'Women's intuition' is just a sneaky put-down

Maybe it's just "feelings" we have a problem with, both in the cognitive and emotional sense.

Maybe it's just "feelings" we have a problem with, both in the cognitive and emotional sense. Photo: Stocksy

I'm no psychic, but I know when someone is a douchebag before it's empirically obvious. It's a feeling. It's intangible. It's totally unquantifiable. And I'm never wrong.

I met this guy, let's call him Cyril. Good looking guy, nice smile. I found out he was a scenic artist, which means he paints fake rocks on movie sets. "Cool," I said. "I like to paint rocks too."

But my gut feeling—that this guy was some manner of douche—wouldn't go away, no matter how many times I reminded myself that I needed to get laid and that I really did like painting rocks.

So we went out and—surprise, surprise—he turned out to be an awe-inspiring douche, from the way he told me how to eat my food ("You're just pushing it around," he said) to accusing me of having a fake mole ("It's too specifically positioned there.").

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Why didn't I trust my gut? The other day, I pegged my friend's friend for a douche. Our conversation only lasted an hour, but there was something about the way he looked at me and the story he told about bottling his own urine that told me something was up.

I later confided this feeling in my friend, who instantly rolled his eyes. "Is this your women's intuition, is it?" he said, licking the lid of a yoghurt.

I was stung. "Yes, it is," I said, with a small stamp of my foot. "And what's wrong with that?"

Now, I don't know if so-called "women's" intuition (as distinct from plain ol' human intuition) is real. And, apparently, neither does anyone else. Neuroscientific research is a bit thin on the ground, as it happens. Of course, there are plenty of theories, (e.g. women have a heightened sense of interpersonal sensitivity owing to their subordinate social role, estrogen affects the brain's subcortical functions, etc.), but not so much in the way of data. Obviously, vibes are a tricky thing to measure.

But then, does it even matter? When my yoghurt-licking friend used the term "women's intuition", he meant it as a put-down. Here, the word "women's" is code for baseless, irrational and/or some kind of weird magic. So that's unfortunate. My question is: even if women really are more intuitive, how does that make us lesser and/or Medieval thinkers? Is our problem with intuition and our inability to quantify it, or is it with women's thought processes unto themselves?

The label "women's intuition" forms part of a greater lexicon that reinforces the old chestnut that men are logical (e.g. "the rational male"), while women are incapable of formal reasoning, owing to their faith in their feelings and other superstitions (e.g. "old wives' tales"). But intuition, i.e. the ability to read others and interpret energy, endows those who have it with a supreme advantage in both life and the workplace.

My best friend Catherine, a hospital pharmacist, believes in women's intuition. "I use intuition all the time at work," she says. "Always. For instance, I'll be with a patient and I'll think, 'I really need to ask this question. I don't know why I have to ask this question, but I have to ask it.' It pops into my head, I say it. It's not logical, it just happens. I'll ask them how they're taking the medication and I'll find out the way they're taking it is inappropriate. That kind of thing happens all the time."

As a society, we expect and value intuitive ability in pharmacists, doctors, nurses, childcare workers, social workers, teachers, the police (I'm sure you can think of more). It demonstrates that a) they really do know what they're doing, since it's built into their very way of thinking, and b) they care.

Maybe it's just "feelings" we have a problem with, both in the cognitive and emotional sense. Maybe we're just afraid of being humans.

The philosopher John Stuart Mill said that the "truths known by intuition are the original premises from which all others are inferred". Intuition is both a starting point for deliberate reasoning (e.g. "I feel you are a douchebag, let's see if I'm right") and a framework by which we can better understand our experiences in life (e.g. "You exhibit a style of behaviour that reminds me of douchebag X, let's see if that corresponds").

Ignoring and suppressing intuition means ignoring and suppressing something primal. Call it women's intuition, call it gut instinct, call it vibes. Whatever it is, it's an innate warning system that, when ignored, makes me feel that I am no longer acting with complete integrity.

The label "women's intuition" breeds a distrust for the female mind. Let's make it a badge of honour. Let's reclaim the right to think.

Follow Mia on Twitter @Mia_Timpano

7 comments

  • It's actually logic at play, but the world calls it intuition because it's women doing it. Women are just as logical as men about picking up when someone is a goose, but the world can't say that. They have to say that women use "feelings and intuition", instead of logic and reason. Not sure why...

    Commenter
    Joan Bennett
    Date and time
    October 09, 2014, 8:26AM
    • I'm wondering why, when your article is about the ways gender-specific language is used to put women down, you choose to describe men using a term that is a put down because it refers to something women use in their lady parts? And no, I'm not a man, or a woman-who-hates-other-women, I just like words, understood in all their power.

      Commenter
      Feminist (truly)
      Location
      Western Sydney
      Date and time
      October 09, 2014, 8:50AM
      • In the absense of evidence, intuition can be extremely useful. If it is regularly used to completely disregard ample empirical evidence to the contrary just because that evidence doesn't "feel" right, it is indeed a put down.

        In the example with your friend, it wasn't really intuition. Your evidence was having been in a conversation with the guy for more than five minutes. That said, given that douchebaggery is largely subjective, it would be near impossible for you to ever actually be wrong.

        Commenter
        Markus
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        October 09, 2014, 9:23AM
        • The vast majority of the time I hear the phrase "womens intuition" it is being spoken by a woman and is used as an explanation of why they feel the way they do about something even though there isn't any evidence to explain that feeling. Sometimes it's right, sometimes it's wrong, almost all the time it's random chance.

          The problems with it for me is that it focusses on outcome rather than process, and people selectively remember the times they were right and not when they were wrong. A great example is people telling you the gender of an unborn baby. They remember when they were right about it and forget about when they were wrong.

          If people want to kid themselves that they have some special gut feeling then good for them, just don't expect others to follow it in the absence of any actual data or evidence.

          Commenter
          Hurrow
          Date and time
          October 09, 2014, 9:31AM
          • 'Women's intuition' is summed up by the expression 'I have a feeling in my waters'. My dad once said he had a feeling in his waters and I laughed and told him he couldn't since he doesn't have 'waters'. When he protested I asked him what he though 'waters' meant, rather sheepishly he said 'urinal'. I cried laughing.

            Commenter
            The Princess Bride
            Location
            Florin
            Date and time
            October 09, 2014, 12:55PM
            • Goodness, this old chestnut - I remember it clearly from 1960s American sitcoms when I was a kid. What men sneeringly refer to as "women's intuition" is actually the emotional intelligence of women, which in my experience is mostly superior to that of men. Everything a woman "knows" about other people is based on sound evidence, it's just that most men can't see it, while it's blindingly obvious to us. So they put us down by labelling it as "intuition", which is not "logical". Tosh!

              Commenter
              Melbourne Girl
              Date and time
              October 09, 2014, 1:36PM
              • We all females and male have intuition, its just "female intuition" has been put on a legendary status to answer all questions without seeking fact.

                You can make claims to seek evidence to support this intuition, but on the whole its easier/lazier to claim "female intuition"...

                Commenter
                cecil
                Location
                Sydney
                Date and time
                October 09, 2014, 1:44PM
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