This article originally appeared in the November 1996 issue of playboy magazine.
Do women have a special locus in the brain, possibly a node or even a nodule, that gives them a greater power than men to see the concealed, hear the mute, grasp the unfathomable? Is there really such a thing as women’s intuition?
Thank you and goodnight.
You know the kind of day when you can’t decide whether to shoot yourself or have a pedicure? When your actual elemental self is exposed and vulnerable, and you know that everything you do is critical to the entire future of your sanity? So that a wisp of a thread dangling from a shirt cuff has insanely crucial ramifications, but you don’t know what they are so you compulsively play computer solitaire?
That’s intuition knocking at the door, demanding to be let in with some kind of new fresh hell of insight. Men have it, just not as often as women. Because intuition isn’t extrasensory, genetic or magical. It’s the product of adaptive behavior. And in this society, women have had to adapt more than men. Oh, yes, they have.
Look, please, at traditional childhood conditioning. Say we are at any playground. Little Freddie, who is a hothead, smacks another boy with his Frisbee. Freddie’s mom gets annoyed and tells Freddie to stop that right now. The other parents shrug with a “whaddya gonna do? You don’t want no sissy” expression. Freddie’s mom smiles ruefully and goes back to her mystery novel.
Later on, little Emily smashes another kid in the knee with her shovel. Emily’s mom grabs her and hisses out a big lecture, the gist of which is, “Little girls don’t behave that way.” The other parents look away, embarrassed at the spectacle of the pint-size hoyden. When Emily and her mother leave, the term bad seed hangs in the air.
Little Freddie, censured for his behavior, has a still-intact sense of self. Little Emily is not criticized for her behavior but for who she is.
This is a big deal.
Emily (I’m becoming attached to my creation) is systematically taught to deny her aggressive, greedy side. It doesn’t matter if she just hates the sight of some boogerhead kid and wants to show him who’s boss or if some stupid bully steals her crayons. Tough shit, Emily. Little girls don’t hit and punch. Little girls are made of sweetness and spice and candied violets and puppy breath. No bone, muscle or grit. Tell your mommy, your daddy or your big brother. They’ll take care of you.
If the girl is taught never to be direct, the woman will be intuitive. She is intuitive so she can learn how to manipulate people.
Thus does a girl learn passivity and helplessness. (Before you start sending me angry e-mail, I know little Em is a stereotype cooked up by my brain. Mileage varies in actual lives. Yet the vast majority of children were in fact raised with these notions. If you’re a guy, take a poll of your sisters, female pals and girlfriends–if you’re a woman, just think back.) If the girl is taught never to be direct, the woman will be intuitive. She is intuitive so she can learn how to manipulate people.
What the hell else is she supposed to do, cross her fingers and pray that jobs, mates and happiness fall into her lap? If you’ve been brainwashed by your parents and your culture to never show aggression and to never simply go out and take what you want, you have to be sneaky. You play people. You figure out how to get them to do what you want without asking them.
Which means that you become really good at picking up the teeniest clues, the subtlest innuendos. A slightly averted glance or a twitching finger can mean volumes. You know precisely what that crossed ankle indicates. After many years of practice, you don’t even have to think, you just know all kinds of stuff about that guy over in the corner at the cocktail party.
And the more repressive and narrow the upbringing, the more a woman or a man is equipped with the capability to read minds. Psychics, I’m guessing, were brought up in sealed cardboard boxes. And plenty of us had appalling childhood incidents that jump-started the intuitive process.
Say, for example, you’re me. You go to some kind of allegedly enlightened summer camp where nobody’s supposed to have any hang-ups, and the counselors–Aryan teenagers–force you to undress in front of everybody and ridicule and abuse you if you attempt to hide or cry or do anything besides what they tell you to do, and you do not fight back. The fucking sadistic bastards. I hope that they’re living lives of desperate misery somewhere. Oh, sorry. But you see what I’m saying.
And men who’ve had lousy childhoods are the most intuitive bastards I know, even more than women, because men do not, as a rule, share and therefore assuage bad feelings. But even average men have fleeting intuitions. They call these “gut feelings.” Gut feelings may often be ignored, because they don’t jibe with surface realities. If your accountant suddenly gives off a shifty vibe, you figure you’re just being paranoid: Mavis is a good gal, she’s been doing my taxes for years! But follow that paranoia, see where it leads. Maybe Mavis is just having troubles at home, but maybe she is building up a nice bank account in the Cayman Islands.
Feelings and hunches are always valid in some way. Pay attention. Follow where the thought goes for a minute. Probe the queasy spot in your psyche. It’s not just a random tic, it’s real information. The more you dig, the more truth will come to the surface.
It may be ugly, it may crash your system for a while, but the truth is a good thing to know–even if the truth is that your mate is unfaithful, or you were routinely ridiculed, humiliated and abused as a child.
The truth will set you free. Lah-di-fucking-dah.