The Male Answer Syndrome

Or, Why Men Always Have Opinions, Even On Subjects They Know Nothing About

In the animal kingdom, males exhibit what is known as “display behavior” in order to attract females and to ward off rival males. They thrust out their chests, ruffle their plumage, and generally try to appear more impressive than they really are. On nature shows, this is comic. It appears comic, too, when it shows up among humans: the guy in the bitchin’ Camaro with all the gold chains, say, or the overdone leather biker outfit. It has been discovered that display behavior is much more common among humans than had been previously believed.

ask me anything

Have you ever wondered why:

Men who have never been west of Kentucky
can tell you about the mentality of the Japanese?

Men who can’t pay their credit-card bills have a
plan for dealing with the national debt?

Men who aren’t on speaking terms with their
families know how to achieve peace in the Middle East?

Men who flunked high-school physics can explain
what went wrong at NASA?

Men who haven’t had a date in six months know
what women really want?

I Have An Opinion

Try an experiment: Ask your friend, who might spend his weekends fixing up his Harley or watching wrestling and NASCAR, how he thinks political intervention will affect the the price of oil. His brow will furrow; he will purse his lips thoughtfully. “It’s interesting that you mention that…,” he will begin, and then he will come up with something – probably nothing remotely feasible, but he will say something.

This behavior – the chronic answering of questions regardless of actual knowledge is known as Male Answer Syndrome.  The compulsion to answer varies from person to person, but few men are happy saying, “I don’t know.” They prefer, “That’s not what’s important here.”

They try not to get bogged down by petty considerations, such as, “Do I know anything about this subject?” or “Is what I have to say interesting?” They take a broad view of questions, treating them less as requests for specific pieces of information than as invitations to expand on some theories, air a few prejudices, and tell a couple of jokes. Some men seem to regard life as a talk show on which they are the star guest. If you ask, “What is the capital of Peru?” they hear, “So tell us a bit about your early years, Bob.”

I Know The Answer

Sometimes this expansiveness is appealing. If you ask a woman, “Why did Madonna try another comeback?” she will simply shrug helplessly, acknowledging that some things are simply unknowable. A man, on the other hand, will come up with a few theories (overdose of Prozac, onset of menopause, etc). Men have the courage and inventiveness to try to explain the inexplicable.

But Male Answer Syndrome (MAS) is by no means harmless, as my friend Shelley discovered at the age of 8. She had found that eating ice cream made her teeth hurt and asked her father whether Eskimos had the same problem. “No,” he said. “They have rubber teeth.” Shelley repeated this information in a geography lesson and found herself the laughing stock of the class. That was how she learned that a man, even if he is your own father, would rather make up an answer than admit to his ignorance. Later in life women run into the same problem: Men can speak with such conviction that women may be fooled into thinking that they actually know what they’re talking about.

My Harley and NASCAR friends are full of expertise on subjects as diverse as global warming and Elvis’ current location. In reality, however, they are an expert at only one thing: making very little knowledge go a very long way. For these people, answering is a game, and not knowing what in the hell they are talking about just adds to the thrill.

Let Me Tell You

Expressing skepticism can be highly inflammatory. Even mild-mannered Abe Lincoln types may react to, “Are you sure about that?” as a vicious slur on their manhood and find themselves backing up a ludicrous assertion with spurious facts.

Many women actively encourage male answering behavior. There is in the female correlative condition known as the Say What? Complex. Women who behind closed doors expound eloquently on particle physics may be found, in male company, gaping at the news that the earth is round.

Male Answer Syndrome tends to be mild until puberty; boys begin to speak with authority on matters of foreign policy and women at the same time they start to grow facial hair. And, why did Male Answer Syndrome develop in the first place? Well, since killing woolly mammoths and attacking enemies with rocks are now frowned upon, and since shirts open to the navel are not very appropriate in some social situations, men must now prove their masculinity by concocting elaborate theories about football and how to pick-up women.

By Jane Campbell, Utne Reader, Jan/Feb 1992

Author: Rude Boy

Ruder than you.

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