Women – be on your guard. There’s a new male excuse for not listening to us.
Sunday August 14, 2005
A recent study from Sheffield University reveals that men find it nigh on impossible to listen to what women say because their brains are out of synch with ‘complex female tones’. Apparently, when men listen to other men about the things that really matter (sport, alcohol, Jordan versus Jodie), they use only the rudimentary frontal area of their brains. However, when they listen to women it’s a different story. They have to work much harder, employing a part of the brain that normally deals with music. Hence the ‘domestic’ or ‘selective’ deafness that so many women complain about: it’s not men’s fault at all – it is just the way they’re made. On a more interesting note, it would seem that when a man tells you your voice is ‘music to his ears’, he’s actually telling the truth, though not in a good way. I have to admit, I’ve not encountered much ‘selective deafness’. With me, men have tended to favour ‘complete deafness’, either standing there with their fingers in their ears, or buying those tiny radios where you can listen to sport secretly on one discreet headphone. (You know who you are.) Clearly my ‘complex female tones’ have proved too much for some, and I’m sure a lot of women could recall times when they have painstakingly wasted hours of their lives explaining why they are completely right about everything in the world (bullet points, pie charts, the works), only to wake up the next day to discover that not one brilliant point or pronouncement got through. And yes, I suppose there are times when some of us take it too far. In a rare moment of self-awareness, I once realised that being nagged at by me must be like experiencing a Vietnam flashback without the helicopters: lots of pointless noise; a cry of ‘Man down!’; an unspecified feeling of dread. But then there are other times, when women are being entirely calm and reasonable, and men still can’t hear them. With this scientific discovery, could it be possible that the problem isn’t ‘communication breakdown’ after all; merely the old rock’n’roll standby ‘musical differences’?
Forgive me for being thick: those times when men haven’t listened to me, I just thought I was being ignored. I didn’t realise I was being Aerosmith (see pointless noise), or Janis Joplin (shrieking, nagging) or Norah Jones (whingeing, sulking). If I’d realised I was being heard as ‘music’ I would have had a bit of fun with it.
I would have aimed for Tori Amos (perceptive, foxy, sitting down at piano), early Radiohead (impenetrable, mysterious, defiantly bad haircuts), or Charles Aznavour (operating on the logic that no man can resist a French accent). Whenever I wanted a ‘discussion’ I’d have brought along my sprawling backing band, complete with string and horn sections, and tediously introduced them one by one, in the same way real artistes do when you’ve paid good money to see them and they want to waste half an hour. I might even have spiced up some of my domestics with some Kate Bush ‘interpretative dancing’ (oh wait, I already do) or announced my every arrival into a room with a burst of the 1812 Overture. If men process women’s voices as music, then music is what I’d be. A veritable human iPod if that’s what it takes. Trouble is, I’m not so sure it is. It is difficult not to be suspicious of yet more scientific findings letting men off the hook on account of their physiology. Just like the thing about their penises being ‘programmed’, now it would seem their hearing has been affected. Isn’t this ‘slaves to biology’ all-purpose excuse wearing thin? It’s enough to make you marvel at what a strange helpless species men are – which part of the body will be ‘beyond their control’ next. A bit like women saying, ‘Oh no, my breasts just ran out of the door and pressed themselves against Thierry Henry and I just couldn’t stop them.’
Even if there is something in it, we have to take into account that musically most relationships are likely to become Coldplay (start off quite interesting, have their moments, but can become repetitive). That’s the truth of the matter. Male or female, your voice might start out as music to your beloved’s ears, but ultimately it will end up as muzak. When your dulcet tones are there all the time, endlessly piping through someone’s lives, as they go about their daily business, you start to blend in a bit too much, lose your ‘wow’ factor, until finally you become a kind of low-grade background relationship hum. If you don’t agree then ponder this. How many guys would sit staring blankly into space if Angelina Jolie asked them to pick up the dry cleaning?