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Female/Male Differences

New Page -- 22 February 2004

Men see and believe; women hear and believe. This is why men have learned in their dealings with women -- especially those designed to encourage the females into participating in particular avenues of relating -- to have an effective “line” of banter and thereby say all the things a woman wants to hear (and which she will for the most part believe). At the same time, women have learned to look good and thereby make men believe that the shapes, contours, colors of hair and skin, and all the visible attributes are real and worth investigating in enormously greater detail.

This standard ingredient in any male-female relationship counseling is the result of an even more fundamental difference in the male/female approach to life. Men focus on matters. This is essential as a means of solving problems -- which is the male forte. Such focus is typically a visual commodity, but can incorporate other senses as well -- often to a lesser degree (except for kinesthetics when involved with a female!). Inasmuch as the primary sensory apparatus used in the focus process is seeing, this implies a conscious limitation of the unidirectional aspect of the sensory apparatus. It is thus clear that the idea of men seeing and believing is simply part of the focus thing.

Women, on the other hand, are highly receptive and non focused. (The less enlightened males might even use the word, "scatter brained". The author will for obvious reasons use the term, "multitask oriented". It's something of a "line", but what can you do?) For example, a woman can be cooking a gourmet meal, typing a novel on the kitchen table chatting on the telephone between buzzes from the oven, absorbing the latest Oprah edition on television, and still hear and distinguish the nature of a baby's cry in the next room. The key in part is that women are into the hearing aspect. They hear and believe.

In Inanna's legendary Descent into the Underworld, she begins her trek only after opening “her ear to the Great Below”. Such an act was considered by the Sumerians to be the first act of acquiring wisdom. Those with ears to hear can learn. [Which is likely why Rush Limbaugh was probably losing his hearing -- it was use it or lose it, and Rush has shown no evidence of ever listening to anyone. (Political asides, by the way, are our trade mark!)]

Very importantly, any human being can close his or her eyes, but not the ears. As a receptive person, the ears are open 24/7 (unless extensive efforts are made not so much as to close the ears, but to merely muffle the incoming sensory signals). About the only thing that will partially negate any incoming auditory signal is a serious case of distraction. For example, the distraction of being totally focused on something will serve to nullify much of what the ears might be prone to sense. At the same time, for the focused individual (i.e., the male), it's simplicity itself to close one's eyes.

The result of this phenomena in male and female relationships is that the man really does not hear when the woman speaks. It is not necessarily because he thinks she's an airhead and really doesn't want to even think about listening to her. Rather it is because he is focused, and really physiologically does not hear. His focusing by its very nature precludes a receptivity to hearing anything that is extraneous to the solving of the problem on which he is focusing his attentions.

Admittedly, the male may detect peripherally that the female said something, and in the tradition of being warned of wild beasts -- possibly enraged wild beasts -- the male by hearing the approach of the female will know that something is probably worth interrupting the focus of the moment. At the same time, however, it's highly unlikely that any semblance of the initial message will be communicated to his consciousness. The best the female can hope for is that the male will ask her what she said, and with a degree of luck will actually hear the repeated message. (The latter depends on just how focused the male was, and whether or not the object of his focus is sufficiently tantalizing as to reacquire his focus immediately after asking the female to repeat what she had just said. Football is often considered to be sufficiently tantalizing.

On the other hand, if the female suddenly walks up and stands before the male naked -- in full visual display and with an attitude of imminent intimate receptivity -- it is very likely that not only will the male shift his focus and undivided attention from the previous problem, but he will almost certainly bestow upon her his full and undivided attention. (Now the focusing thing is on her! Naked women have that effect! It's the lust effect. [1])

By the same semblance, should a man say something to a woman -- words which might be of a remotely conceived derogatory nature -- and should these words be uttered under his breath, at a frequency beyond the range of human or animal hearing, or just simply thought about (as opposed to saying something), the female will without question hear him! She may not hear precisely what he actually said, but such is really irrelevant to the impending explosion at hand. Hell hath no fury like a woman...

A result of the focus/receptivity duality results in the sensory aspect of open and not-so-open characteristics. When are open, while men are much more contained -- okay, okay, closed! However, keep in mind that emotions such as jealousy or willingness to have more than one sexual partner even when in a committed relationship does not constitute an open characteristic in the usage herein. In fact 23% of men and 31% of women claim to have experienced jealousy at some point during a relationship, while 20% of men and 6% of women admitted to having had sex with at least one other person during their most recent relationship. [2]

Rather the openness and closed aspects of relating is more on the order to focusing and receptivity. Call it an openness to information gathering, while in the process of solving a problem, it's useful to cease additional input and instead on concentrating on the facts at hand. It's something akin to systemizing as a male talent (which works best when the information input is momentarily put on hold), with the female talent being one of empathizing (where the information input receptivity is always in full force).

