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MEN, WOMEN PROGRAMMED DIFFERENTLY CULTURALLY

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A recent "Cathy" cartoon humorously illustrates some quantitative differences between men and women. She says:

- He feels job stress. She feels job stress, relationship stress, mother stress, biological clock stress, wrinkles stress, cellulite stress, credit card stress, fashion stress and organizational stress.- He lives in a house. She creates a loving, nurturing, cozy, artistic, romanic, hip, inviting environment.

- He gets dressed. She puts together a complete look, exactly suited to the event, the temperature and her up-to-the-minute emotional stress.

The upshot of the cartoon?

"If you don't judge a man until you walked a mile in his shoes . . . don't judge a woman until you've walked a mile in her open-toed, sling back, spike-heeled platform pumps."

Nicely said. The point is - don't make meaning out of a man's, or a woman's, behavior until you view the world through his or her respective eyes. Here are sample ways in which the sexes are programmed differently culturally, stemming from boys historically talking about ideas, things, tasks, work and sports, and girls talking about people, emotions and relationships.

- Women often expect a man to be an improved version of her best friend, who, of course, talks. He often would just like someone who doesn't press him onto emotional turf, where he feels uncomfortable.

"Feeling talk," he thinks, is the purview of women. He may also think that it is effeminate, irrelevant and unproductive. Besides that, he feels as if he keeps flunking tests when he has to talk about his feelings. He may not have any feelings; he may not know what they are; he may simply not want to share them; and, in some cases, he knows that, to stay out of trouble, he better not. (The sexes are in deep trouble already, but wait, the plot thickens.)

- Men and women have different ways of showing they're listening. Women use noises, such as "hmm" and "un-huh" just to show they're listening and understanding, while men, in keeping with their different focus in communication, use noises to show they agree, and these noises may not come until the tail end of the conversation. If a man doesn't make enough noises, a woman may conclude he's not understanding or he simply isn't interested in what she's saying. If a woman makes too many noises when a man's talking, he may conclude she's patronizing him.

- Men tend to listen silently to women and focus on the information being conveyed (just as they would in "man-speak") rather than on the feeling messages between the lines, saying "yes" or "OK" if they agree with what's being said. Because a woman focuses on details, she often claims to recall exactly what a man said, and she wants him to account for it. But since he was listening to the overall thrust of the conversation, he has forgotten exactly what was said - if not the whole conversation. He swears he didn't say what she says he said. She swears he did.

- To a woman, a heart-to-heart discussion shows involvement, interest and caring. Men don't miss heart-to-heart talks - in fact, they may try to avoid them.

- A woman often starts out with indirect openers such as "What are we going to do tonight?" expecting a discussion on the topic (as per "woman-speak"). Trained to give solutions as the way to "help," a man may simply say, "We're staying home." He thinks he's solved the problem. She thinks he's insensitive and uncaring because he cut off communication and didn't even ask about her preference.

- Usually a woman's view of a "good relationship" is one she can talk about with her partner. A man's view of a good relationship is one he doesn't have to talk about.

- A woman defines intimacy as having heart-to-heart talks with a man, with her baring her soul while he listens, and then, in turn, him baring his soul while she listens. A man defines intimacy as spending time and doing things together.

- Women talk to others for comfort, whereas men use conversation as an arena for competition. For men, conversation is work because they use it to impress and relay factual information. It is comforting for them not to have to talk.

- Men regard home as a haven in which they can relax and feel free not to talk. Women regard a home as a place where they're free to talk. If a man comes home to a woman who's been home with the kids, she'll probably want to talk and he'll want to shut down. If they have both come from the workplace, she may still want to give a blow-by-blow account of continuing sagas in the office. He may simply want the sagas to be done with.

- In business relationships, men tend to stick to business topics (or mix them with some "sports" talk) while women often mix business and personal talk to facilitate the work task and relationships. Men often perceive women as unproductive and wandering off target. Women often wonder why men are so staid and formal.

- For women, achieving an emotional tie with a man through intimate talk is a precursor to feeling sensual and preparing for sexual intimacy. For men, reaching out sexually is a way of being intimate - of sharing themselves and their feelings. When women feel lonely and hurt, they want a man to talk to them and to understand their feelings. When men feel lonely and hurt, they want to hold, to be held and to make love. Talk about needing an interpreter. . . .

It's no wonder, as Bill Cosby has observed, that men and women are like two U.N. delegates whose headphones have jammed. Most of us could use a 24-hour-a-day on-duty repairman - whoops - repairperson.