Worldbuilding

In an interview with Flavorwire, novelist Sady Doyle, author of Trainwreck, reveals what she tells her relatives the book is about:

“It’s about why we call women crazy for having feelings.”

Oh, no, no, no.  We don’t call women crazy for having feelings.  We call them crazy for building entire worlds around those feelings as they act upon them.  For instance, in contemporary society, many women, though not all, have to be completely comfortable with the people around them before they’ll do a business deal.  They have to like not only the people with whom they’ll sign the papers but also the entire structure of the organization they’re buying into–its employees, its business model, its financing, its workplace.  Not so with men:  if they like the deal financially, they’ll sign it.  The corporate culture they’re signing onto takes a backseat.  Most of the time this direct, non-intuitive approach works just fine.  Not taking that other corporate culture into account, however, is often why mergers and acquisitions fail.  Just ask Google why they abandoned robot-maker Boston Dynamic within two years of acquiring them.*

I also believe it necessary to remind you that “worldbuilding” by means of our feelings has been going on among women and men for a very long time.  Another example, this one from 1964, comes from my ongoing reading of the two-volume history of Star Trek.  It’s now common knowledge that NBC insisted that Gene Roddenberry replace the cold, emotionless character of “Number One,” played by M. Leigh Hudec (Majel Barrett) in the show’s first pilot, “The Cage.”  What is not generally known is that she was replaced because the women in the test audience reacted very badly to her.  “Who the hell does she think she is?” they asked.  “Giving orders and pushing men around.”  The women of 1964 had a very set idea of how women should be and they couldn’t conceive of a woman who would behave any differently.  It never occurred to any of those women as they watched the show that they were supposed to be in the 23rd century as they watched.  (Trust me:  by the time our descendants get to the 23rd century, they’ll look back and laugh at all of us.)  The attitudes of 1964 carried over throughout the decade and into the 1970s, despite Star Trek‘s considerable influence.  Farrah Fawcett freely admitted that one of the reasons her marriage to Lee Majors failed was his insistence that she go home, cook his meals, and fetch his pipe and slippers every night despite the fact that they were both working, making good money, and had the responsibilities of celebrities.

This male attitude, although it is disappointing, does not surprise me.  Men do lots of worldbuilding of their own.  We see a great looking woman in the coffee shop, the bar, or the restaurant and, within seconds, we’ve already lived a lifetime with her in our heads.  I know this because I’ve done it a hundred times, the people I know have done it a hundred times, and the people we know of have also done it untold numbers of times.  Fortunately, it’s the kind of emotional state most men will eventually outgrow, though not all of us.  And women find it particularly hard to outgrow.  In the 1990s, Jim Hodgett and I would sit in The Daily Grind, drinking our coffee.  A woman would come in,  and Jim would size her up in a heartbeat:  “Dolls in her head,” he’d say.  And he’d be right.  We’d watch how the woman interacted with others, talk with her ourselves, and discover that the kind of man she thought about, the kind of man she said she wanted, didn’t actually exist, has never existed, except in fantasy.  It works the other way, too.  I’ve known several men–and one in particular–who’ve passed up what could have been good relationships for them because they were looking for sweet, compliant women who do not exist and have never existed in the whole history of women.  The vast majority of men who go through this anguished searching survive it, but it does have a darker side, which manifests itself in the stunning number of co-dependent, abusive relationships that one can find within every racial and ethnic group on the planet.

I am lucky, given the errors I’ve made and the errors I’ve seen, to have good relationships with the women of today.  Most of the ones I work with are businesslike, but very sweet when the opportunity is there for personal interaction.  A few women I’ve worked with over the last decade are battle-scarred.  They made terrible choices in their marriage partners (“Dolls in their heads”), and they and their children are paying the price, as those women stumble from job to job, either because they got fired or because no job they hold satisfies them for long.  For the most part, however, women and I have gotten along fine.  From my side of things, I’ve relaxed quite a bit.  I don’t demand of a woman the things I used to, and I expect only what they’re prepared to give.  We have our disagreements, but those differences are about business, about doing the work of our company properly.  The personal disagreements we’ve had have been even fewer because we’ve given up the fantasy of worldbuilding and are concentrating instead on the world as it is, and on our lives at the moment within it.

[* One could multiply illustrative examples of the importance of company culture many times over.  Ellen Pao’s recent failed sexual harassment lawsuit against her employer, Kleiner Perkins, was rooted in her deep dissatisfaction with that company’s workplace environment and promotion practices.  Going back many years now, Alice Schroeder’s biography of Warren Buffett reveals his utter contempt for the people who manned the newsroom of the Baltimore Sun after he acquired it for Berkshire-Hathaway.  Buffett’s failure with the Sun convinced him to cease-and-desist from trying to run the companies he acquires.  He now keeps the management of such companies in place when he acquires them.]

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