by Ross Bishop
When John Gray published his Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus in 1993, experts dismissed the work as pop culture nonsense. For years the scientific community, while acknowledging the significant impact of culture on behavior, maintained that there were few meaningful differences between the sexes regarding psychological traits and abilities, cognitive abilities, verbal and nonverbal communication, aggression, leadership, self-esteem, moral reasoning and motor behaviors.
Over the last few years there has been a significant sea change in our thinking about the sexes that demonstrates that Gray’s assessment was essentially correct. New technologies (brain scans, MRI’s, etc.) have clearly established that there are inherent differences in how men and women think, process information and make decisions, providing at least a little understanding of the 4 gazillion disagreements that occur between men and women every day around the planet.
As just one example, a recently released research study by a team of neuroscientists established that lifelong bullies have brains are different from normal brains. This difference makes it difficult for bullies to develop the social skills that prevent them from engaging in antisocial behavior. The study found that the brains of people with lifelong patterns of “stealing, aggression and violence, bullying, lying” . . . were different, physically, from those of the other participants in the study. My point is that there are important differences between us that we are just now beginning to understand.
I am going to try to make sense of the myriad and sometimes confusing current thinking on the differences between the sexes. While I am going present fairly black and white distinctions, there is no such thing as a pure male or female. To a greater or lesser degree, there are traits of the other in all of us and so the distinctions I make are somewhat academic. But, it is important that we understand the inherent differences between the sexes because those differences have a powerful influence in our lives.
So there will be many exceptions to the images I present and in addition, there are also significant differences that can be attributed directly to culture and upbringing. Also, the society is undergoing a huge cultural shift in terms of sexual morays. But we must start someplace, and I hope this will serve as a foundation from which we can create a better understanding of each other.
A male’s orientation is external. Every man is on a quest of some sort. He discovers his identity “out there” in the world. Men take a more fact-based approach to their environment, scanning the horizon for threats and challenges. The male is a doer; and his reasons for doing are less important than is the urge to get it done. The male places great stock in knowing that he has what it takes to accomplish the task at hand.
Men tend to be convergent in their thinking. Men’s brains gravitate toward facts and logic. Men are exceptionally good at focusing and getting rid of extraneous data. They define and clarify problems and begin problem solving by eliminating and isolating issues. Men tend to depersonalize and externalize issues or problems.
A males basic orientation will be toward competition and dominance. He takes chances to maximize his opportunities. This presumes a certain willingness and orientation toward aggressiveness and to make things happen. In society, this also points toward a certain kind of leadership.
Men tend to think in steps, processing one fact at a time. You could say that men tend to think linearly – in straight lines. Without making a judgement, there are times when this approach is essential, other times less so. And we will see how this strategy occasionally gets tangled up with the feminine approach to problem solving.
An important part of the male’s process takes place in solitude. This gives him time to explore, unwind, and decide what to do next. Also, it allows him time to think through solutions. It’s a natural tendency in the male to “turn off” in order to replenish.
Where the male is externally focused, a woman’ s focus tends to be inward. She possesses her future within herself, and she has a hidden but deep confidence in this. A woman cares more about being than doing and she finds the reason for her being in relationship.
A confident woman knows that she possesses something very precious and valuable – the power of her femininity – and she is driven by an innate desire to protect it. Modesty is fundamental to her nature. Because her orientation is inward, toward personal relationships, the female puts a premium on safety and security. To a far greater extent than the male, she values qualities like dependability and trustworthiness in a potential mate.
Though she values relationships, a woman does not enter into them indiscriminately. She chooses slowly and receives wisely. Women tend to take a more intuitive approach because they perceive people and events more deeply (and they have a greater memory capacity).
Women excel in most measures of verbal ability. Women’s reading comprehension and writing ability consistently exceed those of men. They outperform men in tests of fine-motor coordination and perceptual speed. They’re more adept at retrieving information from long-term memory.
