People in relationships often have strong expectations that their partner will be just like they are: exhibit the same attitudes, values, perceptions and behaviors. However, we know that you will not change your partner’s attitudes and behaviors unless they themselves are motivated to do so. You are even less likely to change their basic gender characteristics. So it is very important to educate yourself as to the basic gender differences which exist between men and women, and accept the fact that the differences are there, they are real, and they are not going away. In this way you can learn to use the differences as a way to enrich your relationship rather than to damage it.
Are Men and Women really different? Let’s look at the evidence in a variety of areas of life. Note that these findings are generalizations and summaries that apply to most men or women, but not to all men or all women.
1. Physiological Differences
- Girls develop right side of brain faster than boys: leads to talking, vocabulary, pronunciation, reading earlier, better memory.
- Boys develop left side faster than girls: visual-spatial-logical skills, perceptual skills, better at math, problem solving, building and figuring out puzzles.
- Girls more interested in toys with faces than boys are; play with stuffed animals and dolls more; boys drawn to blocks or anything that can be manipulated.
- Women use both hemispheres of brain; corpus callosum thicker in women.
2. Social Influences
Studies of infants:
- Both men and women speak louder to boys than girl infants; they are softer and express more “cooing” with girls. Boys are rarely told they are sweet, pretty, little doll; boys are told they are a pumpkin head or “Hey big guy”.
- Boys handled more physically and robustly than girls, bounced around more .
- Girls are caressed and stroked more than boys.
- Up to age 2, mothers tend to talk to and look at their daughters significantly more than than they do with their sons, and make more eye contact with the daughters as well.
- Mothers show a wider range of emotional response to girls than boys. When girls showed anger, mothers faces showed greater facial disapproval than when boys showed anger. May influence why girls grow up smiling more, more social, and better able to interpret emotions than boys.
- Fathers use “Command terms” with boys more than girls; and more than mothers gave.
Developmental Differences Between Boys and Girls:
- Nursery rhymes, books and cartoons perpetuate stereotypes,which often promote damsel in distress, frumpy housewife, helpless senior citizen, sexy heroine and swooning cheerleader.
- Girls use more terms of endearment than boys.
- Boys get away with more aggressive antisocial behavior in school and home than girls.
- Girls who act as tomboys are accepted; boys who act like girls are severely reprimanded (“don’t cry” “Don’t be a sissy”).
- Girls tend to talk about other people; secrets in order to bond friendships; and school, wishes and needs.
- Boys talk about things and activities. What they are doing and who is best at the activity.
- Teenage girls talk about boys, clothes and weight.
- Teenage boys talk about sports, mechanics, and function of things.
- age 12-18: biggest event for girls: have a boyfriend
- are 12-18: boys are equally interested in the following: sex, cars and sports.
- This carries into adulthood when women talk about relationships, people, diet, clothing, physical appearance. Men talk about sports, work, money, cars, news, politics, and the mechanics of things.
3. Values and Self Esteem as Adults
- A man’s sense of self is defined through his ability to achieve results, through success and accomplishment. Achieve goals and prove his competence and feel good about himself.
- To feel good about himself, men must achieve goals by themselves.
- For men, doing things by themselves is a symbol of efficiency, power and competence.
- In general, men are more interested in objects and things rather than people and feelings.
- Men rarely talk about their problems unless they are seeking “expert” advice; asking for help when you can do something yourself is a sign of weakness.
- Men are more aggressive than women; more combative and territorial.
- Men’s self esteem is more career-related.
- Men feel devastated by failure and financial setbacks; they tend to obsess about money much more than women
- Men hate to ask for information because it shows they are a failure.
- Women value love, communication, beauty and relationships.
- A woman’s sense of self is defined through their feelings and the quality of their relationships. They spend much time supporting, nurturing and helping each other. They experience fulfillment through sharing and relating.
- Personal expression, in clothes and feelings, is very important. Communication is important. Talking, sharing and relating is how a woman feels good about herself.
- For women, offering help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength; it is a sign of caring to give support.
- Women are very concerned about issues relating to physical attractiveness; changes in this area can be as difficult for women as changes in a man’s financial status.
- When men are preoccupied with work or money, women interpret it as rejection.
4. Other Differences
- Men are more logical, analytical, rational.
- Women are more intuitive, holistic, creative, integrative.
- Men have a much more difficult time relating to their own feelings, and may feel very threatened by the expression of feelings in their presence. This may cause them to react by withdrawing or attempting to control the situation through a display of control and/or power.
- Men are actually more vulnerable and dependent on relationships than women are and are more devastated by the ending, since they have fewer friends and sources of emotional support.
- Men are more at ease with their own angry feelings than women are.
- Women are in touch with a much wider range of feelings than men, and the intensity of those feelings is usually much greater for women than men. As a result of this, many man perceive that women’s feelings appear to change quickly; men may find this irrational and difficult to understand.
- Men tend to be more functional in approaching problem-solving; women are aesthetically-oriented in addition to being functional.
- Women tend to be much more sensitive to sounds and smells than men are; and women as such tend to place a greater emphasis on “atmosphere”.
5. Conflicts Which Arise Due to Basic Differences Between Men and Women
- The most frequent complain men have about women: Women are always trying to change them.
- The most frequent complaint women have about men: Men don’t listen.
- Women want empathy, yet men usually offer solutions.
- When a woman tries to change or improve or correct or give advice to a man, men hear that they are being told that they aren’t competent or don’t know how to do something or that they can’t do something on their own.
- Men often feel responsible or to blame for women’s problems.
- Men always assume women want advice and solutions to problems, that that is the best way to be helpful and to show love; women often just want someone to sincerely listen to them.
- Housework: men avoid it, try to get others to do it at all costs, feel demeaned by doing it. For women, cleanliness of house is a manifestation of warm, homey nest. Men and women have different thresholds for cleanliness and dirt.
- Men often try to change a woman’s mood when she is upset by offering solutions to her problems, which she interprets as discounting and invalidating her feelings.
- Women try to change men’s behavior by offering unsolicited advice and criticism and becoming a home-improvement committee.
6. How to Work with These Differences
- When women are upset, it is not the time to offer solutions, though that may be appropriate at a future time when she is calmed down.
- A man appreciates advice and criticism when it is requested. Men want to make improvements when they feel they are being approached as a solution to a problem rather than as the problem itself.
- Men have great needs for status and independence (emphasis on separate and different); women have needs for intimacy and connection (emphasis on close and same).
- Women need to receive caring, understanding, respect, devotion, validation, and reassurance.
- Women are motivated when they feel special or cherished.
- Men need to receive trust, acceptance, appreciation, admiration, approval, encouragement.
- Men are motivated when they feel needed. A man’s deepest fear is that he is not good enough or not competent enough, though he may never express this.
- There are major, significant differences between men and women.
- The differences are different, NOT better or worse. Do not judge the differences. Do not try to change the differences. Do not try to make them go away.
- These are generalizations! Individual differences exist; we all have some of these qualities.
- To get along, you MUST accept, expect and respect these differences.
- Be sure to remember these differences when communicationg about anything important, when expressing care and concern, and when solving conflicts.