Significantly, the number of individuals with autism are predominantly male. But rather than viewing autism as a dysfunction the condition can be viewed as a talent rather than a psychological miscue. According to some authorities, autism may simply be a matter of distinguishing between empathizing and systemizing. From the male/female point of view, systemizing is a serious focusing attribute, while empathizing is all about sensing another's emotion -- the latter which is often by the means of listening (aka hearing).

A summary thus far of Female/Male Differences can be encapsulated as:


Rob Becker's Defending the Caveman is a one man stage performance which is not only hilariously funny, but provides more useful information on male/female differences than perhaps a dozen scholarly books on the subject. The show in various forms has now logged an audience of over 2 million people, and in 12 years has had more than 2000 performances in over 60 cities (and in 7 countries). It has even been performed before 2000 therapists at an annual AAMFT (American Association of Marriage and Family Therapy) Convention. [One wonders how many therapists gave up the practice once they became aware of the simplicity of delivering the message via comedy.]

Defending the Caveman takes the position that men and women were originally hunters and gatherers, respectively. Hunters must focus on the hunt, with visual cues being the absolutely essential part of the kill (even if some auditory clues might provide some initial input). Gatherers, however, must be aware of all of the surroundings and receptive to just what might be useful in a myriad of different ways. Hunters also specialize in being silent, while gatherers will communicate on a continuing basis -- providing information on the discovery of everything from blueberries to the latest in fig leaf accoutrements.

(4/1/07) The same can even be applied to sleeping. It has been observed, for example, that "when men slept alongside their female partners, they woke up that next day less rested and with impaired cognitive functions." According to one expert at the University of Vienna, "We were never meant to sleep in the same bed as each other." [5] Men might happily focus on having sex, but are then more than willing to find a bed in which they can completely rest -- and avoid all conflicts over covers, snuggling, etceteras.

Rob Becker's basic argument is that men and women have fundamentally different cultures. According to Leslie Bennetts of Variety,

"Becker proceeds, with compassion as well as humor, to outline the idea that there are real reasons for our differences, possibly even genetic reasons whose origins are buried in the millennia of human evolution; and instead of judging the opposite sex according to one's own gender based standards, it is possible to recognize the differences and accept them without hostile judgment.

"Becker sends you out of the theater with a smile on your face. You feel less alone. Couples who were arguing before the performance stroll out into the night afterward holding hands. You know there's going to be some serious snuggling going on when they get home. Seems to me that's well worth the price of admission.

Becker also notes that women are "unhindered by logic." While seeming like a bit of a put down, this is actually a compliment to the female. Logic depends entirely upon the information on hand, while metalogic can include intuition, brilliant insights, and divine inspiration. Inasmuch as there is almost always a limit to the amount and accuracy of the information on hand, it becomes clear that metalogic is potentially far superior to simply logic. Females using metareason may thus out reason males. (Note the emphasis on "may". Honesty and forthrightness are still essential.)

The distinctions also account for males being much more goal-oriented, while females are more process-oriented. Goals are simply solutions toward which focused problem solving is directed. Processes are the means to the goals. Thus males wish to subdue and conquer (and then rest on their laurels), while females want to relate, share information ad infinitum, and work on the relationship. [It is also why females prefer men with flaws -- how else can one share with other women the foibles of their mates?] Men thus avoid relationship conversations (a female specialty).

Using just a few of the Caveman distinctions, we can add to our table of differences:


A curious aside is that the often vaunted need for old fashioned family values is one which assumes the male role to be one of hunter(wage earner)/protector and the female role to be one of gatherer(shopper)/nurturer. This works fine, provided that finances do not require two incomes. Thus, in order to have such fundamental values, it is essential to have an economy in which one person can earn enough for a family. It also assumes that the half of the population which are single -- for predominantly good and valid reasons -- is capable of being both hunter and gatherer. All the evidence of modern society would suggest that the traditional division of labor is only possible in a small minority of cases. Se la (modern) vie.

There is also Mark Twain's The Diary of Adam and Eve stageplay, which is available as a book on tape as well as in the written format. The comedy has it own moments of delightful clarity of male/female differences, as well as an underlying suggestion of the power of the feminine -- even when overshadowed during the last few millennia.

The critical factor in all of this is that in order for males and females to get along, they not only need to recognize their fundamental differences, but to acknowledge them without judgment, and to honor them. This implies the compromises of occasionally cuddling and at other times going with the "wham bam, thank you mam" scenarios.

INVITATION: Anyone with other intriguing male-female differences worth sharing may suggest additions to the above list by e-mailing the author at dansward@frii.com. Hopefully, such suggestions will be somewhat more enlightened than "Women are from Venus, Men are from Uranus."

Population Ratios

An interesting aside of Female/Male Differences is the relative populations of each. In general, male's are born slightly more often than females. This may be due to the fact that males are slightly less healthier than females, and also tend to be more likely to be killed in their work or what not. There is, of course, the possibly outdated concept of "women and children first".

