Tag Archives: male-female differences

Men Are More Aggressive, Women More Emotional–Actually Not! (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

(Part 3 in our encore presentation of my gender differences series; See Part 1: Gender Differences in Relationships here, and Part 2–Men Do, Women Process here.)

Most people assume that men, in general, are more aggressive than women, and that women, in general, are more emotional. In fact, the genders do not differ with regard to their natural tendencies in these areas. You heard me right. These are not true gender differences.

Aggression:

It is true that testosterone, when injected into animals of either gender, immediately makes them more aggressive. This experiment, to the best of my knowledge, has never been done with humans because of ethical and legal issues. But my guess is the results would be the same.

Male Nyalas fighting

It is also true that men have far more testosterone in their bodies than women do. So logic says that men should be more aggressive, and they are, physically, but not when you consider other types of aggression. More on that in a moment.

In the 1970’s, researchers attempted to prove the testosterone/aggression link in humans by looking for a correlation between testosterone levels and violent crime. They compared the levels of this hormone in violent criminals in prison with those of non-violent criminals, i.e., those who committed “white-collar” crimes such as embezzling or insurance fraud. Sure enough, the violent criminals had more testosterone in their bloodstream. There was just one wee little problem with this study. It couldn’t be replicated. Several attempts to repeat the study did not get the same results. Some studies found no differences. Several found that the violent criminals actually had lower levels of testosterone than the nonviolent ones.

Here’s another piece of confusing data. If one just considers physical aggression, elementary-school-aged boys are more aggressive than girls. But guess what? They don’t have all that much testosterone in their systems yet. This hormone is not released in any great quantity until the onset of puberty.

Strasbourg porcelain ca. 1775, in Victoria and Albert Museum, photo by Valerie McGlinchey

There are several kinds of aggression. But first let me define aggression. It is the act of invading another person’s territory, physical or emotional, or of violating their rights. So here are the different types:

Instrumental aggression:
the goal is to get something the person wants or avoid something they don’t want. Examples would be a child grabbing another kid’s toy because they want to play with it, someone intentionally butting in front of you in line, or the little brats above fighting over a bunch of grapes.

Reactive aggression:
the person responds to something they perceive as a hostile act with their own aggression. One kid pushes in front of another in line (instrumental aggression); the other kid hits him (reactive aggression).

Unprovoked aggression: intentionally hurting someone, physically or emotionally, because the act of inflicting pain is pleasurable or rewarding for the aggressor. This ranges from the schoolyard bully to the sadistic rapist or serial killer.

And here is the one that levels the playing field gender-wise. Drum roll, please.

Relational aggression:
using ostracization, spreading rumors, withdrawal of friendship, etc. to punish, manipulate or otherwise intentionally harm others’ social standing.

Studies that only look at physical aggression–be it instrumental, reactive or unprovoked–will most definitely find that boys and men, as a group, exhibit more aggression. But when you include relational aggression, the gender difference disappears.

So despite the whole testosterone issue, level of aggression does not seem to be a true gender difference. What is different is the way girls and boys are socialized to express aggression. “Boys will be boys” while girls are admonished to “play nicely.” So the girls quickly learn to use other tactics to express their aggression.

Now, think about the men whom you know personally. How many of them are truly aggressive, physically, verbally or relationally? Probably just a few. Most men are as uncomfortable with anger and conflict as women are. Fighting is not fun, bottom line.

Now think about the women you know. How many of them are spiteful, or at least rather snarky when gossiping about someone they don’t like. You probably know about as many spiteful women as you know truly aggressive, ready-to-pick-a-fight men. Maybe more.

Emotions:
When writing fiction, the task of making my male characters’ emotional reactions both realistic and believable is sometimes challenging. Why is this challenging?

Because realistic and believable, in this case, are not the same thing. People believe that women are more emotional than men. While in reality, they actually feel the same emotions internally as women do, and at the same level of intensity. They are just socialized not to express them.

Say what?

