|Quotes • Headscratchers • Playing With • Useful Notes • Analysis • Image Links • Haiku • Laconic|
"Did you know Albert Einstein argued with his wife? Smartest man in the world and even he didn't get women."
—Dr. Manhattan's scientist friend in Watchmen
You know this trope. It's the one where people of different genders are treated as if they were more like different species, and species that can't communicate or get along at that. Since characters in works using this tend to be overwhelmingly heterosexual, they are nevertheless compelled to seek interaction with each other. This usually works out about as well for all involved as you would expect.
While often "officially" a Discredited Trope, this is often also claimed as Truth in Television, sometimes with an edge of brave speaking out against Political Correctness Gone Mad, or with a Debate and Switch or "Just Joking" Justification approach.
Subtropes include Men Buy From Mars, Women Buy From Venus, along with just about every "war of the sexes" trope in fiction.
Key signs that this trope is in effect in a work: you appear to have come into a world where
- The ways of men are by their very nature incomprehensible to women, and vice versa: a great deal of the dialogue will be attempts to decode the mysterious ways of wo/men ("What did s/he mean by [insert action/dialogue]"). This will rarely involve asking the particular wo/man in question, but will often involve the protagonist asking another opposite-sex character to explain their incomprehensible significant other.
- For extra bonus points, have the protagonist ask their opposite-sex best friend, who is secretly pining for them, to help them understand (and win) Alice/Bob.
- And for the grand prize, have them ask their same-sex friend, who claims to be an expert on the opposite sex and has no idea what they're talking about.
- The goals of women and men by their very nature diverge and may even conflict outright: even if a relationship between opposite-sex partners manages to get off the ground (not always the case), the ride will continue to be bumpy.
- Bonus points for this leading to a crisis about getting married and/or moving in together, and for complaining to third parties about the significant other's gender-specifically annoying ways, such as (according to gender and matching stereotypes) refusing to talk about their feelings/putting cutesy stuff and scented candles in the bathroom/never putting the toilet lid down/filling the house with shoes).
- Both these points will tend to be lampshaded, shape characterization, and drive the plot, whether Played for Laughs or Played for Drama, or both.
Characters need not be (entirely) flat, but women characters will tend to be stereotypically female and men stereotypically male. Deviations from stereotype, where they appear, will tend to be plot points in their own right as exceptions that prove the rule, and are usually resolved by a return to something more stereotypical (e.g. Tomboy Wrench Wench gets her man when she finally cleans up nicely).
Which particular gender stereotypes are invoked may vary considerably, and inconsistently, even within the same work: (e.g. women want romance/men want sex; women want to talk about feelings and go to the opera/MenAreUncultured; All Women Love Shoes/all men hate shopping; women are Closer to Earth/men are all Man Children, etc.) Stock contrasting stereotypes (hello, Betty and Veronica) may substitute for nuance will often also be in play. Outright logical contradiction between different stereotypes will rarely, if ever, be addressed.
Insofar as this trope tends to rely heavily on binary gender stereotypes, it also functions (in a somewhat complicated way) as a Super-Trope of several other Gender and Sexuality Tropes: expect regular joint appearances by complementary tropes such as All Men Are Perverts and All Women Are Prudes.
The key point, whichever particular stereotypes are invoked, and even where they are/seem to be avoided, is that male and female characters align so as to allow the first three points to apply. Whether men or women (or neither) come off better for the comparison may vary. Expect Double Standards to apply fairly frequently if the work does take a side for one or the other gender.
Works using this trope often also tend to outright celebrate the stereotypes they invoke (embrace your inner Man Child/Imelda Marcos!), and see them as making an essential contribution to the value of opposite-sex relationships, which just wouldn't be as meaningful without this particular source of misunderstandings and tension. Conversely, though, even where this trope is combined with outright misogyny or misandry, obtaining (at least) one of the opposite sex as a partner is still usually viewed as essential and urgent.
In works that use this trope as a central element, naturally, both male and female characters will also, as noted above, tend to be overwhelmingly or even exclusively heterosexual. Male homosexuals, usually of the Camp Gay variety, may appear, often in a Pet Homosexual role as a female character's friend. Lesbians tend to appear even less frequently, except as fantasy objects for male characters (and viewers): Bait and Switch Lesbians may appear for similar reasons, but rarely get beyond a Sweeps Week Lesbian Kiss.
Characters male and (especially) female who are affected by this trope may occasionally get wistful about the idea of how much easier things would supposedly be if they could only get together with someone of their own sex, but this rarely goes anywhere lasting, and the work will rarely notice how many potential Unfortunate Implications and internal contradictions there are in this line of thought. Transsexuals are also rare, but not entirely excluded, though expect treatment of any Gender Blending Tropes to reinforce rather than bring into question more traditional/mainstream gender binaries.
