« Assertive vs. Nice. Guess who wins? | Blog Main | Babe Scientist »

Mr. Coffee?

I started this morning with an annoying story from my roommate. Because I am finding it impossible to stop picking at the elements that are wrong about it, I'm going to share it with you. Aren't you lucky?

My roommate's boyfriend was taking a writing class with a well known author. The author panned one of the boyfriend's short stories for, among other things, having an unrealistic female character. What was unrealistic about her? She was addicted to coffee. No one would ever believe such a woman could exist. After all, it's men who are addicted to coffee. Women are addicted to chocolate.

Naturally, my roommate told me this story while clutching her morning essential -- her mug of coffee -- tight in her hand. A stop in any coffee shop in the country will provide evidence for the cross-gender appeal of the brew. So how could this author, presumably a reasonably smart guy, get his gender stereotypes so wrong?

I think there are a few things going on here.

First, I suspect this is a classic example of him believing what he thinks. Maybe when he was growing up, his dad drank coffee in the mornings and his mom didn't, or his dad made a big deal about it, or all his male teachers were never seen without a cup of coffee. Whatever the case, his expectation was set such that men drink coffee in a way that women don't. (If he'd grown up in my house, he'd never have been able to reach that conclusion!)

Second, he sees things as men vs. women. I see lots of men and lots of women drinking coffee on a daily basis. I hear lots of women and lots of men talk about how much they need their coffee in the morning in order to get going. It wouldn't occur to me to think of this as a place where gender differences exist, much less that they're salient. I don't know if more men are "addicted" to coffee than women, proportionally, and I'm pretty sure our author friend doesn't, either.

Third, he doesn't let evidence dissuade him from his theory. Even if -- and I say "if" here with a lot of skepticism -- even if there is a difference in the proportion of men and the proportion of women who drink coffee and joke about being addicted to it, there are obvious examples demonstrating that this is not an either-or situation. That is, if this guy paid attention to the world around him, he would see numerous evidence debunking his theory that it's unrealistic to describe a female character as being addicted to coffee.

Finally, he's just not thinking. It's not exciting to realize you're wrong, after all, and it can feel good to separate people into types.

So my roommate's boyfriend's story got panned, but at least he knows the guy doing the panning can't be trusted to say something useful, anyway.