Yup, you heard me right. Studies that tease apart how men and women actually feel from what they are willing to express find that the feelings are the same. One particularly good study asked both men and women to place themselves in the shoes of the protagonist in hypothetical situations. They were given several scenarios to read and then asked to identify what emotion they would feel if they themselves were in such a scenario, and then to rate the intensity of that feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. After they had done that with all the scenarios, they were asked to go back and describe how they would express those feelings.

Both the men and women identified the same emotions. The anger-provoking scenarios provoked anger; the sad scenarios, sadness; the scary ones, fear; and the you-screwed-up ones, guilt.

The more surprising finding, however, was that there was no significant difference between the genders in the intensity of the feelings!

But, boy, did the differences start to show up when it came to expressing those feelings. That’s where the learned gender roles came into play. These are called display rules–which emotions each gender is or is not allowed to express in any given culture.

Paris, 1940, the day the French army pulled out and the Nazis took over the city.

When I talk about gender differences with my developmental psychology students, I ask the question, “What emotions are women allowed to express in our society?” They list every emotion out there, except anger.

Then I ask, “Guys, what emotions are you allowed to express?” There is a long silence, and then one of the male students will say, “Anger.”

“None of the others?” I ask. They think about it for a minute or two, then the guys all shake their heads.

“What?” I say. “You haven’t heard that women like a sensitive guy? Isn’t it okay for you to cry now?”

At this point, the room usually erupts into a lively discussion. The guys cite examples of times when they’ve let their softer sides show to girlfriends, and it didn’t go all that well. Unless she was a platonic friend. Then it was okay, but not with romantic partners.

And some of the gals will admit that it unnerves them when their guys cry. That they might feel empathy for him at the time, but there is a subtle loss of respect. But more and more, in recent times, the female students tell me that they are more assertive, more comfortable expressing anger. And yet the guys still can’t admit to being scared or sad.

In our society, the gender roles for boys and men are actually more rigid than for females.

Are women still discriminated against in the workplace and a variety of other arenas? Sadly, yes, all too often. But when it comes to gender roles, we are more accepting of females exhibiting masculine roles than we are of males exhibiting feminine ones. Think about the different implications of “tomboy” versus “sissy.” And girls and women have been wearing pants since World War II, but how often do you see a man in a dress?

Times have changed regarding gender roles in our culture, but perhaps not as much as we pretend they’ve changed.

What are your thoughts on all this? What gender differences have you observed in how men and women express anger and other emotions?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington Mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week (usually on Tuesdays), sometimes on serious topics and sometimes just for fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Men Do, Women Process (an encore)

by Kassandra Lamb

This is Part 2 in our summer re-runs of a series I posted a couple years ago on gender differences. Last week, we talked about the hierarchal vs. egalitarian male/female difference. This week, we’re going to have some fun with the next gender difference in relating, which has to do with how men and women approach problems and deal with their emotions.

Meet caveman Charlie Spearhead. (Okay, folks, get your minds outta the gutter! We’re not going to have that much fun.)

 

Charlie is really beat. He had to chase that damn elk halfway to the end of the world. As his stomach rumbles, he contemplates the rabbit stew that should be bubbling over the fire at that very moment, and afterwards a nice romp in the furs with his cavemate, Georgette. He grins even as his stomach growls a bit louder.

He soon discovers, however, that a fat elk haunch is not going to be sufficient to buy him a peaceful and fun-filled evening. Georgette starts in the minute he crosses the cave threshold. “You will never believe what that Gertrude Deerhunter did today when we were tanning hides.”

“Hummpf,” Charlie says.

“She had the audacity to imply that my hides are always stiff and I never get all the hair off. Oh, she didn’t come right out and say that but…”

Charlie yawns and scratches his chest, looking hopefully in the direction of the stew pot.

“Charlie, are you listening?”

“Just ignore her. Why do you care what she thinks?”

“I don’t care about her, but she was putting me down in front of all the other women, and she was being so indirect about it that I couldn’t confront her. She’s gotten so high and mighty every since her husband got elected war chief… Charlie, what are you doing?”