Almost unavoidable by definition in Chick Lit and Lad Lit, and the corresponding flick genres, and pervasive if not quite inevitable in Rom Com. Also frequent feature of Dom Com.
The presence of certain actors (Jennifer Aniston, Meg Ryan, Sarah Jessica Parker, and on the Spear Counterpart side, Michael Douglas, Vince Vaughn and Seth Rogen) tends to indicate this trope will come into play.
Also a common feature of observational Stand Up Comedy. Oh, and there's just a tiny bit of this in Advertising, too, as seen in Men Buy From Mars, Women Buy From Venus. This trope is also most of the raison d'etre of magazines specifically meant for one or the other gender (Cosmopolitan, FHM, etc.)
Do not expect works that invoke this trope heavily on a regular basis to be shining examples of feminism; however, in a perverse way, they tend to do better than average on The Bechdel Test, as in order to set up this trope they will normally introduce multiple female characters alongside the male ones, and by law of averages a few of the female characters' discussions will not be directly related to the opposite sex.
The Heteronormative Crusader probably believes in this trope.
- Played with throughout When Harry Met Sally.
- The Ugly Truth.
- Down With Love.
- How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days.
- Sex and the City and the whole He's Just Not That Into You spin-off industry.
- Friends, not infrequently.
- Coupling tends towards this a lot.
- Married... with Children
- Two and A Half Men
- Many episodes of According to Jim end with an Aesop about the differences of men & woman and what it means to be a good husband/wife, that are treated as universally applicable. One episode has Jim countering the new metrosexual trend by becoming a flannelsexual advocate for traditional gender roles.
- Often avoided in How I Met Your Mother - most of the relationship conflicts are not about steroetypical behaviors of one gender or the other, and sometimes even reverses the roles.
- Many of Barney's rendezvous, however, play this trope straight.
- Cheers and Frasier both have tendencies to this, if less overtly so for Frasier.
- Home Improvement- a definite example of Men Are Uncultured as both something men are/should be proud of, as well as something that makes women Closer to Earth.
- In the universe of The Big Bang Theory, almost all nerds are male and their nerdiness can be awkward when trying to talk to women.
- Just about EVERY 1950s and 1960s sitcom, including The Flintstones and The Jetsons.
- In an episode of Sabrina the Teenage Witch Sabrina casts a spell on herself to become a boy because she wants to understand how they think. Hilda does the same.
- Subverted in Malcolm in the Middle episode "If Boys Were Girls". Frustrated by her son's behavior, Lois decides to imagine a world in which she has three well-behaved girls. However, she eventually realizes that boys and girls aren't so different from each other.
- Harry Potter at one point complains that it's as if girls speak an entirely different language.
- The characters are fourteen at the time - among adults and older teens in the Harry Potter universe this isn't nearly as much of a problem. Fourteen-year-olds are incredibly susceptible to this trope; people that age generally suck at communicating within a romantic relationship due to lack of experience and/or lack of maturity, and the ones in heterosexual relationships can blame it on their love interest being an incomprehensible girl/boy.
- Hermione is actually smart and mature enough to explain some such misunderstandings. She still has difficulties with Ron later, but that's mostly because he has similar difficulties understanding himself, let alone others.
- The Wheel of Time makes this central to the setting, even building it into the Functional Magic.
- This is also the case for Ursula K. Le Guin's The Earthsea Trilogy, at least in the beginning - only men have magical training; women's magic is a byword for incompetence and for malice.
- The Black Jewels series by Anne Bishop, oh so very much.
- In The Dresden Files novelette Aftermath, told from Karrin Murphy's POV, Murphy keeps telling us that men speak their own language that has nothing to do with English without even realizing it. She calls it Martian and insists that while she learned to speak it by necessity, she has no idea what thought processes are responsible for it.
- Another quick example pops up in Proven Guilty when Harry complains about wanting to talk with Thomas, but not telling Thomas that.
Murhy: Let me get this straight. You want him to talk to you, but you won't actually tell him or ask him any questions. You sit around with the silence and tension and no one says anything.
- Bridget Jones, so very much.
- Dave Barry's works, especially Dave Barry's Guide to Guys.
- Sisterhood series by Fern Michaels: Absolutely loaded with this! In this series, men are unable to understand women at all, except for Jack Emery, and even he has failed in his attempts several times. The author firmly sided with women in this series, with an unhealthy dose of misandry thrown in. Naturally, you have Double Standards, Henpecked Husbands, Unfortunate Implications, as well as a cringe-inducing speech by one female character about how men are actually little boys at heart, and you just need to give them a few things to keep them happy! Indeed, women in this series are presented as understanding men completely, except evidence in the series points to the fact that the author and, by extension, the female characters don't understand anything about men!
