On being ... differently socialized?

By Ingrid Sapona

I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about how men and women are different, but the issue came up in a surprising way over the past couple weeks. A friend of mine (I’ll call him Henry) mentioned that his cousin (I’ll call him Ted) has been in an out-of-town hospital since Christmas with heart-related problems. During the course of the conversation I learned that though he’s concerned about him, Henry hasn’t sent Ted a get well card or anything. About all Henry’s done is ask Ted’s wife to relay his get well wishes.

I couldn’t believe it. Henry’s always struck me as pretty compassionate – the fact he mentioned Ted’s illness makes me think he’s been thinking about Ted. But not so much as a card? By the end of our conversation I had convinced Henry to drop Ted a note. Naturally, the next time we spoke, I asked whether he had. Henry admitted he hadn’t, but claimed it’s because he couldn’t find a good get well card. That struck me as bull, so I said I’d find him one.

After looking in a few nice card shops, I had to admit the selection of get well cards was pretty limited. And, given that Ted’s been in the hospital nearly six months, cards that talk about following doctor’s orders seem somewhat insulting and cheery sentiments about a quick recovery seem a bit late. So, I shifted gears and started looking for a little something Henry could send to brighten up the day of a guy in the hospital – or at least give Ted and his wife something new to chat about. (If you’ve ever visited anyone daily in the hospital, you know how nice it is to have something different to say for a change!)

Because it was just before Mother’s Day, nearly every gift shop display table and counter was full to the brim with gifts for women. The assortment and variety was astounding. The amount of creative and marketing energy directed at gifts in the $10-$20 range for mothers is impressive.

In one store I did manage to find a table with tchotchkes clearly meant for guys. There were a few dominant themes: golf, poker, and items related to bartending. Underwhelmed with the choices, I decided to wait to check out Father’s Day displays. Sure enough, earlier this week I found lots of them. To my frustration, however, the selection was not much better than the items I came across earlier. About the only new things out were barbecuing tools and accessories. For obvious reasons, none of these things seemed right for someone in the hospital.  

Eventually I found something I thought would fit the bill: a pair of wood pencils in the shape of drumsticks. Obviously, I don’t know if Ted is a frustrated drummer, but I figured most folks at one time or another fidget with their pen or pencil and so the idea of doing so with pencils that are the size and shape of drumsticks seems fun. Besides, if nothing else, Ted could use them to do a Sudoku with or even just to play tic-tack-toe with a visitor. So, I bought them.

The great disparity in terms of the nature and variety of small gift items available for women versus those for men got me thinking. If I was shopping for a gift for a woman in the hospital whom I’d never met, I’d have had no problem finding something that would fit the bill in terms of a cheery pick-me-up. Hell, if I were given a couple specifics – like a favourite colour and whether she does or doesn’t like scents – I’m sure I could find something she’d really appreciate and enjoy – whether it’s a scarf or costume jewellery; a lotion, soap or bubble bath; or gourmet goodies like tea, coffee, chocolates or cookies (not to mention flowers). Though most of the Mother’s Day gift items were things women wouldn’t necessarily buy for themselves, it’s clear that there’s a market for them.

I can’t help wonder whether the fact that there’s a more limited selection of small gift items for men reflects an inherent difference in what men and women appreciate? Do women appreciate small tokens more than men? If so, why is that? Is it something in our nature that helps us take pleasure in small things or see beauty in small things? Or are we more welcoming of small things because we’ve learned to settle for small tokens of appreciation? Or maybe the tremendous selection of gifts created for women is a reflection of the fact that gestures of appreciation and compassion are important to women. (That might explain why Henry hadn’t thought to send a card or note to Ted earlier.) 

Anyway, as for the drumsticks I got for Ted – I ended up returning them. After explaining to Henry why a get well card no longer seems appropriate but that it would be nice of him to send a little something so Ted knows Henry’s thinking of him, Henry agreed. And, as we talked more about it, Henry came up with the idea of a book, which I thought was terrific. The very next day Henry phoned to tell me the title of the book he just mailed to Ted. So, I happily took the drumsticks back.

I don’t know whether my cajoling made enough of an impression on Henry to convince him of the importance of such gestures in general, but in any event, I’m glad he at least made the effort with Ted.

© 2013 Ingrid Sapona


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