“I’m cleaning my spear.”

I’m trying to talk to you here.”

“Hurummph.”

“Charlie, are you listening to me?”

“Yeah, yeah.” He puts down his spear.

“As I was saying, I couldn’t confront her directly. I’d be the one who’d come off sounding like a bitch, and we’re all going berry-picking tomorrow. I know she’s gonna start up again–”

“Why don’t you go out early,” Charlie interrupts, “and strip all the berries off the bushes before she gets there.”

“I can’t do that. All the other women will think I’m trying to cheat them out of their share. I just can’t believe how she’s just gotten so full of herself since…”

Charlie starts to nod off, sitting by the warm fire.

“Charlie!”

“Hummf, I’m listening already. Can’t we eat while you talk?”

Georgette dishes up some stew for him. “And I can’t believe that nobody else said anything in my de–”

Charlie jumps in. “Hey, why don’t you wear your good dress? The doeskin one that’s so soft. That’ll show her.”

Georgette glares at him for interrupting again, then her expression softens. “Actually I kinda like that idea.”

“Good, glad to help. Man you’ll never believe how far I had to chase that elk today.”

“I still can’t believe that nobody came to my defense, not even Wilma–”

“Why are we still talkin’ about this, Georgette? We solved the problem.”

“Well. I guess you just don’t care that they hurt my feelings. After all, why should my feelings matter when your feet are sore from chasing elk!”

“Hey, why are you getting mad at me?”

“Cause you never listen!”

“Hunh? What have I been doing for the last half hour?”

“Cleaning your spear and eating your dinner.”

Kissing the idea of a romp in the furs goodbye, Charlie sighs.

Are you feeling a bit sorry for Charlie about now? Or are you thinking Georgette married a dimwit? This poor couple has stumbled into one of the most common pitfalls of male-female relationships.

This pitfall is caused by a major difference between the way men and women deal with feelings and problems. Men take action; women process feelings. I’m not saying women don’t act to correct a problem; they do. But they prefer to sort out how they feel about it first, and most women like to do that by talking about the situation and their feelings out loud. And sometimes they have to repeat themselves a few times until they’ve vented sufficiently to move on to a plan of action.

Men don’t get that, because that’s not how they are programmed. Their minds jump immediately to action-oriented problem-solving. So halfway (or sooner) through the venting/sorting out feelings process, they start jumping in to suggest what the woman can DO about the problem. They are then totally mystified as to why their woman is now mad at them!

Men, on the other hand, tend to mull it over inside their own heads when they need to sort out how they feel about something. Then if they think it’s relevant to share, they’ll tell you about it. So they get real quiet when something is on their minds.

Now, women tend to be fairly sensitive to the non-verbals of emotions (I’m not making this up; research has found this to be true). The woman catches on pretty quick that something’s bothering her guy. So she asks, “What’s the matter, honey?”

And what answer does she get?

“Nothin’.”

“I can tell something’s bothering you. What’s the matter?”

“Nothin’. I’m fine.”

“Is it me? Did I do something to annoy you?”

“I said, I’m fine,” he says through gritted teeth.

Now she is totally convinced that he’s mad at her, and he is, because she’s not leaving him alone to sort things out.

John Gray, in his book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus, talks about this. He shares the advice passed along by a woman who attended one of his workshops. She said her grandmother had told her, “When a man withdraws into his cave, do not try to follow him, or you will be burned by the fire from the dragon that lives in that cave.”

Image by Antonella Nigro, share alike license on Wikimedia Commons

Does any of this ring a bell for you? Have you ever been burned by the dragon fire? Any fun, or serious, stories to share about venters vs. mullers? Or maybe you know of some exceptions to the rule?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist and college professor turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington Mystery series.)