- The Belgariad. Women are incomprehensible to men, who almost never win an argument against them, and there are some things about each gender the opposite is just unable to comprehend.
- The website Girls Ask Guys revolves around this concept, providing a place for people of either gender to ask questions and share their life experiences, in a general bid to attempt to better one anothers' understanding of the mysteries of the other side.
- Pretty much the entire point of Cathy
Some comedians that rely heavily on this trope:
- Jo Brand
- Bill Hicks (see "Chicks dig jerks)"
- Denis Leary
- Chris Rock
- Christopher Titus
- Whitney Cummings
- Margaret Cho, although it's more a case of Gay Dude Straight Dude
- German comedian Loriot who coined the quote: "Männer und Frauen passen einfach nicht zueinander!" (Men and women simply don't fit together!)
- The degree to which this trope applies to Catherine would be a good, essay-length discussion of how the game portrays the intricacies of gender relationships. On one hand, the central plot element is about a laid-back slacker trying to decide whether he'd be happier settling down or remaining unchained, with a Betty and Veronica Love Triangle externalizing his decision. Mars-and-Venus symbolism abounds: the planetary symbols are ubiquitous, one of the background tracks is a Classical Music remix of an ode to the planet Mars, and one of the worst things that can happen to the player is the "Curse of the Morning Star" (i.e., Venus). Most of the protagonist's friends don't "get" women, or make assumptions about the fair sex that are flat-out wrong. When their favorite waitress—the most approachable female character—tries to set the poor boys straight, none of them take her advice. Instead, they scoff because it's assumed she wouldn't get it either. Though this is because she is MtF. The other women don't get as much screen time, but don't fare any better: "Betty" is a straight-laced Ice Queen type, while "Veronica" shows early signs of Yandere behavior. So, what does the game ultimately decide about this Trope? It doesn't. You do.
- Questionable Content - full of Female Character X explaining to Male Character Y that "girls all..." and vice versa (though these seem like they're meant to be rules of thumb rather than statements of literal fact), and occasional examples of the 'men and women don't speak the same language' subtrope that usually lead to severe confusion, painful misunderstandings, or both in combination. It gets off pretty lightly compared to most of these examples, though, since none of the characters are defined utterly by their gender and the stereotypes thereof (although Steve sometimes comes close to being a stereotypical man, especially when drunk), nor is it Anviliciously heteronormative.
- Something Positive doesn't employ as many stereotypes as some examples, and has more non-heterosexual characters than most examples, but still portrays an inherent and quite deep divide between men and women.
- Sluggy Freelance has many such moments. Torg, Riff and Gwynn especially can be pretty stereotypical. And then there's Aylee, who sometimes naturally acts clearly "female" but at others still has huge difficulties understanding how that works in human society. Some characters are not affected at all, such as Sasha or Bun-bun.
- Present in this article here.Not a parody. For a Distaff Counterpart, see also . Note: these are examples of this trope because they both present the dynamic as being true to the fundamental nature of the genders, and of individual people as members of them - which is rather different than just saying some people like sub/dom dynamics on an individual level, or without the gender-based essentialism.
- Spoofed in South Park Bigger Longer and Uncut. Satan and Saddam Hussein are in bed together, and while Saddam Hussein is waving dildoes suggestively at Satan, Satan is reading Saddam is from Mars, Satan is from Venus and bemoaning their inability to communicate.
- One episode of The Fairly Odd Parents has Timmy wishing he was a girl so he could figure out what his crush wants for her birthday. Justified, since the kids still believe that Girls Have Cooties. Chester discusses this when he sees Timmy as a girl going into an arcade and freaks out: "Boys like frogs, girls like dolls. Boys like video games, girls like makeup. We're different! That's why we have different bathrooms!"
- Family Guy subverts this when Chris meets a girl who has a lot of things in common with him. He doesn't immediately realize she's a girl for this reason.
- Parodied in Futurama with the Omicronians: "It is true what they say. Women are from Omicron Perseii 7, men are from Omicron Perseii 9."
- The more recent episode "Neutopia" exaggerates the differences between men and women for comedic purposes, before introducing a Sufficiently Advanced Alien who creates harmony by making everyone gender-neutral. Everyone's fine with it until they realize it means no more sex, at which point they demand their genders back—only the alien gets a few things wrong.
- Hilariously subverted in Phineas and Ferb by Candace, who has a tendency to overcomplicate things by assuming this is the case.
- From "The Baljeatles":
Stacy: I think it's going really well; he asked me to save him a dance.
- And that's not even getting into the fake mustache...
- On a sidenote, binary contrasts similar to the Mars/Venus one tend to feature heavily in Boys Love works and Slash Fic, with Seme and Uke couples, which often come complete with the same problems of communication and getting along as this trope attributes to heterosexual coupling. This just might be due to Most Fanfic Writers Are Girls, though.