©Arlene R. Taylor PhD
“Mom, we’re thirsty.” Here we go again, Louise thought to herself.
Aloud she said, “In the fridge, top shelf.” I know the next line in this comedy routine, she mused somewhat sarcastically. Sure enough.
“Where on the top shelf?” It was Tad, the 15-year-old, his voice cracking erratically.
“In the green pitcher.” Pause.
“I’m in a hurry, Mom, can you help me find it?”
Louise sighed as she walked into the kitchen. Tad, easily a foot taller already, was holding the fridge door open with one hand and shading his eyes with the other as he peered into its depths. His brow was furrowed with concentration. Or was it frustration?
Louise reached into the fridge, picked up the green container of pink lemonade, and handed it to Tad.
“Thanks, Mom,” the teenager mumbled. He shrugged his shoulders. Louise raised an eyebrow. Their eyes met and they both laughed, his with a relieved sound, she in a bemused manner. This same routine had played itself out in their home countless times in the past.
Returning to the study, Louise congratulated herself on her restraint in this instance, at least as compared to some of her past responses. I made it so the least you can do is find it! Oh for heaven’s sake, open your eyes—it’s right in front of you! I’m busy, are you trying to irritate me on purpose? You get the idea.
Her cheeks flushed with the recollection. Her comments had certainly been less than affirming! Must just be something about men, she concluded shaking her head ruefully. At first she had thought the boys would grow out of it—depending on her to locate objects for them—until she realized that her husband frequently asked her to do the same thing for him.
Louise told me her story at one of my brain seminars. “It’s so frustrating!” she exclaimed. “The guys can’t seem to find anything in the fridge, drawers, or cupboard!” The expression on her face was a mix of irritation, frustration, and resignation. “At least I don’t yell at them anymore...” She paused in her recital.
I nodded my head in sympathy. “Been there, done that,” I commiserated, wincing at my own memories. “I’ve certainly done my share of sighing, eye-rolling, and throwing around pejoratives.
“Maybe they’re just lazy,” Louise added as an afterthought.
“Lazy—perhaps,” I responded, “but fascinating brain-function research about male-female differences has helped me to make sense of these types of situations. We’ll talk about it after the break.”
Barbara and Allan Pease (authors of books such as Why Men Don’t Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes, and Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps) have provided some interesting insights. Studies have shown that males tend to possess a form of tunnel vision. This provides them with a narrower visual field that enables them to see over greater distances, almost like using binoculars, but may result in more difficulty finding things in refrigerators, cupboards, and drawers. Females, on the other hand, tend to have a wider, sharper, peripheral (up to nearly 180 degrees) vision.
This means that male vision may be better suited to focusing on things some distance away, like highway signs, empty parking spots, and location numbers on buildings. Female vision may be better suited to distances involved with locating objects in cupboards, drawers, and freezers or refrigerators. Some researchers have harked back to the old hunter-gatherer concept, suggesting that visual differences between males and females may have reinforced some of the early divisions of labor. For example, the males were out searching for quarry in field, forest, and stream, while the females were collecting firewood for kindling, and berries and plant greens to supplement meat, fish, and fowl.
Based on innate brain differences, human beings will find some activities more energy intensive and will tend to make more errors when performing them. Conversely, other activities can be performed much more easily and energy-efficiently. And make no mistake, these differences do impact real life, especially when Tad is trying to locate lemonade and when his mother is trying to identify road signs.
Openly acknowledge and discuss these visual differences. Learn more about them. Pay attention to how they play out in your own life and in the lives of others. Research study findings typically apply to at least two thirds of the population (i.e., the first two standard deviations on either side of the mean under the Bell Curve of Distribution). Identify ways in which you resemble or differ from that norm. Information is power. Understanding doesn’t remove the differences, but it can certainly help to reduce frustration and serve as a stimulus to curb one’s tongue or moderate one’s nonverbal body language.
Insofar as possible, set up the environment in a way that works for both styles of vision, at least part of the time. This may mean allotting a refrigerator shelf or a specific cupboard shelf for the males in the household. Then leave everything on that shelf alone! Many males have carefully placed an object in the refrigerator so they’ll be able to locate it easily at a later time, only to pull out a bottle of ketchup instead of a can of 7-Up—because some well-meaning and unenlightened individual has rearranged things!
Try using plastic connectors when washing socks so the pair stays together and use drawer dividers to separate black from brown from navy. Reduce clutter in cupboards, medicine cabinets, and drawers so objects can more easily be identified. As author Lanna Nakone (Organizing for Your Brain Type) says, our culture simply has too much stuff! Many people tend to hoard things that would be far better recycled, given away, or discarded altogether.
For females, it may mean a conscious choice to avoid tailgating when driving a vehicle. This can be an important safety issue, but it can also allow a bit more time for recognizing highway signs and being able to negotiate the freeway exit successfully.
Instead of lambasting each other for gender dissimilarities, learn to laugh about them. Often it isn’t the differentia itself that triggers the irritation. Rather it’s an expectation, usually subconscious, that another human brain should function like yours. After all, males and females are members of the same species, aren’t they? With that type of mindset, when diverse characteristics do surface, so do frustration and contention. Try collaborating instead, offering your innate skills for the common good and using your own uniqueness to help make things easier for each other. Above all, maximize the time you spend on this planet by enjoying the differences among people as you relate with them on the journey of life.