“If only he would pick up on my hints so I don’t have to spell it out!”
“If only he would talk to me about his feelings!”
“If only she would let me give her advice and not just want me to listen to her problems!”
Do these thoughts ever go through your mind? I’m sure they have. We have all had frustrations with the opposite sex at one point or another. It can lead to conflict, divorce, and pain if we don’t try to understand each other more. But no one ever teaches us about gender differences, unless you happen to come across a class like mine when you are in college.
I have been teaching gender communication for about 15 years, and it’s my favorite class. Why? Because my students become mesmerized. They have so many “Ah Ha!” moments. I love that!
Here are eight research-proven facts about gender that could be helpful to you:
1. People start “gender-izing” before a baby is even born.
I know people who decorate their baby boy’s room with images of footballs, basketballs and anything else sports-related. And they decorate girls’ rooms with pink colors, flowers, and frilly things. And don’t forget the flower headbands on the girl babies! The point here is that we are all so obsessed with labeling our children that we automatically set forth these unspoken expectations even before they are born.
2. Gender ideals are culturally bound (and time-bound).
American women shave their legs and arm pits. But in some other areas of the world, this isn’t so. And back several hundred years ago, the gender ideal for a woman was to be overweight and have very white skin (because it meant they were rich enough to eat well and not work in the fields). Now it’s the opposite. So gender ideals are very relative — even within families. Some families expect traditional gender roles from their children, while others welcome challenging those boundaries.
3. We tend to model our same-sex parent’s behavior.
The Social Learning Theory suggests that we model the behavior that we see on a regular basis. Therefore, if your mom wore make-up, did all the household chores, and was a stay-at-home mom, then you are more likely to follow in her footsteps. However, if your dad stayed at home with the kids while your mom was CEO of a company, you are more likely to follow their behavior. This theory makes gender behavior a little more individualistic and relative to families.
4. Males and females learn differently and are not treated the same in the classroom.
I’m sure you’ve heard that boys tend to be better at math, science and spatial subjects. And girls are better at reading and language. But did you know that teachers also treat them differently? From pre-school to graduate school, teachers tend to focus more time and attention on male students. The reasons for this vary, but it is true.
5. Men and women tend to have different leadership styles.
Traditionally, men have dominated the public sphere (business world and everything outside the home), whereas women have dominated the private sphere. Because of that, there are different skills required to be successful in these different arenas. One of those differing skills is their leadership styles. While there is a lot of research on the topic, men tend to be more autocratic leaders — they “tell people what to do.” On the contrary, women tend to be more democratic leaders — they ask input from their subordinates and give them more of a voice. Of course, not every male or female leader falls into these categories, but those are the tendencies.
6. Many women use “powerless” language.
Females tend to use language that undercuts their power and authority, and it is also excessively polite. They often say things like, “This might be a stupid idea, but …” or “I’m so sorry, am I bothering you? I can come back later…” or “You’ll be home soon, won’t you?” These types of ways of speaking gives up the power to the other person to say, “Yes, that’s a stupid idea” or “Yes, you’re bothering me — go away” or “No, I won’t be home soon.” Women are socialized to speak like this because they are supposed to be nice and polite to other people, but it undermines their self-confidence as well.
7. Women listen to connect with another person, and men listen to solve a problem.
When listening to a woman, men often think, “Oh my gosh, can she just GET TO THE POINT?” And women are thinking, “Why can’t he just listen to me without giving me advice and trying to fix my problem?” This is normal. Women view listening as something that bonds people. Men, however, are very goal-oriented. They don’t really see the point of just listening to someone vent if they can’t help them. Neither style is bad, they are just different!
8. The media simultaneously creates and perpetuates gender stereotypes.
As I discussed in point number two, gender ideals change and are culture-specific. And a huge area where we get messages about how we should be as a male or female is from the media. For example, women are socialized to want to have extravagant weddings. And men are socialized to want their independence. It’s not true for ALL men and ALL women, but generally speaking, it’s true.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. I teach an entire semester-long class about the topic of gender differences, so there is no way that I could fit it all into one little article. But hopefully I gave you some information that will help you be more tolerant and forgiving of the opposite sex!