Here’s a question for you: Why do men enjoy oral sex with their wives? In a large-scale survey on that very subject, 15 percent of the men polled responded that they enjoy the sensation; 85 percent of the men said they enjoy the quiet.
Okay, so that was a joke, but the question remains: Why is it that men are so different from women when it comes to the issue of the gab? Obviously, this isn’t a cut-and-dried type of situation. Irish men are known for their gift of the blarney; Rush Limbaugh and his ilk have a bombastic verbal style; and somewhere, I am positive, there is a woman who is the strong, silent type.
Most would agree that women and men tend to be different when it comes to flapping their chops. John Gray (the Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus guy) has built a virtual empire on this generalization. And we boots-on-the-ground therapists are fond of opining that women talk to each other in order to feel close, whereas men need to feel close first (through doing business or sports, for example) before they are willing to really talk to each other.
But are men and women really that different in how their minds work and how they communicate? Psychologists have been studying this question a lot lately and you may be surprised at the findings. Men and women, it seems, are more alike than they are different.
That was the conclusion of Dr. Janet Hyde, from the University of Wisconsin, who probably knows more about this topic than anybody else. She has done a huge meta analysis on more than 10 years of studies on gender differences in communication style, personality, moral reasoning, and social styles. In her analysis, more than three quarters of the studies showed that gender differences were small to nonexistent. As for females being verbally superior to men, Dr. Hyde found they had virtually no advantage over males.
If this is the case, why do you see so many examples of the following vignette? Two middle-aged couples are sharing a lovely night out, dining at Olio e Limone. The two women are chatting merrily away, animated and engaged, while the two men are staring blankly off into space, only occasionally addressing each other. Are the men, at the mercy of their testosterone, rendered mute while their hormonally different wives are free to verbally embrace life and all of its permutations?
According to the American Psychological Association’s informative Web site (apa.org), the research points to social and cultural factors as having the most influence over any perceived or actual differences between men and women when it comes to performance, verbal or otherwise. Dr. Hyde’s review looked at the well-known gender expectation that boys are better than girls at math and found that environmental factors played a more significant role than any genetic influences. It was concluded that internalized belief systems as well as gender discrimination in education and employment contribute more to performance disparities. The authors state that both men and women are very much influenced by “subtle but pervasive gender expectations that really kick in during high school and college.”
There is such a thing as a “stereotype threat” that can be influential in shaping our behaviors. When we believe we will be evaluated based on societal stereotypes-as is so often the case in our conformist society-then we have a tendency to get in line.
Where do these “stereotype threats” leave so many married couples? In a New Yorker cartoon, it shows men holing up in their dens, smoking their pipes and tying flies for their upcoming fishing trip while the women are in the kitchen on the phone, planning the next social gathering to sabotage that fishing trip.
No one wins when trapped by a stereotype.
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Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his Web site/blog at HealthspanWeb.com for more information.