend to do most of the talking. In very recent years I have been told that this is not the case and in fact it is women that will approach strangers and chat up a storm so that the men can’t get a word in edgewise. The times I had seen this behavior before, I had just assumed they were the exceptions.