G'Day fellow men,
Came across this article by Naomi Wolf which provides an interesting spin on gender roles.
Look forward to your thoughts and discussion...
How the male brain can't see the laundry pile up
North Americans of my generation grew up with the 1970s children's record Free to Be ... You and Me, on which Rosey Grier, an immense former gridiron star, sang It's All Right to Cry. The message: girls could be tough, and boys were allowed not to be.
For almost 40 years, that era's Western feminist critique of rigid sex-role stereotyping has prevailed. In many ways, it has eroded constraints that turned peaceable boys into aggressive men and stuck ambitious girls in low-paying jobs.
Feminists understandably have often shied away from scientific evidence that challenges this critique of sex roles. Because biology-based arguments have been used to justify women's subjugation, women have been reluctant to concede any innate difference. But, in view of recent scientific discoveries, has feminist resistance to accepting any signs of innate gender difference only created new biases?
The feminist critique, for example, has totally remade elementary-level education, where female decision-makers prevail: the construction of male hierarchies in the schoolyard is often redirected for fear of "bullying", with boys and girls alike expected to "share" and "process" their emotions. But many educators have begun to argue that such intervention in what may be a hard-wired aspect of "boy-ness" can lead to boys' academic underperformance relative to girls and to more frequent diagnoses of behavioural problems.
And education is just the beginning. An entire academic discipline emerged out of the wholesale critique of the male tendency to create hierarchy, engage in territoriality and be drawn to conflict.
This critique of "masculinity" dramatically affected intimate relationships: women were encouraged to express their dissatisfaction with men's refusal to "share" their inner lives. Women complained of not being heard, of men disappearing after work to tinker in the garage or zone out in front of the TV. But such complaints assumed that men choose all of their behaviour.
Now a spate of scientific analyses suggests that we must be willing to grapple with some genuine, measurable differences between the sexes.
The most famous of these studies, anthropologist Helen Fisher's Anatomy of Love, explains the evolutionary impetus for human tendencies in courtship, marriage, adultery, divorce and child rearing. Some of her findings are provocative: it seems that we are hard-wired for serial monogamy and must work hard to maintain pair-bonds; that highly orgasmic women enjoy an evolutionary advantage; and that flirtation among primates closely resembles the way young men and women in a bar show their sexual interest today.
Moreover, in her description of our evolution, Fisher notes that males who could tolerate long periods of silence (waiting for animals while in hunt mode) survived to pass on their genes, thus genetically selecting to prefer "space". By contrast, females survived best by bonding with others and building community, since such groups were needed to gather roots, nuts and berries while caring for small children.
Reading Fisher, one is more inclined to leave boys alone to challenge one another and test their environment and to accept that, as she puts it, nature designed men and women to collaborate for survival. "Collaboration" implies free will and choice; even primate males do not succeed by controlling females. In her analysis, it serves everyone for men and women to share their sometimes different but often complementary strengths - a conclusion that seems reassuring.
What Could He Be Thinking?, by Michael Gurian, a consultant in neurobiology, takes this set of insights further. Gurian argues men's brains can actually feel invaded and overwhelmed by too much verbal processing of emotion, so that men's need to zone out or do something mechanical rather than emote is often not a rejection of their spouses, but a neural need.
Gurian even posits that the male brain actually can't "see" dust or laundry piling up as the female brain often can, and men often can't hear women's lower tones, and their brains, unlike women's, have a "rest" state (he actually is sometimes thinking about "nothing"!).
Moreover, Gurian argues that men tend to rear children differently from women for similarly neurological reasons, encouraging more risk taking and independence and with less awareness of the details of their nurture. One can see the advantages to children of having both parenting styles. He urges women to try side-by-side activities, not only face-to-face verbalisation, to experience closeness with their mates.
According to Gurian, if women accept these biological differences and work around them, men respond with great appreciation and devotion (often non-verbally). Women who embrace these findings report relations with men become much smoother and more intimate.
None of this means that men and women should not try to adjust to each other's wishes. But it may mean we can understand each other better and be more patient as we seek communication.
Nor does recent scientific research imply that men (or women) are superior, much less justify discrimination. But it does suggest that a more pluralistic society, open to all kinds of difference, can learn, work and love better.
Naomi Wolf is a political activist and social critic.
Sydney Morning Herald
6 June 2009