Same Thing, Different Words

Oh, here’s something I noticed while I was away that I wanted to run by y’all. So, say you are dating someone. Say that someone promises you s/he will show up for something you’re doing, but then at the last minute, decided s/he doesn’t want to do that and then gets angry that you don’t cancel your plans, because, if you really loved him or her, you should always choose to spend time with him or her rather than doing something that you enjoy, even if you were planning on doing the thing you enjoy with him or her.

Got it?

While I was away, I finally realized that, in genera, when you’re talking to women, the significant other in this situation might be called “controlling” or “abusive.” But, if you are talking to men, especially about a significant other who is a woman, if you want the man to hear what you’re saying without getting defensive (because he is “not a victim”), that behavior is “manipulative.”

You know women have to be just as jackassy as men, but I was missing the insight that “manipulative” was the female-gendered version of “controlling.” But now I wonder if this is part of the reason it can be hard for straight men to realize when they are in unhealthy relationships–the language used to describe them doesn’t include words straight men recognize as applying to them.

Anyway, I thought I had smarter things to say about this, but I don’t. Just that I was like “Oh!” when I figured it out.

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3 thoughts on “Same Thing, Different Words

  1. Well, but I’d call that behavior “manipulative” in men, as well. I don’t think it’s as gendered as all that. Manipulating others is one method of being controlling of them; it’s not the only way. It’s a subset of “controlling” and of “abusive” but not a gendered alternative to them. It may be a form of control that women are more likely to use (I’m not sure about this, because a number of the men in my family are pros at it) since it’s harder for women to use the physical threats that men can. But I’m gonna go for disagreeing with you on the gendered and on the equivalence.

  2. No, I think we’re talking past each other. I’m saying that, if you are sitting down with someone at the butt end of this behavior and you want them to hear it as something that is happening to them that they cannot fix but must take steps to defend themselves against, I’m saying that I am seeing that women (broadly speaking) hear “controlling” and “abusive” as words that signal “Oh, shit, my significant other is never going to change because this is not something we need to work on but a strategy for getting his/her way” where as men (broadly speaking) don’t (at least publicly) acknowledge themselves as controlled or abused. But if you frame that same behavior as “manipulative” that signals “Oh shit…”

    I agree that, of course, men and women are both capable of being manipulative and of being controlling or abusive and that there are distinctions between all three. But that’s not quite what I’m trying to get at. I’m trying to get at what is heard and acted on.

  3. Oh, OK, I guess I see what you mean. I still wouldn’t use “manipulative” in that context, though, because it plays into the MRA mantra about how everything women do that isn’t exactly what men want women to do when men want women to do it is manipulative. But I do see what you mean.

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