MAS - Male Answer Syndrome
Date: Thu, 22 Sep 94 16:57:18 PDT
Subject: MAS - Male Answer Syndrome
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Forwarded-By: Elizabeth Williams <email@example.com>
Forwarded-By: Eric Schurman,TS-T <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Male Answer Syndrome
Why Men Always Have Opinions, Even On Subjects They Know Nothing About
In the animal kingdom, males exhibit what is known as "display
behavior" in order to attract females and to ward off rival males.
They thrust out their chests, ruffle their plumage, and generally try
to appear more impressive than they really are. On nature shows, this
is comic. It appears comic, too, when it shows up among humans: the
guy in the Camaro with all the gold chains, say, or Vanilla Ice's
haircut. It has been discovered that display behavior is much more
common among humans than had been previously believed.
Have you ever wondered why:
* Men who have never been west of Kentucky can tell you about the
mentality of the Japanese?
* Men who can't pay their credit-card bills have a plan for dealing
with the national debt?
* Men who aren't on speaking terms with their families know how to
achieve peace in the Middle East?
* Men who flunked high-school physics can explain what went wrong at
* Men who haven't had a date in six months know what women really want?
Try an experiment: Ask my friend Jeff, who spends his weekends fixing
up his Harley and watching female mud wrestling, how he thinks
political autonomy will affect the economies of the Baltic states.
His brow will furrow; he will purse his lips thoughtfully. "It's
interesting that you mention that...," he will begin, and then he will
come up with something-probably nothing remotely feasible, but something.
This behavior-the chronic answering of questions regardless of actual
knowledge is known as Male Answer Syndrom. The compulsion to answer
varies from person to person, but few men are happy saying, "I don't
know." They prefer, "That's not what's important here."
They try not to get bogged down by petty considerations, such as, "Do I
know anything about this subject?" or "Is what I have to say
interesting?" They take a broad view of questions, treating them less
as requests for specific pieces of information than as invitations to
expand on some theories, air a few prejudices, and tell a couple of
jokes. Some men seem to regard life as a talk show on which they are
the star guest. If you ask, "What is the capital of Peru?" they hear,
"So tell us a bit about your early years, Bob."
Sometimes this expansiveness is appealing. If you ask a woman, "Why
did Madonna go on the David Letterman Show?" she will simply shrug
helplessly, acknowledging that some things are simply unknowable. A
man, on the other hand, will come up with a few theories (she has the
same agent? overdose of Prozac). Men have the courage and
inventiveness to try to explain the inexplicable.
But Male Answer Syndrome (MAS) is by no means harmless, as my friend
Pauline discovered at the age of 8. She had found that eating ice
cream made her teeth hurt and asked her father whether Eskimos had the
same problem. "No," he said. "They have rubber teeth." Pauline repeated
this information in a geography lesson and found herself the laughing
stock of the class. That was how she learned that a man, even if he is
your own father, would rather make up an answer than admit to his
Later in life women run into the same problem: Men can speak with such
conviction that women may be fooled into thinking that they actually
know what they're talking about.
My friend Jeff (he of the Harley) is full of expertise on subjects as
diverse as global warming and Elvis' current whereabouts. In reality,
however, he is an expert at only one thing: making very little
knowledge go a very long way. For him answering is a game, and not
knowing what he's talking about just adds to the thrill.
Expressing skepticism can be highly inflammatory. Even mild-mannered
Abe Lincoln types may react to, "Are you sure about that?" as a vicious
slur on their manhood and find themselves backing up a ludicrous
assertion with spurious facts.
Many women actively encourage male answering behavior. There is in the
female correlative condition known as the Say What? Complex. Women who
behind closed doors expound eloquently on particle physics may be
found, in male company, gaping at the news that the earth is round.
MAS tends to be mild until puberty; boys begin to speak with authority
on matters of foreign policy at the same time they start to grow facial
hair. And how MAS developed: Since killing wooly mammoths and
attacking enemies with rocks are now frowned upon, and since shirts
open to the navel are not appropriate in every social situation, men
prove their masculinity by concocting elaborate theories about football.
Growing awareness of MAS has led some to call for a moratorium on all
male-female conversation. This is alarmist. But care should be taken.
Women must remind themselves that if a man tells them something
particularly interesting there is a good chance that it is particularly
© 1994 Peter Langston