WASHINGTON — Do you recognize this scenario? You are on the phone, giving your phone number to someone. You recite the first three digits, pause a second for transcription, then continue with the rest. But just as you do, the other person inanely repeats the first three digits out loud, and everything gets lost in the cross talk, and you have to start over. And the same thing happens again. Mutual indecision ensues, with fitful stops and starts and stammers.
Yeah, me too. But here's what I also noticed: Almost always, this happens when the other person is a woman. When I made this observation to my friend Gina Barreca, the feminist scholar, Gina made the observation that I am an insufferable sexist who likes to stereotype women in unflattering ways.
That was a couple of months ago. Gina's on the phone now, with an apology.
Gina: It's not an apology. It's a clarification.
Gina: Since we spoke, this has happened to me several times, each time with a woman. Never with men. I was not going to give you the satisfaction of clarifying …
Gina: … until yesterday, when I was on the phone with my brother, and I did it to him, and he yelled at me and told me I do it all the time.
Gene: Can we explain this odd gender-specific phenomenon from a feminist perspective?
Gina: We can explain it from an antifeminist perspective. I think it is because many women don't trust themselves with numbers, and are seeking reassurance.
Gene: Bad at math!
Gina: Feel free to shoot me in the head.
Gina: Wait! I may be coming up with another explanation!
Gina: I am! I did! I like it better, and I just now decided it is the real, official answer. The first one is off the table. It is dead to me.
Gina: The phone number overlap happens because women are more apt to seek consensus, to make sure — before proceeding with something — that everyone is on the same page. It's nurturing, validating behavior, and it is entirely consistent with positive female values. It's the same reason why a woman won't adjust the thermostat, even if she is sweating copiously, until an inventory has been taken of all other people in the room, to make sure that everyone is equally uncomfortable, and that it's not "just me." A man walks into the same room, declares himself hot and sets the thermostat to 30 degrees.
Gina: This is so clearly the correct answer! I am a genius. It is the Unified Theory of Women. The Theory of Everywoman! It also explains the difference in getting off the phone.
Gene: What difference?
Gina: When a phone conversation is done, what do you do?
Gene: I say goodbye and hang up.
Gina: Exactly! Women do not do that. … Men "say goodbye," whereas women "are saying goodbye." Goodbye, for women, is a gerund. It is a time-consuming, collective endeavor, demanding consensus, permission, apology and closure. It goes on for a while — "goodbye," "so we'll talk later," "when's a good time for you?" — until it is clear that both parties are equally done and there is no feeling of abandonment. Women hang up simultaneously, but when a woman is talking to a man, she is always the one left holding the phone.
Gina: I feel good about this now.
Gene: Excellent. Okay, goodbye.
Gina: So, we're agreed, then? It's the second explanation, right?
Gene: Yep. 'Bye.
Gina: Do you need me to call ba …
Gene Weingarten can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can chat with him online at noon Tuesday at www.washingtonpost.com.