We blog here at misterio press once a week (usually on Tuesdays), sometimes on serious topics and sometimes just for fun. Please follow us so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Men Are More Aggressive, Women More Emotional–Actually NOT

Most people assume that men, in general, are more aggressive than women, and that women, in general, are more emotional. In fact, the genders do not differ with regard to their natural tendencies in these areas. You heard me right. These are not true gender differences.

Aggression:

It is true that testosterone when injected in animals, immediately makes them more aggressive. This experiment, to the best of my knowledge, has never been done with humans because of ethical and legal issues. But my guess is the results would be the same.

Male Nyalas fighting

It is also true that men have far more testosterone in their bodies than women do. So logic says that men should be more aggressive, and they are, physically, but not when you consider other types of aggression. More on that in a moment.

In the 1970’s, researchers attempted to prove the testosterone/aggression link in humans by looking for a correlation between testosterone levels and violent crime. They compared the levels of this hormone in violent criminals in prison with those of non-violent criminals, i.e., those who committed “white-collar” crimes such as embezzling or insurance fraud. Sure enough, the violent criminals had more testosterone in their bloodstream. There was just one wee little problem with this study. It couldn’t be replicated. Several attempts to repeat the study did not get the same results. Some studies found no differences. Several found that the violent criminals actually had lower levels of testosterone than the nonviolent ones.

Here’s another piece of confusing data. If one just considers physical aggression, elementary-school-aged boys are more aggressive than girls. But guess what? They don’t have all that much testosterone in their systems yet. This hormone is not released in any great quantity until the onset of puberty.

 

Strasbourg porcelain ca. 1775, in Victoria and Albert Museum, photo by Valerie McGlinchey

There are several kinds of aggression. But first let me define aggression. It is the act of invading another person’s territory, physical or emotional, or of violating their rights. So here are the different types:

Instrumental aggression:
the goal is to get something the person wants or avoid something they don’t want. Examples would be a child grabbing another kid’s toy because they want to play with it, someone intentionally butting in front of you in line, or the little brats above fighting over a bunch of grapes.

Reactive aggression:
the person responds to something they perceive as a hostile act with their own aggression. One kid pushes in front of another in line (instrumental aggression); the other kid hits him (reactive aggression).

Unprovoked aggression: intentionally hurting someone, physically or emotionally, because the act of inflicting pain is pleasurable or rewarding for the aggressor. This ranges from the schoolyard bully to the sadistic rapist or serial killer.

And here is the one that levels the playing field gender-wise. Drum roll, please.

Relational aggression:
using ostracization, spreading rumors, withdrawal of friendship, etc. to punish, manipulate or otherwise intentionally harm others’ social standing.

Studies that only look at physical aggression–be it instrumental, reactive or unprovoked–will most definitely find that boys and men, as a group, exhibit more. But when you include relational aggression, the gender difference disappears.

So despite the whole testosterone issue, level of aggression does not seem to be a true gender difference. What is different is the way girls and boys are socialized
to express aggression. “Boys will be boys” while girls are admonished to “play nicely.” So the girls quickly learn to use other tactics to express their aggression.

Now, think about the men whom you know personally. How many of them are truly aggressive, physically, verbally or relationally? Probably just a few. Most men are as uncomfortable with anger and conflict as women are. Fighting is not fun, bottom line.

Now think about the women you know. How many of them are spiteful, or at least rather snarky when gossiping about someone they don’t like. You probably know about as many spiteful women as you know truly aggressive, ready-to-pick-a-fight men. Maybe more.

Emotions:
As an author, I struggle with making the emotional reactions of my characters realistic and also believable. But aren’t these the same thing? No, because people believe that women are more emotional than men. While realistically, they actually feel the same emotions, at the same level of intensity, as women. They are just socialized not to express them!

Say what?

Yup, you heard me right. Studies that tease apart how men and women actually feel from what they are willing to express find that the feelings are the same. One particularly good study asked both men and women to place themselves in the shoes of the protagonist in hypothetical situations. They were given several scenarios to read and then asked to identify what emotion they would feel if they themselves were in such a scenario, and then to rate the intensity of that feeling on a scale of 1 to 10. After they had done that with all the scenarios, they were asked to go back and describe how they would express those feelings.

