How to talk to women

Say what?

A blog post by Lilly Rockwell at the Austin Statesman (Austin, Texas, this is).

The newly-elected 10-member City Council, plus the mayor, is the first majority female City Council in Austin’s history, with seven women and four men.

But apparently this represented such a huge change in governance that the city manager’s office thought the city staff who regularly interact with the City Council needed extra training – in the form of a two-hour training session in March with two speakers from Florida – on how to talk to a female-dominated City Council after decades of rule by men.

How…to…talk? Because what, they would all probably burst into tears? Give birth? Pass out Tampax samples?

The first speaker was Jonathan K. Allen, who was a city manager of the relatively small Lauderdale Lakes, Florida. Allen was considered an expert in this field because his local city commission was all-female.

Well thank god they called in a man who is an expert on the subject. Naturally it’s only men who are intelligent and thoughtful enough to probe this difficult issue. Remind him to put the gloves on.

His advice included:

  • Women ask lots of questions. He learned a valuable lesson on communicating with women from his 11-year-old daughter, who peppered him with questions while they were on the way to volleyball. “In a matter of 15 seconds, I got 10 questions that I had to patiently respond to,” Allen said. Allen says female City Council members are less likely to read agenda information and instead ask questions. He says it’s tempting to just tell them to read the packet, but “my daughter taught me the importance of being patient” even when they may already know the answer to the question.
  • Women don’t want to deal with numbers. Allen said in his city they used to have background information and financial analysis on the front pages of agenda forms. Allen says he normally would have presented the financial argument, but that his female commissioners would balk and say “Mr. Manager, I don’t want to hear about the financial argument, I want to hear about how this impacts the whole community.” He said that it may make good financial sense, but if he wants to get the votes, he has to present his arguments “in a totally different way.”

And again I say, thank god they got an expert. Imagine, a non-expert would have no idea how to extrapolate from a conversation with his daughter to all women everywhere. That takes years and years of training.

The city also brought along Dr. Miya Burt-Stewart, who owns a business development and marketing firm, to offer some training, and her session touched on the “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” philosophy:

  • Openly acknowledge gender differences. Burt-Stewart says the author of the “Men are from Mars” book says men act on facts, women act on emotion. She also share such insights such as “Men have egos, women have wish lists,” and that men are more likely to use a “dominating” management style than women, who use a “compromising” style. Men think women ask too many questions, Burt-Stewart said, and women often don’t feel included. Men like acknowledgement, women want to be part of a team. Men, typically, communicate less often than females, she said.

Men like to shout “fuck her right in the pussy!” on the street, and women like not to be shouted at on the street. I can expert too.

But after watching this training session (you can watch the video of the session yourselfhere), I couldn’t help but wonder: Is it sexist to make these generalizations about women, or is there something to the idea that women do process decisions differently?

I reached out to Emily Amanatullah, who studies gender issues and is an assistant professor of management at the McCombs School of Business at the University of Texas, to help sort this out. “At the outset, it definitely feels archaic, like ‘The women are usually in the kitchen, how do we deal with them now that they have power,’ ” Amanatullah said. “It does reek of old norms and often it’s called benevolent sexism – they are not putting women down, but they are in a way.”

And she said it’s basically bullshit – I mean, she said there’s not much research that etc etc etc. On the other hand there’s one thing –

Amanatullah did agree with one point that Allen made – women do tend to ask more questions. There is research that indicates that women communicate differently, and they are less likely to assert themselves in a group context or meeting, and are more likely to ask a question “as a way to get their voice heard. in a non-threatening, non-aggressive way,” she said.

Hey, you know what? Maybe just maybe that’s nothing to do with What Makes Women So Weird but is rather that getting constantly talked over and interrupted at best, and put down hard at worst, trains women to find ways to get a motherfucking word in edgewise.

Also, asking more questions is a good thing, and it’s certainly a huge improvement on people who make confident assertions without having a clue what the hell they’re talking about.

Or maybe that’s just me. That was your seminar in how to talk to me for today.


  1. cuervocuero says

    Going through a Diversity and Inclusivity course right now (and discovering that FTB is a better training ground aside from the corporate angle). The ‘gender’ piece broke into ‘men do x and women do y stuff’, with a video by a noted corporate public speaker that made me wince a lot because I was desperately wanting her to say “men are trained to do x masculine performance in North America and punished for deviating” and “women are trained to do x feminine performance etc”.

    Given that learning about unconscious bias was a stunning critical thinking phenomenon for most of the participants, I had to point out in the forum that gender expectations are not inherent but taught and sexes are not just a duality either/or, and the lecturer was shortcutting and monolithicalizing to her audience.

    Even so, pointing out how we are trained to present gender and the narrow, shifting sands of appropriate behaviour for women-identified persons seemed a giant leap for her corporate audience.

  2. says

    The sad thing is that Austin the probably the most progressive/liberal city in Texas. Benevolent sexism, indeed; they’re probably patting themselves on the back pretty damn hard for deigning to be so tolerant.

  3. karmacat says

    Here is a radical notion: you can ask the women what they want, what information they need. They are over-complicating the whole process. And if they are asking a lot of questions, that means they are listening to you.

  4. Jenora Feuer says

    Women ask lots of questions.

    Which is a major improvement over the (subset of) men who assume that they already know everything they need to know and who will go confidently striding off towards the edge of the cliff.

    I can expert too!

  5. doublereed says

    I honestly have no idea where people get these ideas. It’s just seems like blatant confirmation bias and stereotype threat. We hear it and repeat it and ignore all the counterexamples we see in our everyday lives and experiences.

  6. NitricAcid says

    Actually, some legislators could probably use some basic lessons on how to talk to women.

    1) Do not address your coworkers as “Honey”, “Sugar”, or “Darlin'”.
    2) Your coworkers are legislators, not secretaries, waitresses, or your mother. Expect them to legislate, not take dictation, get you coffee, or clean up after you.
    3) Do not flirt with your coworkers, and do not flirt at work.

  7. carbonfox says

    I mean, women really do all have the mindsets and mental capabilities of 11-year-old girls, amirite? And he’s totes right on about the numbers (what are those): our ladybrains can’t handle that nonsense, we only care about how things make us feel.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *