Well, maybe they cry more in Baltimore, (probably because they took The Wire off the air) but I am not seeing a lot of female tears. What I am seeing is a just-under-the-surface, self-critical anxiety that is easily triggered.
The good news is that there is more room and space now for women to be contrarian. "Men have historically had much more latitude, particularly in the workplace, for expressing anger and aggression," says psychiatrist and author of Necessary Ambition Dr. Anna Fels. "Women were stuck between a rock and a hard place, being passive or a bitch." The bad news is that in an increasingly competitive and cluttered culture, certain subjects strike a nerve, and same-sex squabbling is bound to break out.
Over dinner with a close friend one night, for example, I stated my antipathy toward Girls. She basically accused me of 'genius envy' and it has led to a barrage of pro and con critiques of the HBO series ever since. I would probably have to dig deep to decipher why I am opting for the fight not flight (I could change the channel) response. Does Lena Dunham represent the inadequacies of those of us who dreamed of speaking for a generation?
Then there is the shouting out that has come with the leaning in over Sheryl Sandberg's book. "I can only speculate that many women are so stressed out about all the conflicting pressures on them—to have a successful career, to raise perfect children, to maintain the perfect marriage—that they feel very defensive and lash out at anyone who offers a different viewpoint, " says Leslie Bennetts, author of The Feminine Mistake.
Whatever such hot-button issues reveal, it is clear that women—particularly midlife and beyond—often argue about the personal stuff, including work vs. home, relationships, and child-rearing. I recently found myself in a heated discussion over whether we should ever clean up our teenagers' rooms Public arguments among males, on the other hand, are often focused on things outside themselves. I also recently witnessed two grown men debate whether Kobe Bryant or LeBron James would be remembered as the better NBA player. It quickly escalated and created such cacophony that we finally asked them to take it outside.
Clearly, there is no correct answer to Kobe vs. LeBron, which may frustrate men more than women. "Many women view arguments as something you can keep working on," says Tannen. "Men don't like extended ones."
On the plus side for men, they don't seem to hold grudges as much. I watched two male friends slam doors on one another over how much money to spend on a dinner. By contrast, two of the 'nice girls' in my high school, who remained friends for 30 years, got into a serious standoff when one claimed the other did not send her an invitation to a reunion. While the men eventually ate and moved on, my high school girlfriends haven't spoken since. "Women often take arguing more personally," says Dr. Fels, "so it's harder to let go."