Men are from Caves

By Murray Bourne, 22 Feb 2005

"Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus" by John Gray was an amusing, if somewhat repetitive read. His take is that men by nature are solitary, problem solving creatures, while women are great communicators who would rather talk at length about problems rather than going straight for a solution. Certainly I could relate to his assertion that men retreat to their 'caves' when facing some crisis - and need space to sort things out.

It is refreshing when there is a realisation of the fact that men and women are different. After years of feminist rantings that there are no differences between the sexes (is this a fair summary...?) it is constructive that we recognise the differences and live with them. Sure it is unfair that women still have lower salaries for equal work and that they find it harder to climb the corporate ladder - this is unjust. But something became skewed in the heady bra burning days.

Reading the book reminded me of a very interesting documentary series of some years ago called "Brain Sex". It was about real-time MRI scans of males and females performing certain linguistic and mathematical problems. The differences in the way men's and women's brains work is quite dramatic. For the linguistic task, men tend to do all their cognitive processing in one region of the frontal lobe, while women's brains tend to fire all over the place. Likewise for the mathematical task - men's brains tend to solve the problem in one area of the brain while women's brains use more communication between the 2 hemispheres. The researches put this down to an enlarged corpus callosum in women - allowing and encouraging more communication between the left and right hemispheres.

Image source: PNAS.org

There is interesting ongoing research into this fascinating area. See "Sex Differences in the Neural Basis of Emotional Memories".

I did a lot of thinking about the implications of all this for mathematics teaching and the differences in the approaches of boys and girls to learning maths - and the struggles they had with it. Girls tend to prefer a more linguistic-based approach (more verbal descriptions on what is going on) while boys tend to prefer a symbolic and visual approach.

See the 1 Comment below.

One Comment on “Men are from Caves”

1. Reynir says:

Telling people that men and women are just fundementally different always makes for good pop-science. People love to hear what they already "know".

Personally I don't put much stock into essentialism (which claims that "there is a mental trait, or magnitude of mental tendency which all women have and no men have", and/or vice versa)... I prefer to think of it as differences in average... and the thing is, men are very different from one another and the same goes for women, and the actual average difference between men and women is sometimes small...

I haven't taken any college statistics yet so I don't know the proper terminology... just picture two somewhat flat bell curves overlapping a great deal and you have what I'm trying to say.

So I belive that the word "tend" is in order... (e.g. men tend to have higher libido than women). Because it is rather easy to find pairs of people where:

The woman has higher libido than the man.
The woman is more of a problem solver than the man.

The man is more talkative than the woman.
The man has a greater liking for kids than the woman.

And I think it is completely wrong to refer to such people as "manly women" or "womanly men" ... it's completely wrong when you look at the statistics, and also that way you are verbally assaulting them by calling into question their personhood (in Western cultural terms).

(in Western culture a gender is a linguistic prerequesite for personhood... some cultures have a gender-neutral pronoun, but if you're going to promote an animal (say, a pet) to person status in the West you first have to check what kind of junk it has between it's legs. Otherwise it's still an "it". Kind of bizarre when you think about it.)

In conclusion, sometimes a measured average difference, large or small, could largely be a result of social conditioning... so who knows how large the average differences in the nature of men and women REALLY are underneath all that. That's something I often wonder about...

Anyway enough 😛

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