For many years, I stayed out of the “men vs. women” debate, mainly because of my dad. He is an old man who grew up in a very patriarchal and chauvinistic society, yet is the most admirable example of gender equality.
My dad cooked, took care of the kids, helped us with our did homework, cleaned the house (inside and outside), brushed our hair, did arts and craft and was never ashamed of any of it. He had four daughters and one son and I thought he was fair and equal in his attitude to boys and girls.
In fact, my dad’s behavior cluttered my outlook on life in a way, because whenever I heard someone talking about the stereotypical man, I said, “This is not true, because my dad is different”. Now, I have to admit that I was wrong. There is something true about the stereotypes about men and my dad was the odd one out.
I am not sure whether the differences between men and women are genetic. I think there are probably some genetic dispositions, but most of them are social. After all, I am a behaviorist, who believes we can change our life.
One big difference between men and women is their language. If you listen to a group of men, they will tell you their wives speak another language and vise versa. They say it because it is probably true.
I have been with Gal for 36 years and in the last 10 years, I have discovered that many of the conversations we have are also typical for many couples, including my friends and my clients. Women and men do speak different languages.
Girls learn to socialize and care from one year of age. Go to the toy shops and see what kind of toys there are for girls and what toys they sell to boys. Girls care for babies, cook and do social things together. Boys do things that are strong, aggressive and sporty.
I have found six main stereotypical differences between men and women (although I am sure there are more). I know that not all men and not all women fall into them 100%. Just like my own dad, some people are different and unique and the function differently than the society around them. But generally from personal experience, from friends, from my own clients, I find those differences to be typical.
1. Collaboration vs. Control
While women look for collaboration, men seek control. If a woman asks, “Would you like to go to the movies?” the man will say, “Yes” or “No”. Men and women consider this incident from very different perspectives. Women think it is a way to express their own desire to go to the movies and invite the man to join. Men, on the other hand, think that the choice is theirs.
Another example of the difference is the desires in life. While women seek connections and focus on increasing the support structure of the family, men focus on gaining status. In many cases, this can cause trouble in their relationship when women earn more money than their husbands do. Many guys will say they do not care, but when talking to my clients, who feel safe to share their true feelings about this issue, their desire for status is so high that their wife earning more money makes them feel humiliated.
Given these language differences, it is better for women to be assertive and say, “I would like to go to the movies. Would you like to join me?” rather than leaving it to the man to make a choice for both of them.
In relation to women in high positions and earning more money, men need to grow out of their feelings of inferiority and stereotypical expectations for their woman to be dependent on them.
2. Understanding vs. Advice
A typical conflict between men and women happens when the woman shares her difficulties with the man. While women want to feel understood, men give advice to solve problems. For women, expression is a great way to get over their problems, and for men, the aim of the communication is to get their help in getting rid of the problem.
This difference can also be seen in the attitude towards children. When a child shares a story about a difficult conversation with the teacher, the woman will encourage the child to talk and share his thoughts. The man will tell him what to do, often suggesting, “Tell the teacher to…”
Women search for empathy. Men look for action that will get rid of the negative feeling.
In this case, men need to stop giving so much advice, listen more and ask questions aimed at even more sharing of emotions (but mostly, just listen). In life, listening more can do a lot of good to any relationship, regardless of whether you are a man or a woman.
3. Feeling different
Our society encourages girls to express their feelings and boys to hide them. When couples get together, they keep doing the same thing.
Women are more comfortable sharing feelings, both good and not so good. They have many ways to express their feelings both at home and away from home. Men, on the other hand, are so used to not sharing their feelings that when they do, these feelings are exaggerated.
At work, where men spend most of their day, they focus mainly on status. Expressing their feelings does not go hand in hand with their work goals, so they keep them bottled in. By the time they come home, they seem insensitive to others’ feelings.
I hear too many women saying that men do not have feelings, but that is not true at all. We all have feelings. We just express them differently.
Some men, when they learn to express their feelings at a later stage in life, find it overwhelming. While women learn to recognize their feelings and control them gradually from a very early age, men who develop emotional awareness later on in life can feel very confused. This is a healthy process and the confusion decreases over time with practice.
In any relationship, it is better to use the expression “I feel” and use it properly. “I feel that you don’t care” does not describe an emotion. After the words “I feel”, there should be a feeling: happy, sad, optimistic, angry, full of hope, disappointed, frustrated, etc.
Take responsibility over your feelings, regardless of your gender. Feelings are about you and sharing them openly creates intimacy. Typically, this invites your partner to do the same and brings you closer together.
4. Single task, multi task
A very common difference between men and women is the ability to do more things at a time. Generally, women can multi-task and men prefer to focus on one thing at a time. Again, this is due to social upbringing.
Traditionally, women gave birth and cared for their kids, and this is still more their role than the men’s. Raising children is the best multi-tasking school, making every woman able to handle more tasks than she could before having kids. They practice doing it every day, many times a day, so they must learn how to multi-task or they cannot survive.
Men do not have enough opportunities to master this skill. There is no point being angry about it. Just accept it. Women, be more patient. Men, practice multi-tasking. And if at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.
5. Suggestions vs. Demands
Women like to suggest things to do by using words like “How about we buy a new washing machine?” or “Let’s go to the movies”, while men see these as demands. Men do not like it when women make decisions without their input and it will not help women to say it was just a suggestion.
The need to feel important is essential for men and they get significance from their status as “the man of the house”. When they are not in full control, it puts pressure on the men and can make them feel bad.
It is better to recognize that we just have different communication words. Women can use “I would like to suggest” and be clearer and men can recognize suggestions even when the word “suggestion” is not included.
6. Conflict and Compromising
One main difference between men and women is women’s desire to avoid conflicts, while men view compromising as a weakness. Women’s caring mechanism is stimulated since they are two or three years old and they play with dolls and their desire to connect with others makes them compromise a lot.
I have written about mothers who are trained to compromise so much that they forget to care for themselves. Mothers are in charge of the home while fathers are in charge of working and bringing in money. Women generally practice caring and are good jugglers. They chose their battles better than men do, while men can make a conflict out of even small things that do not happen the way they want.
The best thing to do is to take responsibility over your own thoughts and feelings, care for yourself and remember that compromise is a strength, not a weakness. Highlighting every tiny thing by fighting over it makes you hard to live with and creates resentment.
Men and women are different, if only because society’s expectations of them are different. Those differences can disturb any relationship between men and women and if we do not understand that we are trapped by social constraints, we might blame each other for the differences.
What we do naturally seems to us as the “right” thing and it is not! It is just our way, not “right” or “wrong”. Learning to accept each other is the key. We are all created by our society’s stereotypes.