It’s not easy being different — gender and biology

Recently, I had the pleasure to attend a John Gray weekend seminar — at his beautiful Hilltop Ranch in Mendocino. This one focused on the biological bases of gender differences.

Of course, we remember John Gray as the author of “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (who was on my Pathways radio show some 20 years ago), whose book dramatically stimulated new discussions about gender differences. Now he is focusing on the hard science behind his original theories about the differences between men and women, and how we can use them to increase happiness, once we understand them.

It is fascinating to consider the social and relationship impacts of the significant differences in brain structure and hormone balances between women and men. Consider that baby girls given a toy truck are likely to cradle it. Give little boys a doll and they will likely turn it into a gun. And these things happen even when the mother is consciously trying to eliminate any prejudice (dressing the boy in pink? :-).

Also, consider the fact that the avg healthy male is operating under the influence of 30 times the testosterone as an avg female. 30 times is a humongous difference, but it’s nature’s way. Testosterone is the hormone that fuels competitive behaviors and sexual desire … (it’s no wonder males tend to think about sex … it reminds me of the gigantic humpback males head-butting over a cow, which I saw the other day here in Maui).

Sure, we can say “Viva la difference” and relish the stimulating chemistry of our polarity … but day-to-day it’s not always easy being so different. For instance, at the end of a long day at work, in order to relieve their stress, Gray points out that males need to recharge their testosterone — perhaps by resting (or even ‘zoning out’). This, however, is not helpful to his stressed out honey also coming home from work, because as a female she needs something completely different to balance out her stress — she needs oxytocin, the bonding hormone!

She needs to talk and feel close at precisely the time when he may be least interested. Now that sheds some light on why it can be such a challenge for men and women to get along well over extended periods of time in close quarters!

In the old days (think hunter/gatherer period lasting a million years), everyone lived together in a communal settlement, where extended family and lots of space provided plenty of opportunities for men and women to get their needs met in a natural way.

Now, although we live in crowded urban hives, our biology is still wired the old way. A big part of our challenge socially is our lack of that tribal feeling of extended family … often we don’t even know our neighbors in the next apartment! Women’s groups (and male groupings — on the playing field rather than the pub) — and community activities in general — do a lot of good things, but may also exist to serve a need to bond.

I, for one, appreciate John’s research efforts to help us all find compassion and peace, love and happiness and health, through mutual understanding of our very real differences!

>> Check out last year’s write up about the Venus Talk.