Both the men and women identified the same emotions. The anger-provoking scenarios provoked anger; the sad scenarios, sadness; the scary ones, fear; and the you-screwed-up ones, guilt.

The more surprising finding, however, was that there was no significant difference between the genders in the intensity of the feelings!

But, boy, did the differences start to show up when it came to expressing those feelings. That’s where the learned gender roles came into play. These are called display rules–which emotions each gender is or is not allowed to express in any given culture.

 

Paris, 1940, the day the French army pulled out and the Nazis took over the city.

When I talk about gender differences with my developmental psychology students, I ask the question, “What emotions are women allowed to express in our society?” They list every emotion out there, except anger. Okay, they might say things like “annoyance” or “frustration,” the milder forms of anger.

Then I ask, “Guys, what emotions are you allowed to express?” There is a long silence, and then one of the male students will say, “Anger.”

“None of the others?” I ask. They think about it for a minute or two, then the guys all shake their heads.

“What?” I say. “You haven’t heard that women like a sensitive guy? Isn’t it okay for you to cry now?”

At this point, the room usually erupts into a lively discussion. The guys cite examples of times when they’ve let their softer sides show to girlfriends, and it didn’t go all that well. Unless she was a platonic friend. Then it was okay, but not with romantic partners.

And some of the gals will admit that it unnerves them when their guys cry. That they might feel empathy for him at the time, but there is a subtle loss of respect. But more and more, in recent times, the female students tell me that they are more assertive, more comfortable expressing anger. And yet the guys still can’t admit to being scared or sad.

In our society, gender roles for boys and men are actually more rigid than for females.

Are women still discriminated against in the workplace and a variety of other arenas? Sadly, yes, all too often. But when it comes to gender roles, we are much more accepting of females exhibiting more masculine roles than we are of males exhibiting more feminine ones. Think about the different implications of “tomboy” versus “sissy.” And girls and women have been wearing pants since World War II, but how often do you see a man in a dress?

While a female police officer or firefighter may still experience harassment by some of her male colleagues, society in general will admire her for choosing that profession. But that same society will look askance at a male interior decorator or hairdresser, or even a male nurse, and may very well question his sexual orientation.

So, times have changed regarding gender roles in our culture, but perhaps not as much as we pretend they’ve changed.

What are your thoughts on all this? What gender differences have you observed recently in how men and women express anger and other emotions?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)
We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address at the top of the column to the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!

Men Do, Women Process

I decided the previous post on this topic was a little too serious, so I’m going to have some fun with this next gender difference in relating.

Meet caveman Charlie Spearhead. (Okay, folks, get your minds outta the gutter! We’re not going to have that much fun.)

Charlie is really beat. He had to chase that damn elk halfway to the end of the world. As his stomach rumbles, he contemplates the rabbit stew that should be bubbling over the fire at that very moment, and afterwards a nice romp in the furs with his cavemate, Georgette. He grins even as his stomach growls a bit louder.

He soon discovers, however, that a fat elk haunch is not going to be sufficient to buy him a peaceful and fun-filled evening. Georgette starts in the minute he crosses the cave threshold. “You will never believe what that Gertrude Deerhunter did today when we were tanning hides.”

“Hummpf,” Charlie says.

“She had the audacity to imply that my hides are always stiff and I never get all the hair off. Oh, she didn’t come right out and say that but…”

Charlie yawns and scratches his chest, eyeing the stew pot hopefully.

“Charlie, are you listening?”

“Just ignore her. Why do you care what she thinks?”

“I don’t care about her, but she was putting me down in front of all the other women, and she was being so indirect about it that I couldn’t confront her. She’s gotten so high and mighty every since her husband got elected war chief… Charlie, what are you doing?”

“I’m cleanin’ my spear.”

I’m trying to talk to you here.”

“Hurummph.”

“Charlie, are you listening to me?”