Women are geared more toward intuition and emotion. They are incredibly good at holistic thinking, contextualizing ideas, drawing new connections and identifying new factors. Women think in webs, constantly interconnecting ideas. In her thinking process she will tend to bounce back and forth between feelings and facts.
Women will usually define a problem in broader terms and examine a wider array of potential factors before looking for a solution. They often will include more details in their decision making, and they’ll verbalize those details.
Women tend to personalize and are more inclined to talk through an issue to reach an understanding. Where males talk to communicate information or ideas, women talk to communicate feelings and thoughts. They want to talk situations out, process and explore them, where men prefer to move more directly into problem solving. This often is misinterpreted by male peers to mean that women’s deliberations take more time, causing no end of conflict.
The female is wired to connect with others on many different levels. She will want to interact with colleagues after a stressful meeting or interact with family, friends, and relatives at the end of a busy day. She is more naturally inclined to respond to the distressed, the needy, or the hurting with immediate compassion and care. Women also experience higher rates of anxiety.
A woman wants to be a man’s equal, but an equal of a very special kind. At a deep and fundamental level she has a strong desire to be led, protected, and cared for and yet she wields “soft power,” (which shapes humanity). Women have the ability to wield great and subtle influence in marriage and domestic relationships.
As women establish a presence as equals in the workplace, and as men move more into family caretaking, the boundaries between traditional gender roles are dissolving. Movements such as LGBTQ equality, Me Too and the feminist movement generally are tearing down traditional barriers that have stood in women’s way for many years. Women want equality. They generally reject the traditional role of women in society or at least want more respect for it. At the same time males are being encouraged to be “softer and more compassionate.” Transgender athletes are also beginning to blur traditional sexual distinctions in sport, leading to no end of confusion.
In the business and political worlds, which have been built around the traditional patriarchal model, women have fond it difficult to fit into traditional male structures without abandoning their natural instincts. Organizations are being pushed to accept more female values and ways of thinking, especially in regard to problem solving.
Something that has been intriguing to me personally is how, in spite of the differences between the sexes, we still fail to acknowledge that we are fundamentally different. It’s like we don’t want to see or accept any difference. We dance around each other all the time, accepting (more or less) cultural and family differences without acknowledging that the person of the opposite sex sitting across from us, approaches situations fundamentally differently, thinks differently, feels differently, has different emotions and has a basic social intelligence different from our own. It is like we need them to be the same as we are.
As you see, the sexes can vary considerably in their approaches to situations and this sometimes leads to conflict and confusion. Where both bring powerful skills to problem solving, we need a process that can accommodate the needs of each and work with the different approaches for mutual benefit, not to create conflict. We also need to accept that each individual brings a unique perspective and to encourage that uniqueness rather than discourage it. Perhaps instead of looking for an ultimate technique, we need to just create a process that will accommodate and respect both approaches.
Many, but not all, women need to talk through situations, that is how they problem solve. They need others to help them process. Whereas presented with a problem, a male will be inclined to move more directly into problem solving.
Ladies when you are “talking through” a problem, be clear on what you want from him. Tell your man that you just need him to listen and not move into problem solving, just yet.
Guys, this may be difficult, but when she brings you a problem, be patient. STFU until she has had the opportunity to explore options. Help her to clarify the situation and be careful of prejudging your suggestions.
Ladies, when he is wrestling with a problem, be supportive, but give him space. It may not be helpful for him to “talk it through.” Don’t bog his process down with details. When he has reached a preliminary conclusion, perhaps then you can offer things he may not have considered or that he may have overlooked.
Psychologist Janet Shibley Hyde, PhD, the University of Wisconsin, did a meta-analysis in 2005 of 46 meta-analyses that had been conducted during the last two decades of the 20th century.
Christina Carlisi, The University College London, The Lancet, Life-course-persistent antisocial behaviour may be associated with differences in brain structure.
Diane Halpern, PhD, Sex Differences in Cognitive Abilities.
Barbara Annis and Richard Nesbitt, Results at the Top: Using Gender Intelligence to Create Breakthrough Growth.
copyright©Blue Lotus Press 2020