“Male Answer Syndrome” (MAS) is the tendency among men to give answers to questions whether they know anything about the subject or not, particularly when in the presence of women. The idea was first written about by Jane Campbell in the “Utne Reader” in 1992. It seems that women tend to be more truthful and modest about their knowledge — or lack of it — than men, and are more likely to answer, “I don’t know.” Some men hardly ever venture those three little words.
Psychologists tell us it’s a form of “male display behavior” and is a subtle method of attracting females. It’s prevalent in pretty well all cultures and can result in significant abuse when inappropriately used from positions of power — politicians, generals, salesmen, priests, critics, etc.
Researchers also report that many females actively encourage Male Answer Syndrome. Thus we have “Female Question Syndrome” (FQS), coined by Bob Genn in 2010. During a recent speech, I had an opportunity to observe the phenomenon and watch myself in action. Women asked pretty well all the questions. They were mostly good ones like, “Do you pre-visualize, or do you make it up as you go along?” or, “Why Sap green?” Straightforward and useful, these questions didn’t leave much room for baloney. Questions of a more difficult nature had me catch myself to stay on track. The only male questioner was a folded-armed, glowering chap who asked, “Do you still have your Bentley?” I had the distinct feeling that he would rather be on the stage exhibiting MAS tendencies himself.
Now here’s the interesting part: Jane Campbell pointed out, “Men have the courage and inventiveness to try to explain the inexplicable.” This suggests the use of creativity, fictionalizing and visualization. A man may even start to believe his own baloney. This might account, in part, for the disproportionate number of men over women actively successful in the arts. While there are far more female artists than male, we often find the women networking, taking courses, and politely asking questions. At the same time, more men are riding to the top. In some cases it may be on ever-building crests of baloney.
PS: “Growing awareness of MAS has led some to call for a moratorium on all male-female conversation. This is alarmist. But women must remind themselves that if a man tells them something particularly interesting, there is a good chance that it is untrue.” (Jane Campbell)
Esoterica: I have observed that successful male artists often exhibit some typical female tendencies (sensitivity, flair, humility, empathy, etc.), while successful female artists often exhibit some typical male tendencies (egotism, audacity, righteousness, exaggeration, etc.). Nothing to do with sexual preferences, it has lots to do with creative impulses. Men may be from Mars and women from Venus, but in the art game they both need to come together on Earth. Girls can also learn to take more liberties with the truth, to ride on a crest of baloney. And girls need to remember what boys have always known: The shakier the position, the more baloney required.
Ample demonstration of MAS
by Christy Michalak
I shared this with my husband and here’s his response: “Male Answer Syndrome first arrived on the planet when the girl amoeba asked the boy amoeba why he was so crass. He said he couldn’t help it cause his cytoplasm was in reverse inverted dioxyplasmic reflex shock. She called him a vacuole and then ate him.”
(RG note) Thanks, Christy. And thanks to all who sent excellent examples of MAS as exhibited by husbands, boyfriends, instructors — but particularly by husbands — ex and otherwise.
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Painting the baloney
by Claudia Cohen, Sausalito, CA, USA
This one really hit a bone or two, including my funny bone. I’m now thinking of painting a mountain of baloney, with little artist figures, of both sexes, climbing the slippery slopes involved. I wonder if I can paint that… Maybe…. Time now to get painting…
The power of childhood programming
by Marlene Lewis, Webster Groves, MO, USA
Often, women seem to want men to come up with the answers, whether those answers are true or not. Maybe it’s an evolutionary thing where little girls grow up realizing what their roles will eventually be in the real world and knowing that they will have to be grounded in reality in order to produce and raise babies. Girls probably devote a good deal of their early childhoods “fictionalizing” their future roles as ‘good mommies.’ On the other hand, it seems that boys often spend their early years fictionalizing themselves as heroes and conquerors. Lots of room for ego-expanding fantasies. And, mothers and fathers alike seem to foster those grandiose ideas. Hence, the children grow up… one sex devoted to perpetuating the species, the other expanding to new frontiers and trying (hopefully) to keep in check their desire to destroy it.
