A new movie by Sofia Coppola – “The Beguiled” – has given rise to some discussion about a different perspective to be found in films directed by female as compared to male directors. In this instance, the movie is a remake of an earlier version of the same story – a wounded soldier in the Civil War recuperates in a girls boarding school – directed by a man. The question raised is whether this is simply a difference between two directors or does gender have something to do with it?

The question of gender differences is raised in relation to many issues these days as there is more interaction between men and women in the workplace and as men are expected to participate more fully in child care and household responsibilities. But expected changes in behavior at times run counter to older attitudes and feelings about the respective roles of men and women.

During the 80’s, when feminist sensibilities were at a high point, I was invited to sit in on a consciousness raising group – popular at that time. A discussion ensued about the difficulty of trying to get men to do their share of housework. The complaint was that men’s idea of having cleaned the bathroom or washed the floor was a joke – meaning that they, the women, would have to do it over anyway.

At a friend’s home for dinner, the man doing his part, set the table. He said to watch, his wife would come in and change the way he had done the napkins. In fact, that was exactly what happened. This seemed like a replay from a male point of view that women think men don’t do things the right way.

A father told me that he had a terrible time connecting to his new baby until he realized he was trying to do everything exactly the way his wife did it, thinking that hers obviously was the right way. He finally gave up, just taking care of the baby the best way he could and after that everything seemed to go much better.

There are differences in gender perspective, some based on ingrained social roles and others based in biology. These differences often give rise to familiar conflicts between mates, and between parents and children. This raises the question of how we can deal with such differences in perspective that are expressed in blame or irritation and disrupt relationships.

Perhaps a first step is to accept what can and what cannot be changed in any relationship. In the case of men not doing things the right way how much of that is a woman’s investment in her former territory? The same might be said of male attitudes about women in the workplace. Can we accept differences in the way we function yet also think about the role of teaching in bringing about change?

This applies particularly to relationships between parents and children. Developmental issues come into play, which are expressed in children’s behavior that runs counter to parents’ expectations or wishes. Children, during certain periods of development are unable to conform to what parents’ want, which parents may misread as defiance.

A couple came to see me about their two-year-old son. The mother’s complaint was that the child no longer listens to her. An example was the fact that the child likes to play with the drapery cord in the living room and despite her repeated instructions to stop, he continues the behavior. Mom wanted to know what discipline could be used. The father clearly disagreed with his wife’s description, saying he was just being a child.

Helping parents see this behavior in the context of a two-year-old, I said besides, you have a little boy there – you don’t want to cut his b…s off.  As I apologized for the language, the mom replied that she was sure her husband appreciated it. His response was a big smile.

In this situation increased maturity along with parental teaching could bring about desired change. But mom in particular, had to accept that the child’s self-assertion, determined in part by gender, needed to be respected.

Respecting differences while using teaching to bring about change, may be a good route to follow in many relationships.


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