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My latest post made known my views on the best accessory a woman can arm herself with (no, it’s not my bling-blings), and at its conclusion, I promised you an article on what I think a man would do no harm to possess, so here it is.

A firm handshake.

What, that’s all? Of course that doesn’t say everything about a person, but it can tell you something.

When I was about seventeen years old, I had a classmate who took my hand in a crushing hand grip. I can’t recall why we took it into our heads to shake hands then, but I certainly had no trouble calling to mind the vice that clamped around my hand and the feelings it evoked.

I was more than perplexed. I mean, I understood the importance of conveying one’s sincerity through a good, firm shake where you clasp the whole hand instead of just the fingers, but…why overdo it?

I haven’t been searching for empirical results to support this, but I wonder if it’s possible that someone who has an overly enthusiastic handshake is in fact, trying to establish a form of superiority over the person whose hand he or she happens to be shaking. It’s an intriguing hypothesis. Well, to me at least.

Assuming we’re going to conduct an experiment on this, we can expand upon the hypothesis by having gender as the controlling factor. Do you think we would see differences if a man shakes another man’s hand, as compared to when a man shakes a woman’s hand? In other words, would the man adjust the force behind his grip according to the gender of the person whose hand he’s shaking?

It’s quite possible that such a difference may indeed occur. I remember instances at work when a vendor would inevitably extend his hand towards my male colleagues first before proceeding to accord me with the same courtesy. Some of them even hesitate, almost as if they weren’t sure that I’m worth that courtesy.

In a word of fairness, perhaps some of them hesitate because they’re not certain about the appropriateness of coming into skin-to-skin contact with a member of the opposite sex. Since none of them were from strict Islamic backgrounds, I do have serious doubts about that.

Anyway, although I can’t extrapolate from several personal experiences, and I’m also pretty sure culture as well as rank in the company (or if you like, social status), to name a few factors, had a hand in the behaviour manifested by those men, I still expect gender differences to arise in the simple act of, yes, handshaking.

But I digress. This is not a scientific approach whereby we examine the gender differences found in handshaking and the relative significance, if any. This is merely a platform for me to share my views on my preferred type of handshake.

We’ve already established the fact that I don’t know how to appreciate hand vices. Let’s explore the other end of the spectrum then – a lifeless, limp parody of a handshake. Although I don’t fancy my bones being half-crushed to bits, I’m also a bit shaken by that non-existent…shake. Shaken, not stirred.

How so? Imagine a social situation where you meet a gorgeous man, and he proffers his hand to you, all the while proclaiming that he’s oh so very pleased to meet your acquaintance. Man, my confidence would surely take a big blow! I think I speak for many, if not all, of us who like to match people’s actions to their words, and when we discover a disparity between them, we often choose, rightly or wrongly, to believe the action.

A limp handshake doesn’t convey a man’s interest in me. It doesn’t speak of confidence and competence. And it’s funny when my grip is stronger than his. I can’t explain it, but it just gives me pause when that happens and I often wonder if he’d cry if I raise my voice just a little.

It’s not that I want a dominating man; I just like men who are comfortable enough in their own skins to know that when their women excel in something, or in many more things than them, or in male-dominated arenas, it doesn’t threaten their masculinity. At all. Love your women for being good at what they do, be neither ashamed nor jealous of them, and most of all, love them for what they are.

Although the forces (literally) at work behind the vice grip and the limp handshake are different, they share the same problem and that is the problem of causing unnecessary and unwanted inequality.

When someone attempts to crush my hand in a punishing hold, I get the feeling that he or she is trying to dominate me. Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but human perceptions do matter in social contexts, don’t they? Similarly, when someone doesn’t exert any force behind his handshake, there is danger of me dismissing him or her as less than what the person actually is.

Directing the topic back to the limp handshake, there are exceptions to what I said about how it speaks of a lack of confidence and competence, inevitably. I know this guy who, while he doesn’t shake your hand firmly, is quite a confident man, at least when applying himself to his work. Later on, I discovered that while he doesn’t aim to please others in a deliberate and purposeful way, he does have a problem with saying ‘no’. He definitely has a mind of his own, but due in part to a history of being bullied at his first workplace, he is extremely guarded with his thoughts and emotions.

There are several possibilities at work here. It could be that while this friend of mine is confident in his abilities at work, he’s less so of his skills in a social context, and hence the handshake that left much to be desired. Taking into consideration that we shook on anxiety-ridden grounds for him (he came for a job interview), his handshake may not mean anything much at the end of the day. Again, I have nothing but my own observations and subjective analysis in support of this.

It could also be that, wary of a repeat of his experiences at his first workplace, he strives to present a neutral front. Neither assertive nor meek. Not exuberant, but not staid and dull too. Well, still waters run deep, and so I must admit that after getting to know this friend, his handshake (at that time) belies his depth. That said, if I ever have a chance to broach the subject delicately and without hurting his feelings, I’d tell him about first impressions and how his handshake may be one of the things that counts in making or breaking that first impression.

There’s another type of handshake that falls somewhat between the crushing vice and the limp fish, and it’s fleetingly mentioned in one of the paragraphs above. Generally ‘favoured’ and used by the ladies, it’s the handshake that has the person clasping just your fingers. To add insult to injury, minimal contact sometimes may mean more than space and involve time as well; letting go much too soon conveys contempt and disdain for the poor owner of said fingers.

I’m not expanding upon this since the laddies seldom use it, but since we’re on it, let’s just say that ladies who think this is a dainty form of handshake won’t see me in their fan clubs. I’d rather you just give me a wave than to present me with something so half-heartedly attempted. Perhaps I’ve not met enough people, but I’ve never met anyone who can pull this off without coming across as phony, phony, and phony.

Wait a minute, if it’s all so important, isn’t a nice, firm handshake something both sexes should consider using, you say? Indubitably! So why am I writing these words with gentlemen mostly in mind?

Well, you just call God and complain that this woman has biases, and men who shake hands badly is one of them. She’s aware of them, she tries to curb them, but many times she keeps failing. She won’t apologise for what she is, and she’ll probably keep writing and upsetting the good citizens of the world. The only thing she can promise is that she’ll keep trying.