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Balancing the genders
by Paul deMarrais, TN, USA
I have found the cure for Male Answer Syndrome. You have to laugh at yourself regularly. Sometimes as a workshop teacher I find myself spouting some amazing b.s. When this happens I make a joke about it. We all laugh and fresh air invades the space. I believe women are better at humor than men. They take themselves less seriously and are better at coping with complexities. They are more selfless, having to raise children and to care for others. Perhaps some are too selfless and need a bit of ‘selfish’ added to achieve more mastery. Men, conversely, are good at selfish but need to work on servanthood. I find male artists do tend to see the value of their ‘feminine side,’ at least the artistic men who are fun to be around! An inflated ego quickly makes you a clown. As the process continues, you also become insufferable, boring and eventually left alone. Women can be annoyingly self deprecating, self eliminating and masochistic and if that goes unchecked become bitter victims of life. This is no fun in the end either. Balance is the way to go. Each gender needs to see the value of the other and in the other. We need each other to be at our best.
(RG note) Thanks, Paul. While there were tons of responses to this one, there was a remarkable shortage of letters from men. Thanks for your excellent one. I have to give another speech in a week or so and I’m totally worried what I might say. Perhaps that explains it.
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by Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, AB, Canada
Men may simply be perceived as being more successful, as anything seen as a rarity is often seen as having more value. To their detriment, the large numbers of women painting sentimental subjects are continually decreasing their value. And a humble person in a creative endeavour is even more of a rarity. Observations made at workshops, and attended mostly by women are interesting to say the least. Over the course of ten years, I watched as one female participant asked the same questions of each instructor, most often a man, who always gave her the same answers over and over again. Then, afterwards, occurred this dichotomy; I watched her FASing to others on her newly acquired knowledge. Then, observed again, as she was unable to apply this information to her own work. BS syndrome out of sync with reality.
The best advice I was given by an instructor was to stop taking workshops, and I did. There comes a time when you know you should. As for the baloney part; for every gullible client, there are some unscrupulous artists willing to MAS them, and it’s entertaining to watch them in action. Their chests almost puff out like an exotic bird in some bizarre mating ritual. Meanwhile, the more introverted, and often humble artist, stands back in quiet observation, integrity intact, quietly reaping the benefits of their kindness, at a later moment in time.
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Male bashing trap?
by Sharalee Regehr, Langley, BC, Canada
I agree that men and women are different and these differences can determine success in a free market society. I would like to suggest that you may be falling into the male bashing trap that is so prevalent in the advertising that we see on TV today. They put men down making them appear stupid and childlike and show women are superior. This is dangerous in my opinion. The language that we choose to describe the characteristics of male attributes can be framed in a way that does not place judgment on them. All qualities of behavior have a positive or negative application. Female characteristics also can be applied in a less than helpful way. I am sure that you were wanting to be sensitive to the female readership. We are not in opposition to men but can certainly learn from them as they from us.
The Pepsi challenge
by Corrine Bongiovanni, Windham, ME, USA
As a clinical social worker/artist who’s very willing to ask many questions as well as listen, I’ve learned that there is a special type of “logic” utilized by either sex when it comes to blowing the baloney around. My analogy that parallels your information is this: put two Pepsi cans side by side with the one belonging to a woman having more holes in its sides than the can representing men. These two cans represent the traditional way in which men and women process differently. Women tend to take things in and then more often think and speak aloud their thoughts as they occur. Consequently, information comes in and goes out the other side in a more sequential flow. Men, however, tend to take information in and hold onto it until they are dead certain about what they want to come out the other side and only then do they speak their thoughts. So, in my scenario, you might say that the women show more courage!
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Boy Groups and Girl Groups
by Lis Allison, Ottawa, ON, Canada
Be aware that any group with a male person in it is a Boy Group. It is less so if the group is large and overwhelmingly female, but in any group of, say, less than 50, the presence of even one male will change the group to a Boy Group. And Boy Groups operate quite differently from Girl Groups. The curmudgeon in your anecdote may have simply been expressing his discomfort at being in a Girl Group.
