Ways of thought

Isak Dinesen in one of her stories (one of the Seven Gothic Tales) commented on the different (to males) mental processes of women.

She says that women don’t reason, in the sense of analysing processes and then forming conclusions. Instead they tend to accept without examination attitudes and beliefs that seem to them right. It is a process of commitment. Women commit, to a relationship, a faith, social mores, fashions – and there’s an end to it. Why they should do so – not interested. Whether these things are right or wrong – irrelevant. This ability not to question seems to me the source of women’s strength, while at the same time it seems to lead to their manipulation and exploitation in some ways.

From a woman’s point of view the rationalism of many men might appear frivolous, even pathetic. Yet while men reap the rewards of women’s commitment, men often have an ambiguous response to what they see as the particular way women’s minds work. They see similarities with the mental processes of the fanatic at one extreme and of the stupid at the other extreme, doubtless the source of charges made that women are less intelligent than men, slaves to fashion and faiths, or rigid and intolerant. Men seem to simply give up explanation of how women think with the exasperated comment “Women!” (This is a reaction they have in common with women dealing with malethink).

The point, if Dinesen is correct, is that this is a feminine way of thought, not stupidity or intolerance. Those are male aberrations.

There are many female intellectuals, and most women reason things out in their daily lives. What Dinesen has in mind is an underlying characteristic.

Leaving aside the (big) point that ‘reason’ is an activity of a minority of males, not a male characteristic, we have a striking difference: men tend to question, women to commit, believe, take up an attitude unexamined. A woman will accept, or scorn, a lover, period. A man in the same position will plan a seduction, ask why he is rejected.

There is probably a biological reason for this underlying pattern, to do with species survival. Prehistoric men examined new territory for food or danger, women accepted these findings for adhesion of the family and social group.

So far men have not been too good at accepting that women may have an underlying way of thinking and that this way is biologically useful, useful to men, and beautiful and feminine in it’s own right.

Wondering about the cause of this difference in ways of thinking (if Dinesen is correct) would bring out the differences in men’s and woman’s thought processes. Does the difference originate in programming within DNA? Or is it the result of social programming that begins as soon as the mother holds the newborn baby and is told “It’s a girl!” (or a boy). Or is it behavoural: do both males and females suppress some behaviours so to act in a way considered either masculine or feminine? Finding the answer is of interest only to males. Dealing with the subsequent situation is of interest only to females. That’s why the sexes make such a good team.

Isak Dinesen, whose aside I’m commenting on, was in real life Baroness Karen von Blixen-Finecke (1885-1962), Denmark’s greatest writer and one of the world’s major story tellers. She’s most widely known as the author of a story and a book which have been adapted to film, the autobiographical Out of Africa (notable for Meryl Streep’s Danish accent and an inaccurate portrayal of Blixen’s lover by Robert Redford); and the superb Babette’s Feast directed by Gabriel Axel and starring Stéphane Audren. Dinesen’s greatest work in my view (I’m not alone) was her first, Seven Gothic Tales (not really gothic, but so aware of subconscious processes as to appear dreamlike, or the products of a psychoanalyst’s investigation). Almost as good is the collection Winter’s Tales. My personal favourite is the collection Last Tales of 1957. Nobody has ever known more about the subtle processes beneath our conscious minds than Karen Blixen.

©2011 Original material copyright Phillip Kay. Images and other material courtesy Creative Commons. Please inform post author of any violation

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