“Yeah, yeah.” He puts down his spear.

“As I was saying, I couldn’t confront her directly. I’d be the one who’d come off sounding like a bitch, and we’re all going berry-picking tomorrow. I know she’s gonna start up again–”

“Why don’t you go out early,” Charlie interrupts, “and strip all the berries off the bushes before she gets there.”

“I can’t do that. All the other women will think I’m trying to cheat them out of their share. I just can’t believe how she’s just gotten so full of herself since…”

Charlie starts to nod off, sitting by the warm fire.

“Charlie!”

“Hummf, I’m listening already. Can’t we eat while you talk?”

Georgette dishes up some stew for him. “And I can’t believe that nobody else said anything in my de–”

Charlie jumps in. “Hey, why don’t you wear your good dress? The doeskin one that’s so soft. That’ll show her.”

Georgette glares at him for interrupting again, then her expression softens. “Actually I kinda like that idea.”

“Good, glad to help. Man you’ll never believe how far I had to chase that elk today.”

“I still can’t believe that nobody came to my defense, not even Wilma–”

“Why are we still talkin’ about this, Georgette? We solved the problem.”

“Well. I guess you just don’t care that they hurt my feelings. After all, why should my feelings matter when your feet are sore from chasing elk!”

“Hey, why are you getting mad at me?”

“Cause you never listen!”

“Hunh? What have I been doing for the last half hour?”

“Cleaning your spear and eating your dinner.”

Kissing the idea of a romp in the furs goodbye, Charlie sighs.

Are you feeling a bit sorry for Charlie about now? Or are you thinking Georgette married a dimwit? This poor couple has stumbled into one of the most common pitfalls of male-female relationships.

This pitfall is caused by a major difference between the way men and women deal with feelings and problems. Men take action; women process feelings. I’m not saying women don’t act to correct a problem; they do. But they prefer to sort out how they feel about it first, and most women like to do that by talking about the situation and their feelings out loud. And sometimes they have to repeat themselves a few times until they’ve vented sufficiently to move on to a plan of action.

Men don’t get that, because that’s not how they are programmed. Their minds jump immediately to action-oriented problem-solving. So halfway (or sooner) through the venting/sorting out feelings process, they start jumping in to suggest what the woman can DO about the problem. They are then totally mystified as to why their woman is now mad at them!

 
Men, on the other hand, tend to mull it over inside their own heads when they need to sort out how they feel about something. Then if they think it’s relevant to share, they’ll tell you about it. So they get real quiet when something is on their minds.

Now, women tend to be fairly sensitive to the non-verbals of emotions (I’m not making this up; research has found this to be true). The woman catches on pretty quick that something’s bothering her guy. So she asks, “What’s the matter, honey?”

And what answer does she get?

“Nothin’.”

“I can tell something’s bothering you. What’s the matter?”

“Nothin’. I’m fine.”

“Is it me? Did I do something to annoy you?”

“I said, I’m fine,” he says through gritted teeth.

Now she is totally convinced that he’s mad at her, and he is, because she’s not leaving him alone to sort things out. John Gray, in his book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are From Venus, talks about this. He shares the advice passed along by a woman who attended one of his workshops. She said her grandmother had told her, “When a man withdraws into his cave, do not try to follow him, or you will be burned by the fire from the dragon that lives in that cave.”

Image by Antonella Nigro, share alike license on Wikimedia Commons

Does any of this ring a bell for you? Have you ever been burned by the dragon fire? Any fun, or serious, stories to share about venters vs. mullers? Or maybe you know of some exceptions to the rule?

(Posted by Kassandra Lamb. Kassandra is a retired psychotherapist turned mystery writer. She writes the Kate Huntington mystery series.)
 

We blog here at misterio press once a week about more serious topics, usually on Monday or Tuesday. Sometimes we blog again, on Friday or the weekend, with something just for fun.

Please follow us by filling in your e-mail address at the top of the column to the right, so you don’t miss out on any of the interesting stuff, or the fun!