There is, for example, the interesting statistics (from the U.S. Census Bureau) [3] which show that in their 20s and 30s, there are 115 unmarried men for every 100 women; but in the 45-to-64 age range, there are only 69 unmarried men for every 100 women. The men, apparently, are dropping like flies, while the women continue blissfully on. Being male is quite probably somewhat more dangerous than being female. Perhaps the new concept should be, "mature men first!"

A study conducted at UCLA [4] considered the classic male attribute of "fight or flight" when confronted with a crisis -- only in this case specifically for women. Lo and behold, the "fight or flight" characteristic did not work for the female species. Instead, there was something Gale Berkowitz writing in Utne Magazine called "tend and befriend."

As it turns out, under stress the hormone oxytocin is released in both men and women, but in men their testosterone reduces the effectiveness of the oxytocin, while in women their estrogen enhances it. Thus women under stress tend to take care of the children and bond with other women. The latter releases even more oxytocin, and the stress is countered with a smoothing, calming effect.

Notice the effect: Men respond to stress by fighting or fleeing while women gather around the campfire. Small wonder that the relative population of unmarried men in their 20s and 30s falls so precipitously as they enter their 50s and 60s. Men are fighting (not generally conducive to health) and running for their lives (and presumably not always managing to escape). Women, on the other hand, are having tea with friends and wondering what all the fuss is about.

There is an even more interesting phenomena in which the ratio of male/female births actually increases -- with even more males being born years prior to major wars! There is the suggestion -- originally made by Helen Wambaugh -- that prior to major wars there is a notable increase in the male population. This is ostensibly in response to the fact that males tends to be far more likely to be killed in wars than women. The demographics of male/female births actually modifies to account for future conflicts!

At the Egyptian temple at Abu Simbel, in a mural depicting Ramses' great victories, the Great Pharaoh is shown with a massive erection of his penis. The obvious implication is that after the devastation of war -- even a victorious campaign -- it was going to be necessary for the population to do what comes naturally and begin repopulating the populace. Either that or Ramses was very proud of his manhood. One wonders, however, if the birth ratio of boys to girls increased accordingly.

The difficulty with wars, of course, is that males tended to be killed at a greater rate than women. This results in their being more women than men, and thus the value of the female is lessened. This degradation effect is heightened by the idea of dowries to be paid by a female's family to a male for taking said female off the family's hands and thereafter supporting her financially. This problem has been taken to extremes in India where ultrasound detection of the sex of an unborn fetus has led to a serious increase in the number abortions of what appear to be unborn females.

It doesn't take a demographic genius to figure out that if the trend continues, there is going to be a lot of men looking for a wife out of a far smaller population of women. The result may be that women -- if only because of their relative rarity -- will become highly prized. The only alternative -- at least in India -- is to go to war with Pakistan and thereby wipe out hoards of men! (Which is really a bad idea just to avoid honoring women!)

The more profound question, however, is whether or not the female-dominated abortion ratio is in response to a future war! “In response to a future” event may sound a bit like an oxymoron or an obvious violation of causality. But Wambaugh's statistics could be viewed in such a way as to support this notion. The method of attaining more males being born than females -- as in the Indian abortion demographic -- is not the issue, but rather that someway, somehow, there are simply more males being born prior to a future war.

This might imply predestination in lieu of free will . There may, in fact, be something in a predestined destiny for humans -- if only in the collective. (And despite the fact that such things as a rash of female-related abortions could be construed as free will on the part the parents as individuals, such a demographic variation might not constitute free will collectively.)

An alternative explanation is that a larger male population coming of age may tend to push the testosterone level to such a point as to encourage war for limited resources -- in this case, females.

It's a very strange world we live in.



[1] Wherein lust is construed herein to be a good thing and not a sin. What's New Netscape for January 26, 2004, for example, has noted that a leading philosopher at Britain's Cambridge University has said that "lust has been wrongly branded as a vice and should be 'reclaimed for humanity' as the life-affirming virtue that it is." Professor Simon Blackburn, via The Oxford University Press, defines lust as "the enthusiastic desire for sexual activity and its pleasures for its own sake." The logic for his argument is that "Thirst is not considered sin, not is it criticized. But thirst can lead to drunkenness. In the same way, lust should not be condemned just because it can go unchecked. 'The important thing is that generally anything that gives pleasure has a presumption in its favor,' Blackburn explained." [emphasis added] The fact that lust was identified as one of the seven deadly sins by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century is hardly justification for the continued denigration of such a wonderful emotion!

[2] http://channels.netscape.com/ns/news/package.jsp?name=fte/findourmate/
Real-Life Sex and the City. An interesting article on the increasing tendency for men and women to stay single for longer periods of time. For example, "Between the ages of 18 and 59, those surveyed cohabited an average of nearly four years and were married about 18 years. The rest of the time, which was an average of 19 years, they were dating or alone with no steady companion."

[3] As reported by Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, "Cupid Academy", Time Magazine, February 16, 2004.

[4] Reported in "What's New Netscape", December 7, 2003.

[5] "News; Bad Week for Queen-size beds", The Week news magazine, April 6, 2007.


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