Two, I think the reason more males are considered successful in the arts than females has a lot to do with the definition of success. Just as there are Boy Groups and Girl Groups, so also are there Boy Rules and Girl Rules. And success in our culture is largely measured by Boys using Boy Rules, the first one of which is always: ‘No Girls Allowed’. I know, I know, this rule is strained to the breaking point these days, but it still operates. If the first rule for being a Great Artist is that you have to be male….. you see the problem. Great chefs are male while practically all women cook…. Society (operating as a Boy Group) assumes that anything done by Boys is serious and important while the same thing done by Girls is a nice hobby.
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Stick to what you know
by Amanda Fullerton, Hayesville, NC, USA
Before returning to art, I was a professional geologist working for engineering firms. I was not always sure of an answer to a problem, so I would say I don’t know, but I’ll find out. And I would. The men would always puff out their chests with an answer that often turned out to be wrong. The problem was that those men made their bosses’ eyes shine, because they always had an answer for their clients. The fact that they were found out to be fraudulent answers later were forgotten. Those men were promoted over me. The funny thing is, as years went on, those men were all eventually laid off or fired and I was kept on. Just the facts, ma’am.
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Male BS gave her confidence
by Jennifer Cunningham, Vancouver, BC, Canada
discovered Male Answer Syndrome myself about 20 years ago while studying civil engineering at university. I can still recall with clarity the room that we were studying in late one night. There was a group of about 12 of us, only 2 females. It happened to be a study session on something that I had a very clear understanding in for a change. As the group of us worked through problems and took turns explaining how to solve them, I noticed that most of the guys would bull through and talk with complete authority on how to solve the particular problem that they were demonstrating, even if they were completely out to lunch. It was like an epiphany to me to realize that they always did this in all subjects and up until that point I thought I was just missing something obvious when I was struggling with a concept. It gave me such confidence going forward from that day to be aware of the fact that these guys will have an answer for anything, even if they don’t have a clue. I’ve found this pattern to be true in many areas in life.
P.S. I haven’t any art images for you as I am a beginner and being female am apparently not confident enough to post them!!
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The ambidextrous woman
by Gigi Starnes, San Antonio, TX, USA
What on earth is a girl to do if she has MAS in addition to FQS? All my life, right brain/left brain have kicked in at totally surprising times with both. Many times over the years MAS has been my standby at gatherings; my preferred topics of conversation are politics, archaeology, and art, all with lots and lots of baloney thrown in on my part. However, the FQS syndrome has served me well too by posing questions that move conversations forward. Too funny! For the past several years, I’ve allowed self to revisit the fun of playing with watercolor, mixed media, and warm glass, and both MAS and FQS have come into play. I’m having the time of my life.
Diamond Willow Red Sky
acrylic painting by Alice Helwig
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Nev Sagiba of Australia, who wrote, “Maybe in your land. In this country, at this time, women know everything about everything (even though they in fact don’t), never stop talking, berating and bullying and men are lucky to get in one word edgewise. Perhaps MAS varies between cultures.”
And also Nathan in Victoria, who wrote, “I think you were over-using your MAS tendencies when writing this letter. Your gender generalizations are baloney.”
And also Rita Cirillo of Victor, CO, USA, who wrote, “I find this hilarious. My last two boyfriends both criticized me all the time because if I didn’t know the answer to something, I made one up. If this practice makes for a successful artist, I’m on my way!”
And also Jim Gray of Pensacola, FL, USA, who wrote, “Years ago, I was teaching a workshop and one day we were on a farm out in the field with barns and cows, etc. One lady yelled from across the way, ‘I’m having trouble painting cows’ feet.’ I yelled back across the way, ‘Paint taller grass.’ It was a good day.”
Enjoy the past comments below for Male Answer Syndrome…