It’s official – we are finally allowed to admit that men and women are different from each other.
This is one of my favourite subjects to write about – the differences can be difficult sometimes, but also hilarious. We all recognise the situation of a man driving in circles for two hours refusing to ask the way, or a woman trying desperately to have a deep conversation with her husband who has his head buried in a newspaper.
Women complain about men because they think men are insensitive, don’t listen or care enough, want sex all the time and leave the toilet seat up.
Men complain about women because of the way they drive, because they can’t read maps, because they hold the map upside down, they talk too much without reaching a conclusion and don’t want so much sex as men do. What could be the reason? And what are the problems that society is facing now?
Hunting vs. gathering
Most of the differences can be traced back to evolution. In hunter-gatherer times thousands of years ago, tasks were easily divided between men and women – men hunted and protected the home, women raised the children and gathered fruit and nuts. As a result, our bodies and minds started adapting to this way of life.
First of all, it was important for women that they were capable of doing several tasks at the same time, such as feeding their babies, interacting with other women, and looking out for danger.
For men, it was vital that they weren’t easily distracted. Hunting requires a concentrated, goal-focused mind. Once men were concentrated, they had to stay concentrated, to prevent failure.
Because women had to know exactly what and when was happening in the settlement, they became very sensitive to small subtle changes in other people’s body language and speech. It was very important that they knew if their children were hungry, upset or in pain. She developed a broader vision to scan for danger and short-distance navigation. She became a communicator.
Men didn’t spend enough time in the settlement to develop these capabilities. Instead, evolution gave them good long-distance navigation skills. He developed spatial visualization ability to hit a moving target, and a strong upper body to fight off dangers. He became a problem-solver.
Dolls vs. toy swords
The psychological differences begin to show up as soon as we are born. From about a week of age, girl babies can distinguish the voice of their mother or another baby crying from other sounds in the room. They also make eye contact much more quickly. All that talking and listening pays off when they are toddlers: girls learn to speak faster and by age 3 they have a bigger vocabulary than boys.
Boys like motion, watching it and being a part of it. They usually reach the walking milestone the same age as girls, however they outgrow girls physically by age 4 or 5. They´re also two months ahead than girls when it comes to figuring out movement - such as understanding that when a ball rolls under a sofa, it will appear on the other side after a few seconds.
It has been often debated whether the differences in boys and girls are due to evolution or gender-stereotyping – the same old nature/nurture question. However, parents who have purposefully given their son Barbie dolls and their daughter racing cars report that their children showed no interest in the toys. Most likely, the boys will use the toy crib as a garage and the girls will secretly dress up in their older sister’s clothes. In one experiment, adult monkeys were shown a doll and a plastic car. The female monkeys played with the doll, rocking and feeding it, while the male monkeys went for the plastic vehicle. Nature seems to be on the winning side, although undoubtedly society plays a role.
Monogamy vs. polygamy
In the brains of men and women, there is a section called the hypothalamus. It’s the part of the brain that must be stimulated before sex, and it is also lies in the part that controls emotions, heart rate and blood pressure. Most importantly, it’s where hormones, especially testosterone, make people want to have sex.
For men, the hypothalamus is much bigger than women’s. With the amount of testosterone that men have, they are capable of having sex every moment of the day. The man with the highest amount of testosterone is usually the natural leader of a group.
From an evolutionary perspective, it makes perfectly sense that men have such greater sex-drives. After all, nothing secures the survival of the human race more than sleeping with multiple women and making them all pregnant. It is only social rules that keep men from being polygamous. Monogamy is the leading cause of most relationship problems, because men have to suppress their biological instinct to spread their seed as much as possible. They are natural polygamists.
Talking vs. goal-orientation
Women are real talkers. When a group of female friends come together to watch TV or a movie, it’s usually more an excuse to interact and share their experiences. When you observe some male friends doing the same thing, you’ll often find that hardly any talking takes place – perhaps except ‘’pass me the chips’’ or ‘’do you have some more beer?’’ This is because men see talking as a way of bringing across information, not as a method to bond with others. They’re very comfortable in each other’s company, but they don’t see the need to express it in words. When women sit next to each other but don’t speak, it indicates that they’re having an argument.
In male conversations, speech is a way of achieving a goal together, but not of intimacy. Male friends like to do activities – fishing, playing football, drinking. They’re friends with the guys they do things with. Women are friends with the women they sit close to and talk about personal issues with.
Of course when you’re a hunter, it doesn’t work to chat about your personal life while trying to slaughter a mammoth. You need to be able to work together in silence and concentration. Because women spent so much time amongst each other, they became very skilled socially. For them, talking about personal problems gives a feeling of intimacy. Men see this ‘trouble-talk’ as a request for help, so they often offer a direct solution. What the woman really wants is for him to talk back to her about his own troubles so she feels they understand each other.
For men and women who live in a modern civilized world, the habits known for thousands of years have suddenly been abolished.
In the hunter-gatherer system, men and women lived peacefully amongst each other. They were both important for survival and they respected each other’s tasks. The last 50 years, society has changed the way we desire to live – women want to work and men want to spend time with their children. Mentally, we can understand and accept these changes, but we can’t accept them biologically. Men are still hunters and women are still caregivers and we can’t just change that around. There is chaos and people (mainly women) are feeling unhappy and confused about what their role is supposed to be.
We expect men to clean nappies and women to replace light bulbs. At the same time, we still like to think of women as natural caregivers, who are essential to bringing up children. This is why so many women try to juggle home life and a successful career. Most of us want the best of both – financial independence as well as looking after the home. We need new rules to make sure we’re all happy, but first we need to find those rules. And that is not easy, and it takes time.