©Arlene Taylor PhD
The topic of gender differences is at once exciting and open to misunderstanding if not downright intimidating. Human beings have been arguing about and surviving gender differences for eons, although sometimes the process hasn’t been accomplished with much understanding or grace, to say nothing of enjoyment! What is for certain is that none of us has all the answers or possesses the definitive edge on truth, especially in the area of male/female differences. There are a couple of caveats to consider.
It’s important to avoid ascribing characteristics to an entire gender based on the fact that we know one man or one woman very well. Some so-called gender differences may relate more to other factors such as sensory system preference, extroversion-introversion preference, thinking process preference, past personal experiences, and strong beliefs or expectations
When you react out of proportion to any given situation, especially when the situation involves cross-gender communication, the overreaction typically relates to the something in your past. Something about the current situation reminded your brain of a past event (e.g., unhealed woundedness, unrecovered grief event, abuse, shaming) and brought the force of that event to bear on the present. An overreaction can be a gift of sorts, a clue to encourage you to become your own Sherlock Holmes and do some family-of-origin work. Certainly it can help to avoid shooting the messenger and to avoid blaming the individual in the present whose actions may simply have served as a trigger for your own memory processes.
Who you are is determined in large part by the nature/nurture puzzle. In this context, the word nature refers to your internal genetic programs that tell the brain how to develop and function. Nature includes your generational inheritance of genes and chromosomes as well as your innate giftedness (e.g., gender brain preference, extroversion-introversion preference, sensory system preference, thinking process preference, and sex-preferred behaviors). According to Andreasen, roughly half of the human genes are devoted to determining characteristics of your brain.
The word nurture, on the other hand, refers to external environmental factors that act upon the brain to shape its development. It includes exposure to hormones and other substances or activities during gestation as well as all the external environmental experiences that occur after birth. It also includes behavioral patterns that are passed down to you in your family lines, behavioral patterns that will likely also influence the subsequent generations. Nurture also includes your opportunities, disasters, experiences, personal choices/decisions, and the accumulated effect of what you have learned.
Nature and nurture clearly collaborate during gestation but they collaborate after birth, as well. For example, within 24 hours of birth baby girls focus more intently on the caregiver. If spoken to, the amount of time the baby girl focuses with attention increases even more.
The question then becomes: “Does the caregiver talk more to baby girls than baby boys because of the response received from the baby girls?” If so, to what extent does nurture (e.g., caregiver behaviors) exaggerate an innate difference?
The nature-nurture answers impact every area of life for your entire life including:
- Level of wellness
- Learning style
- Career choices
- Approach to politics/religion
- Overall success
- Comfort level
Nature and nurture are so closely related to one another that by the age of one year it’s almost impossible to separate the contribution of nature versus nurture.