Men Are Not Women With Chest Hair
Last week’s post by Elaine Viets reminded me that the different ways (clichés or not) we describe men and women might have some basis in how we’re hard wired. The following post is based on workshop presentations by Eileen Dreyer and Tracy Montoya.
As a writer of romantic suspense, one genre expectation is that stories are told from both the hero and heroine’s points of view. Writing characters outside one’s gender—and this isn’t restricted to the romance genre, or to major characters—is a challenge. As the title of this blog points out, men aren’t women with chest hair. There are some hard-wired differences, and understanding them can make characters ring true for readers.
Although we know that someone with the XX chromosome set is female, and the males are XY, it’s not ‘either-or’. During gestation, at about the 6-8 week point, the fetus undergoes a ‘hormone wash’, which may be highly loaded with estrogen or testosterone. This overlays brain development and influences brain function. So, there’s really a continuum of sexuality.
And – all of these points are generalizations. There will always be exceptions. Don’t shoot the messenger. I’m sharing my workshop notes here.
There are definite differences in brain structure in males and females. Differences are noted at 26 weeks of pregnancy. The brain develops differently in males before sex hormones are produced, so part of the sex differences in the brain is genetic.
Now, cutting to the chase: Humans started out a long, long time ago. Changes in the brain are nowhere near catching up. So, we’re basically hard-wired to survive, but not in this century. Traveling back to the days of early man…
Males are hard-wired as hunters. They have better long range directional skills. They’ve got a better spatial sense. They focus on single tasks, on procreation, they focus on things.
Females are hard-wired as protectors of the nest. They’re communal, have more finely tuned sensory skills, are multi-taskers. They’re non-verbal communicators. They can process and integrate input faster.
Some differences (and remember, these are generalizations)
- The male resting brain is 30% active.
- The female resting brain is 90% active. (So, yeah, it’s hard for us to ‘shut down’)
- The male brain is logical.
- The female brain is emotive.
- The male brain is left hemisphere dominant, with the exception of the spatial area.
- The female brain is more multi-hemisphere, with a thicker Corpus Callosum.
- When men speak, only one site is active. (Right—they talk OR listen.)
- When women speak, both the hearing and speech centers are active.
The hard wiring is evidenced at a very early age. Little girls want to fit in. Little boys like to be the boss. As women, we grow up wanting to be part of the group and don’t like to make waves, whereas for men, it’s about the hierarchy. Girls share secrets, like to connect. Boys want to be higher up the ladder and use language to one-up each other. If that doesn’t work, they may resort to physical means.
Which is why men don’t ask for directions — it puts them ‘one step under’ the person they’re asking for help. And it helps explain why men don’t apologize. That also puts them in a subservient role. Or if they do, it’s more like, “I’m sorry if you feel that way…”
These observations are built around our culture and our language, and are broad generalizations. Patterns, not rules. Regional background, age, and birth order also play a part.
Here’s a real life example of how little boys play the game. Three little boys in a car. One says, “We’re going to Disneyland for four days.” Boy #2 says, “We’re going to Disneyland for FIVE days.” Boy #3 says, “We’re MOVING to Disneyland.” The driver was the father of Boy #3. He was about to step in and admonish his son for lying, but his passenger, Deborah Tannen, a professor of linguistics, stopped him. She explained that they’d just established the pecking order, and his son came out on top. The boys all knew it was a verbal battle, and they knew nobody was moving to Disneyland.
And, on a lighter note (with apologies for the poor video quality):
I’m pleased to announce that my upcoming Mystery Romance, Heather’s Chase, is now available for preorder at most e-book channels. Note: in honor of my daughter, I’m sharing royalties with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
(If you’d like to see some of the pictures I took on my trip, many of which appear as settings in the book, click on the book title above and scroll down to “Special Features.”)