So it's about passive manipulation.
"No, not at all," answered Cameron, sounding like I just didn't get it. "It's about being open and honest and clearly communicating and honoring each other while you're communicating. So let's say I need eight hours of sleep. And my husband likes to wake me up at five o'clock in the morning to have sex. I might say, 'I need eight hours of uninterrupted sleep.' And I'd clearly communicate that, to let him know that I may be willing to have sex but I also have some basic needs, and we have to learn how to accomplish both of our needs. It's not about manipulation; it's about learning how to see what our needs are and to ask for them."
Which is a terrific practice for any two people, regardless of gender. Or for any two countries or organizations or groups, for that matter.
I decided to pursue this line of questions with someone who runs one of these seminars. I contacted PAX Programs and got in touch with San Diego's head honcho -- the woman who coordinates and organizes and runs many of the seminars here in town -- Donna Alexander. Alexander is a wife and mother who's been involved with PAX for seven years. She started out by going to the workshop herself, on the advice of a friend, and she knew right away that she wanted to be a part of getting this information out into the culture.
In time, Alexander was trained to lead courses, which she's been doing since 2002. "So you're a seminar leader," I said, at one point. And she answered, "Technically, I'm a workshop leader. We call them workshops."
Much better word, I thought, since "seminar" is, ironically, masculine, in that it bears the same etymological root as "semen." The meaning of the word in Latin (seminarium) was "breeding ground."
"The reason we call them workshops is because the women actually have to do some work," she said. "We don't do it to them or for them."
Between 50 and 100 women attend each local session of "Celebrating Men, Satisfying Women." Prospective attendees have an opportunity, before the workshop, to complete a short questionnaire about what they want to accomplish in the course. Then the workshop leader reads the questionnaires and makes sure that the attendees are going to get what they want out of the experience. Over the course of two days, the women take notes, do worksheets, and share with the group, but mostly they listen and absorb. At the end of the second day, they test what they've learned on a panel of representative men, which is where I'll come in.
"What we're providing for women," Alexander said, "is a different perspective. A new way of seeing men. Like a new way of interpreting what men are saying and doing. So it's not about changing men; it's about changing a woman's understanding of what men are saying and doing."
I asked Alexander about her own personal history (divorced, two kids from the previous marriage, now happily married), and then I asked her whether she thought her personal history mattered in relation to her being a workshop leader.
"Probably my past is relative in that it makes me real," she answered. "You know, I haven't lived a fairy-tale life. I've lived a real life. And I think that makes me more accessible, and women are more willing to learn from me."
And what did they learn?
"Our graduates come out of the workshops feeling much more powerful," she said. "Because what we teach them is what men want and need but also how to get what they need from men in a really effective way."
And what way was that? Passive manipulation?
"No," she said. "Authenticity. Telling the truth. Being respectful. Asking for what they need. I'll give you an example. Often, the way that women tell men what they need is by telling the men all the things they've done wrong. And you can see how that would make a man defensive and not in the best place to provide what she's asking for. So we teach women, first of all, that he's not wrong. He just didn't know. And we teach women to ask for something in such a way that it doesn't make a man defensive but actually inspires him to want to provide it."
Alexander continued, "Another thing that women have in their toolbox, as we say, is really emasculating men when men do something that women determine was wrong. Which again has a negative impact on men and the way that they relate to the women. So we teach women how to get what they want without emasculating men."
I expressed to Alexander my own personal knee-jerk resistance to what she was saying. I liked the idea of not being emasculated or blamed or interrupted, but I told her that I couldn't stand being reduced to my gender.
She answered, "Instead of reducing people to their gender, I think what we're doing is honoring and respecting how we're put together and the ways in which we're different from each other."
So men and women are just fundamentally different from each other?
"I would say that men and women are very different from each other, and a lot of the trouble comes from both men and women expecting the opposite sex to be like themselves," Alexander said. "But men and women aren't versions of each other. Women think that men are hairy women, and some men think that women are emotionally indulgent men. And if you start from the fact that men and women are more different from each other than we can even imagine, then that's a great foundation to begin from to begin understanding each other."
But what about the masculine traits that you might have, even though you're a woman? And what about the feminine traits that I have in my personality, even though I'm a man?
She said, "We actually don't talk about male and female. We talk about the qualities of femininity and masculinity. And we think both men and women have both."