Do men and women do simplicity differently?

Do men and women do simplicity differently? Episode 182 of The Slow Home Podcast

A few weeks ago I was part of a really interesting conversation on Twitter, where a handful of people were talking about the fact that most popular minimalism writers are male. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t noticed this trend and Ben and I have often talked about why it might be the case.

It’s true that I don’t often talk about minimalism as such anymore, and I’ve spoken about the reasons why a few times on the poggie. But there are so many parallels between slow living and minimalism, and many of the key tenets of both movements are the same. So while I wouldn’t call myself a minimalism writer, I think it’s safe to say I work in the same sphere.

Which goes back to the question of why I think the majority of popular minimalism writers are male (at least in terms of best-selling books on Amazon). For me (and it’s important to to note that these are all in my personal experience) I think there are a few reasons:

  • confidence
  • fear of judgement
  • learning style
  • teaching style
  • perspective
  • the kind of problems we’re trying to solve

Confidence and fear of judgement: I add a million qualifiers to my writing before giving my opinion or point of view because I’m nervous of being called out for being judgemental or ignorant of others’ circumstances. So I include lots of options, lots of disclaimers, lots of clauses as to why my words may not reflect your reality. In turn, this makes my writing less punchy. There are fewer pronouncements. Fewer hard and fast rules. I’m OK with that, and it’s not a criticism, but it is something I’ve observed. I’ve also noticed a lot of male writers don’t do this. Their opinions or advice are laid out squarely on the page, and as a reader we’re free to take from it what we want.

Learning and teaching styles: We learn and teach in myriad different ways, and I think that also impacts the way we write about a particular issue. For example, I like to offer questions to readers, and lead them towards their own answers and solutions, as opposed to offering a readymade one. I don’t often provide a one-size-fits-all solution because in my experience, they very rarely do fit all. Again, neither approach is wrong or right. But again, one makes for punchier, more confident writing while the other is softer and more open to interpretation.

Perspective and the kinds of problems we’re trying to solve: This is probably the most stereotypical, broad brushstroke answer I have but I do think there is a lot of truth to it. Women are often looking for practical advice on specific issues – how to create a simple wardrobe or a rhythm to their mornings, for example. As a result, women often write about these kinds of problems. Men, on the other hand, are often looking at things from a 50,000 foot view. They’re looking for big solutions to life-wide issues and as a result, write about things from that perspective. In general, these 50,000-foot view pieces of writing are more inspiring, more aspirational, more likely to attract attention. And that’s not to say there isn’t value in both the very specific practicalities and the big pronouncements on living a good life. In fact, they’re both really important – without a balance we’re either going to get stuck in the details or never actually get down to them at all – but again, one kind of writing makes for more popular content than the other.

I’m not entirely sure what we were hoping to bring about in the conclusion of today’s episode, other than to hopefully allow ourselves to consider simplifying from a broader range of perspectives. I think it’s important to look at it as an opportunity to shift every area of life, and having a wider sphere of influence can help us do just that.

I know my reading takes in the entire range of opinions and voices in the simple living sphere – the masculine, feminine and everything that falls on the spectrum between and I’ve learnt so much from all of them. As always I think a balance is the key, as well as an awareness of your own needs and an intention to go in the direction required rather than any desire to stick to the ‘popular’ writers in the space.

As Fleetwood Mac says: go your own way.

I’d also love to hear your thoughts on this too – do you think men and women approach simplicity, and learn about it, in different ways?

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8 Responses to Do men and women do simplicity differently?

  1. I found this to be a really interesting discussion. I’m at the beginning of my simple living journey. However, as a 42-year-old SAHM, I’ve found myself to be just naturally drawn to the writing of certain authors/bloggers that I can relate to. Are they female? Mostly, besides one male writer/blogger. I never really consciously thought about why. These are good points you bring up, Brooke.

  2. Interesting point– I wonder whether it’s what I think of as “the Harry Potter phenomenon.” That is, apparently it’s much easier to get girls to read a book with a male protagonist (e.g. Harry Potter) than to get boys to read a book with a female protagonist (exception that proves the rule = Katniss Everdeen). Maybe it’s the same with books on simplicity– perhaps it’s easier to get men to read a book by a male writer, whereas women read books by either? After all, there is something of a protagonist in most books on simplicity, and it’s usually the author. Just a thought, anyway.

  3. Thanks for being part of such an important conversation Brooke! Who knew a Twitter thread would be so inspiring?! It’s interesting to think about the kinds of things we read and write, because the posts that I’ve written that have had the greatest response are those with very practical tips and advice based on my own experience. I’m not sure that I’ve made the gendered connection in that way before. Like you, I also suffer from too many qualifiers. But, in my case, I use them partly because I don’t want to ruffle too many feathers. But also, partly because I never want to assume that anyone reading my blog has the same day to day reality as me. Thanks for making me think critically this morning!

  4. My favorites are
    Brooke mcalary and Ben!
    Tsh oxenrider
    The people at no sidebar
    Erin @reading my tea leaves
    Joshua Becker
    Leo Babauta

  5. I recently discovered your podcast and am enjoying it ever so much! I also live in the mountains and love that I can listen to the podcast and know that it was created right here.

  6. I’m female and I also add disclaimers, options, etc. when I write, but I don’t feel this is due to a lack of confidence or to fear of judgement. I believe it reflects the reality of different people’s circumstances and personalities.

    True, it’s not as punchy, not as popular.

    But I know from my experiences and the experiences of my friends and family that different things work for different people.

    Gradual minimalism has worked best for me. I was busy with kids and work, and I used to have a really hard time getting rid of things. If I thought to downsize, I’d have to follow the strict instructions of some author/blogger, I’d still be living in my old house, twice the size of this one, with a garage so full of crap we could barely walk through it.

    On the other hand, taking 2 years to get rid of all that stuff would be depressing to some people. They’d rather take a week off work and do it all at once.

    Or maybe they don’t have work or kids and could spend a couple of hours every day and finish up in a few months.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Made me think a lot, as a 22yo male living a relatively slow life. I don’t really listen to or read any other podcasts/books on the subject. I guess I just really like your view on it all; do I apply it all? More or less, but I know you feel strongly about the slow lifestyle and that’s what’s cool, not so much because there’s studies and a movement behind it etc but because you feel it at your core and that comes across very clearly. Also like you said, more the how to side of things, plastic free tips, stepping into the awkward zone asking people not to use plastic, environmental concerns and a drive for compassion. Super cool, long rant, love the pogs, keep it up :). If you ever want a yarn about the little bit younger side of slow, I’m here :)

  8. Hi Brooke,
    an interesting subject, which made me ponder along the following lines: in previous episodes you mention that the majority of people tend to come to ‘slow’ via a crisis, as you yourself did. This is probably true for most radical life changes. When in a crisis, I always felt that I most yearned for something solid to cling to, a life raft strong enough to give me hope I would reach solid ground. Therefore, books written with authority, promising the ‘ultimate answer’ and prescribing a clear path weret just what I needed at that time of crisis; a parent/teacher/guide to take me firmly by the hand.
    This was my experience with Essentialism by Greg McKeown.
    Later, having started on the path, I realised that although I shared the goal of simplification, I would not necessarily reach it via the same path, so started to look around for alternative routes and found your podcast.
    Bestseller lists?
    Well, since a crisis tends to be full of emotion, I did go around telling friends that the above mentioned book ‘changed my life’, an endorsement that is likely to get others to read it, I suppose. Funny thing is, I remember little about the book, but have stuck with your podcast.
    I suppose the lesson for me is to acknowledge to myself and others, that your podcast is changing my life continually.

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