Vive la Difference, Part 1

By Anne Gagliano

Men and women’s genetic code is more than 99 percent the same; there is a less than one percent difference between us, but that one percent influences every cell in our bodies. Though mostly the same, we are incredibly, beautifully different. In some areas women excel, in others men do; when combined, our strengths and weaknesses are perfectly balanced, and together two can become one—a better functioning and complete unit.

It is politically correct these days to claim that men and woman are exactly the same only treated differently by society and therefore forced into certain roles; we all know that this isn’t true, though we’ve become reluctant to publicly admit it.  Inherently, we know that girls and boys are born the way they are, and modern science now confirms this with new technology that is coming to understand the intricate human brain.  It has, finally, become okay to point out the differences and not only stop denying they exist but recognize and celebrate them.

Brain research has uncovered astonishing findings that were, until recently, unknown.  Doctors for centuries have assumed men were simply smarter than women because their brains are 10 percent bigger, even after accounting for body size ratios.  All sexual and behavioral differences have been chalked up to hormonal influences.  But new studies have revealed that men and women’s brain lobes are proportionally different and function in unique ways.  Though men do have approximately 6.5 times more gray matter, women have 10 times more white matter.  What does that mean?  Gray matter is full of active neurons, and white matter is full of connections between neurons. Translation: Men have more ideas; women connect the dots faster.  Interesting, isn’t it?  Brain scans reveal that when a man is focusing on solving a problem, only one area of the brain lights up; a woman’s entire brain lights up when she is solving the same problem.  Though men’s brains are bigger, women have the exact same number of brain cells; they’re just packed in more tightly.  IQ averages are the same for both sexes.  So what do tests reveal in how the different brains work? Men tend to focus more deeply on one task; women are better multitaskers–equally intelligent but different in function.

This may be a shocker, but the area of the brain associated with speech is bigger in women; thus, hence, and therefore, women talk more.  Surprise, surprise, surprise: Women speak on average 20,000 words a day; men, 7,000.  Women actually get high from talking; men do not.  Not only is that area of the brain larger in females but the need to communicate is fueled by estrogen as well.  During puberty, when estrogen levels are raging out of control, a teen girl will literally feel compelled to talk nonstop.  (That’s why you can’t get them off the phone.)  Teen boys, by contrast, experience the opposite: Testosterone actually shuts down the desire to communicate and fuels the need for action in either physical activity or sex.  That’s why teen boys practically wince at the thought of being forced to sit down and have a family meal; for them, the prospect of meaningless small talk is actually painful.  Fortunately, these extreme behaviors level out after puberty; otherwise, males and females would never connect.  But the differences in the need to communicate and socialize never completely match: Women remain more social for life, men more physical.

Here’s another shocker: Guess who’s typically more aggressive? Men. Science again confirms this obvious difference, as their aggressive center of the brain is much larger than that of women.  Fueled with testosterone, men are inherently creatures of action.  A man can go from zero to a fistfight in a matter of seconds.  Until recently, the fight or flight reaction has been presumed to be a natural reaction to threat for both sexes.  However, scientists are now re-thinking this theory, as women physically neither have the brain structure nor the hormones to fight much at all.  Instead, typically, women avoid conflict like the plague.  When confronted with a threat, women will instead try to talk their way out of it.  So compelled are women to keep social relationships intact that they will try with all their verbal skills to keep the peace.  This new theory is called the “tend and befriend” theory, and it is currently being studied in rhesus monkeys and baboons.  The female monkeys develop elaborate social structures with other females to help nurture (or tend) their young; they even band together (befriend) when a male gets too violent with one of them.  The female monkeys with more “friends” produce a much larger number of living offspring.  Since women, especially pregnant ones or mothers with small children, can’t outrun or fight a stronger man, they instead must either turn to others for help or try to reason with the attacker.  Men, on the other hand, have the wiring, the strength, and the fuel to fight their way out and will do so to save the ones they love.

Aggression in men is also played out in their desire to compete. Men actually love to compete; they thrive on it. Women have aggression, but it is manifested in other, more subtle ways, which is known as “passive aggressive.” Women will verbally try to get their way instead of physically doing so; they are the masters at talking others into doing what they want. On the negative side, women, especially girls, are much more adept at being bossy, backstabbing, and cutting. Where men tend to fight it out with direct physicality and confrontation, women tend to shred their opponents indirectly with vicious gossip. Again, all of this behavior can be attributed to brain structure; the sexes do what they do for a reason.

There are several more, interesting differences between men and women that I wish to explore in my next column, such as the “feeling brain” and even the directional brain (as in, guess who really doesn’t need to ask for directions?). It’s fun to realize, men and women, especially those of you who have been married as long as my husband Mike and I have, that it’s not just you—it’s not just him; all women have the same basic quirks and so do men.  But these peculiar traits are what make the opposite sex so incredibly appealing and such a profound mystery. Who wants to live with someone who is completely identical to them? How utterly boring!  Vive la difference!

 

Anne Gagliano has been married to Captain Mike Gagliano of the Seattle (WA) Fire Department for 27 years. She and her husband lecture together on building and maintaining a strong marriage.

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