The Truth, Mainly - 06/25/2001

Male listening: Did you just say something?
by Leon Satterfield

"Hah?" I say to my wife. "Did you just say something?"

She gives me a look.

"I've been saying something for about five minutes," she says. "Weren't you listening?"

"Well, I must have been listening," I say. "I don't know what else I could have been doing. I wasn't talking, so I suppose I was listening. Did I seem interested?"

"You had that blunked-out look on your face," she says.

"Which blunked-out look?" I say.

"The blunked-out look you get in church," she says, "just before you ask me if your watch is still running."

"Let's start over then," I say.

"Let's," she says, rolling her eyes.

*   *   *

"Hah?" I say. "Did you just say something?"

"Why, yes, I did," she says. "I was just telling you about this fascinating article I read in the science section of the L.A. Times last winter. It was all about how men listen differently than women."

"You can remember what you read last winter?" I say. "I can't remember what I read last night."

"Of course you can't," she says. "You, poor thing, are male. The article says that although male brains are larger than female brains, they're more damaged by the aging process. Female brains are smaller, but, the article says, they 'seem to work more efficiently and appear to age more successfully.'"

"And how might they know that?" I say. "Women's intuition? Heh, heh, heh."

"They know it by observation," she says. "According to the article, researchers at Indiana University School of Medicine wired up 10 men and 10 women to magnetic resonance imaging machines so they could compare how male and female brains work."

"I already knew that," I say. "I was just checking to see if you did. So what'd they do after they wired up the brains?"

"They read aloud passages from a John Grisham novel," she says, "and they watched the MRI scanner while it showed changes in neural activity in the brains."

"I'd ask what they discovered," I say, "but I know you're going to tell me whether I ask or not."

"They discovered," she says, "that most of the male listeners showed activity in only the left side of the brain."

"So?" I say.

"You're not going to like this," she says, "but they found that most female listeners showed neural activity in both sides of the brain."

"Hah?" I say.

"And you know what that means?" she says. "It means that most women are a lot more plugged in as listeners than most men are."

"What's for supper?" I say.

"Which, they say, is probably why little girls tend to talk and read sooner than little boys," she says. "Little girls are paying more attention because they're using both sides of their brains while little boys are using just one side. And it's probably why you can sit there and seem to listen to me for five minutes and not even remember that I was talking, much less what I was talking about."

I remain silent for a few moments while I gather my massive male mental powers. Then I speak.

"Did it ever occur to you or to those goofball researchers at Illinois," I say, my voice filled with great gravitas, "that we listen with only one side of our brains because that's all we need? That to make the gender game fair, we play with half our brains tied behind our backs?"

"Indiana," she says.

"Hah?" I say.

"The researchers were from the University of Indiana," she says. "You said Illinois. You said Illinois because you weren't listening very well. And you just plagiarized that half-your-brain-tied-behind-your-back bit from Rush Limburger, didn't you?"

"I don't remember," I say. "And you, Miss Smartypants, must mean Rush Limbaugh. Limburger is stinky cheese."

"Whatever," she says. "Anyway, it figures. Rush Limburger is so full of himself that he never listens either. He's just acting out his pitiable male destiny."

"Pitiable male destiny?" I say.

"It's very sad," she says, then she quotes directly from the L.A. Times story: "'Indeed, the human brain begins as an essentially female structure; in males it is then altered by the onrush of the hormone testosterone during early development.'"

I'd like to use my massive male mental powers to refute her argument, but I can't quite remember what her argument is. So I say the first thing that comes to mind.

"Nuh-uh," I say. "Like fun."

"Even with only half your brain engaged," she says, "you should be able to do better than that. It's not even half witty. Surely a half-wit can be half witty. Don't you think?"

"Hah?" I say. "Did you just say something?"


Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail address is:

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