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On being complicated

April 22, 2009

A google search for the words Women and Complicated turns up over 10 million hits.  The phrase “What do women want?” turns up 80 million. 

This obviously doesn’t prove anything.  It’s just what I turned up when looking for articles to refute when talking about how “complicated’ women really aren’t.  The idea that women are complicated and hard to understand has so permeated our culture that for me to simply find ONE article to discuss was sortof a moot point. 

And what does being “Complicated” even mean? 

This came up over the weekend in a conversation with a good friend.  We were discussing our relationships and she essentially said that she doesn’t expect her fiance to understand her choices because “Women are so complicated.”

And hearing her say this my brain just screamed “COP OUT.”  Saying women are complicated for her meant “I don’t have to explain myself.”  And for her fiance saying she’s complicated probably means “I don’t have to bother trying to understand.”

 The idea that women are too complicated to bother understanding is a socialized idea that is easy to buy into because it makes life easier for both men and women.   It is both a result of male privilege and a learned behavior that allows women to get away with “complicated” behavior without having to justify themselves.

I don’t actually think women are all that incomprehensible.  (And  neither are men so simple and straightforward.)  Saying that women are complicated and men don’t know what they want is just an easy way for them to not have to actually listen.  If there is no chance that a man could ever possibly understand then he is off the hook, he doesn’t even have to try. 

Nor, conversely, do women have to bother explaining themselves.  Since women “never know what they want” they have no responsibility to understand their own motivations and communicate them to their partners.   Men could just never possibly understand, so why even bother.

So essentially the argument that women are “complicated” (whatever the fuck that means) and men are “simple” and therefore could never understand is a gigantic sucking hole that eliminates communication in relationships.  It gives both parties an easy out, no one has to try to understand and no one has to try to explain.  

I can’t imagine how hard this could be if half of the partnership doesn’t buy into it, and the other individual really wants to understand or explain but  the other person is just not interested in engaging.

Now all of this is not to say that people aren’t complex and don’t occasionally behave in ways that are difficult for others to understand.  But that’s just the thing, PEOPLE are complex.  Just as often as I do or say something that Mr. I finds baffling, he will do something that leaves me rolling my eyes.  We all occasionally find the actions of others to be incomprehensible, but that isn’t because of our gender, it is because we are ALL complex individuals with our own priorities, interests and communication styles. 

Attributing the confusing actions of a significant other, friend or relative to their gender is the easy way out, it gives us a ready made excuse not to try to understand why that individual is behaving the way they are.  They are doing it because of the shape of their genitalia, DUH, not because they are a complex interesting person with motives that are not always immediately apparent to everyone.


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  1. librarychair permalink

    I can’t imagine how hard this could be if half of the partnership doesn’t buy into it, and the other individual really wants to understand or explain but the other person is just not interested in engaging.

    I have been in this situation, and let me tell you, it’s miserable. I was explaining things about myself and trying to understand things about her and she simply didn’t want to. She said it explicitly a couple of times, that she didn’t even want to understand herself, she just wanted to sit there and be upset at me for no reason. Needless to say that relationship didn’t last very long.

  2. fillyjonk permalink

    This is really, really excellent.

  3. Way to escape Librarychair! That would drive me batty.

    Thanks FJ! That means a lot to me!

  4. Hear hear! Seriously, isn’t this what it’s all about? Figuring ourselves out, and being there as the people of our affection figure themselves out, too? This post really hits the nail on the head. Anyone entering into a relationship with – well, anyone with a gender, really – should read it.

  5. Beautifully thoughtful! It does seem a cop-out to just refuse to listen or understand yourself or your partner just because it’s COMPLICATED. Well yea, relationships, generally, ARE! Because no matter what gender, you’re throwing together two individual humans who are, by nature, complex and diverse!

    Well said Shinobi and LibraryChair congrats on getting out of such a relationship.

  6. tara permalink

    You are complicated. Shinobi is the Japanese word for male ninja, yet you are female and, being obese, are certainly not a ninja. That’s because an obese person would make a horrible ninja and totally fail at stealth. Also because unlike Americans the Japanese have no tolerance or sympathy for the obese. A fat acceptance movement in japan would be a public laughing stock while here it it just one giant pity party of denial and defeatism.

  7. I love you, I love you, I freaking love you, Shinobi!

    I’ve thought the same thing for years and years. The whole ‘women are complicated’ thing sounds potentially positive, but in fact it’s part of infantilizing women as a sex and leaves men completely off the hook of even attempting to understand us.

    Women are ‘of course’ too illogical to explain themselves and ‘of course’ too chaotic to be worth trying to figure out. All of this reinforces cultural stereotypes and supports the status quo.

    All of us have moments when our motives aren’t immediately obvious – even to ourselves. That doesn’t mean we can’t figure them out with a bit of effort and an open mind. And goodness knows Mr. Twistie sometimes refuses to consider that there might be more to his motivations once in a blue moon than meets the eye. Why? Because he’s a guy and guys are straightforward and uncomplicated, so what he’s doing has to make obvious sense. Right? Well, often yes, but sometimes no. And when he won’t accept the idea that he might be more complex, that hinders him from getting past some self-sabotaging behaviors left over from a difficult childhood. It’s not good for him, and it sure as hell isn’t helping me.

    He’s a wonderful guy, and we’re solid in our relationship. Sometimes, though, I wish he could understand that he’s complex, too, so he could help himself a bit more. At least he does get the fact that I have actual motives and triggers, even if I can’t tell him right off the bat what they or why they are. And at least he does understand that sometimes I make a decision based on something as simple as being tired or hungry or liking the color.

  8. Tara has obviously never heard of Sumo Wrestlers.

  9. Annitspurple permalink

    At first I thought that Tara’s comment was a joke. Well, it is, but I don’t think she meant it as such…

  10. Tara is the resident troll, but her comments are so outlandish I usually let them go for giggles. ::watches comment thread fall off the rails::

  11. tara permalink

    Sumo wrestlers consume MASSIVE ammounts of food to attain thier size, something Fat Acceptance would NEVER admit. Also when they stop sumo and resume a normal diet the weight comes off, something you claim is impossible. They eat Chankonabe. Look it up.

  12. Tara, I’ve written about sumiori LOTS of times. Just because I’m like that, I’ll do it again here.

    What sumiori do to reach their maximal weight on purpose is actually a great argument AGAINST dieting. First off, those who are selected for the job must have the GENETIC CAPACITY to become very large people, which in Japan generally means having Polynesian ancestry.

    Secondly, they don’t just eat a lot; they follow a very specific methodology for gaining as much weight as possible. This involves fasting for several days before a binge, since the sumiori know that not only does this slow down the metabolism, but will make them unbelievably hungry by the time they do sit down and eat, and therefore will eat as much as possible as fast as possible. And they still eat way more — by orders of magnitude — than most people have the GENETIC CAPACITY to put away even when they’re ravenously hungry. I can tell you I went to Todai once after three days of bowel prep, thinking I would just eat myself silly — but surprisingly enough, I couldn’t eat nearly that much. (Since their binges consist mainly of fish, rice, and vegetables — not the sort of thing most people would think to binge on — getting in as much of that food as possible is essential to peak performance.)

    They lose weight after they stop doing that? Big shocker. Even most non-sumiori fat people have never eaten like that even ONCE.

    But this is kind of what eating patterns are like (unwittingly, of course) when you have a history of chronic dieting. Starve, binge, gain; starve, binge, gain. Dieting UP to the next weight category in people with the GENETIC CAPACITY to become very fat is way more common than dieting DOWN, especially if you start dieting very young (and the fatter someone is, chances are the younger they were when they started dieting). Everyone thinks they’re going to be in the 5% that gets 50 pounds or more off and keeps them off permanently. Almost everybody is wrong. If you don’t start out being a binge eater, and your metabolism has been trashed by dieting since you were a fat kid, you’re probably not going to be one of the five percenters.

    (Not that I want this to go off the rails from praising Shinobi’s terrific post. Men are NOT simple either, believe me.)

  13. I’ll put Tara away now so she wont bother us anymore. Bye bye cute little troll! Maybe later we’ll bring you out again and braid your fuzzy hair!

    Thanks for responding to that Meowser. I told my doc yesterday that I went on my first diet in first grade, he was pretty shocked. (Though I don’t know why.) And you’re so right, men are NOT that simple, but somehow they all believe they are. Gee…. wonder how THAT happened.

  14. Piffle permalink

    I find that sitting and talking and trying to figure out myself is fairly non-productive. I tuck odd things away in a little box, and bring them out every once in a while to play with; eventually I usually understand things better, but it can take years. Then I get an “Aha!” moment and go on from there.

    I do agree that both men and women are complicated, so are kids for that matter. I’m not good at understanding, so I generally just observe.

  15. Ostara permalink

    I’ve only just happened upon your site but I have to say, I’m really eager to read more. This is really really excellently put. It’s the sort of thing I’ve felt for years but could never really put into words, particularly when I’d be bristling at some smug sounding girl saying in response to a guy “if we weren’t complicated, what would keep you guys interested?” (which typically always makes me want to headdesk into the next millennium) or yet another dude whining about how the “women are just so complicated and crazy because that’s just the way they are” (gah).

    Anyway, thanks for this and I look forward to reading more 🙂

  16. plonit almonit permalink

    I completely relate to this post in a queer (literally) way — I’m in my first serious relationship with a guy, and there are all sorts of gender norms that simply do not work for us. It’s this constant realization of how not “normal” we are. We communicate totally differently than a lot of straight couples I know, and when I read this post, I realized that this was EXACTLY why. If he took my complicatedness as a reason not to bother trying to understand me, I’d get pissed off fast. It reminds me of why I stopped dating so many guys. And one of the things I love so much about this guy is that he does want to understand me, and that he also understands that sometimes I don’t want to have to explain myself, and that’s not because “women are complicated”. I think he struggles with trying to accept himself as complex more than I try to accept myself as simple. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

  17. KellyK permalink

    I was chatting about this one with my husband, and we both came to the conclusion that men and women can both be complicated. Like you said, PEOPLE are complicated. He had the idea, and I think he’s got a point, that women talk about feelings more (or at least are perceived to) so the complexity is a bit more on the surface (or, again, people think of it as being more visible).

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