Providing a Catholic framework on the truth and meaning of sexuality, love, and family

Male and Female He Made Them: Part 2

by Vicki ThornThe covers of The Female Brain and The Male Brain, both by Louann Brizendine, MD, offer clever visuals to illustrate the difference between their subjects. The cover of The Female Brain features an old-fashioned, tangled, convoluted telephone cord with its plug exposed, waiting for connection. The cover of The Male Brain has a brain made out for folded duct tape.Still, as the issue of gender neutrality bounces around society, confusion abounds. It doesn’t seem politically correct to claim our masculinity or femininity. Yet the reality is that God made us complementary, not the same! One sex is not better than the other, but each has unique gifts. For a few years, I’ve been very intrigued by the biology that underlies the theology of the body – essentially, the science of human attachment and bonding. The more I’ve learned, the more I’ve come to appreciate who we are as men and women, and how our differences complement each other.This column is not an exhaustive report on scientific research, but rather a sharing of fun facts I’ve gleaned over the years. (And yes, it is possible that some women have brain traits that are usually attributed to males, and vice versa.)First, let’s go down to the nuts and bolts of what sets males and females apart: our chromosomes. The differences in our brains seem to begin very early in development, when the newly conceived child’s brain has the ability to develop as male or female. Remember that girls are XX, and boys are XY. It turns out that females are the hardier of the two sexes. The two Xs give her the means to counter genetic glitches that could result in a disorder being made manifest. This is the reason why women are carriers of disorders that they pass on to their son on their only X, such as color-blindness. More boys are conceived but die before adulthood, resulting in the two sexes being pretty closely balanced in numbers in societies without sex-selection abortion. The Y chromosome is estimated to have 70 -200 genes, while the X has 900 to 1400. That XX in a woman indeed indicates complexity. So when men conclude that we women are very complicated, you are absolutely right!From the earliest days of human history, the differences between men and women were essential for survival. As hunters and voyagers, the men would work cooperatively with each other for the long periods of time they were away from their families. (Today, it seems that many men have the ability to point to “true north” when outside, though when in a steel building, this disappears.) There would be a clear, testosterone-fueled hierarchy in the group, with an obvious leader. We still see this trait today, watching small boys wrestling and roughhousing, or even when men are just watching sports – their testosterone is elevated as they cheer their team on, then plummets if they lose. When men are with other men, their testosterone level is up. When they lose their job, the hormone drops.  And when men become fathers, their normal testosterone level becomes permanently lower, meaning they are literally changed forever by fatherhood.Men’s brains are often described as a series of boxes, reflecting their tendencies to be linear thinkers, with the ability to be single-focused. It has been speculated that there is even an “empty box.” When women ask men what they are thinking about and they say “nothing,” they really mean it. (When I spoke about this recently, a gentleman in the back of the room pumped his arm and said “YES!”) When men read, the part of the brain where hearing resides is turned off, absolute concentration in action. Men tend to prefer specific, descriptive words when they speak – back to the hunting days, the fewer the words and more specific, the better – and they tend to be good at spatial skills from the time they are very little.In terms of communication, the emotional center of the male brain is located away from the language center. It is almost impossible for most men to spontaneously talk through their feelings; rather, they need to first withdraw, access the feelings, sort them out and then talk about them. Men are said to speak about 7,000 words in a day – women, on the other hand, speak about 20,000 per day. Men read other men’s faces with great accuracy, but are only right about 40% of the time when reading women’s faces.Women tend to be multitaskers, and they are wired to communicate – both necessary skills, when women gathered food and lived in close-knit community with other women and their offspring. Both sides of the female brain house language centers, and they are close in proximity to the emotional centers. Women process emotion by talking. They read faces – both male and female – with great accuracy. Women get the chemistry of connection and calm by simply being in the presence of other women. Females can listen to and participate in multiple conversations, and keep track of the toddler and supper, multitasking manifested.Examples of these differences are prevalent in our daily actions, from the different ways men and women shop to the way they give directions. (And perhaps we recognize our differences most clearly when we’re trying to communicate. Here’s a hint for men: When women share their emotions, they aren’t necessarily looking for a solution – just a pair of listening ears!)For a fascinating, fun book on this topic, I recommend Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, by Allan and Barbara Pease. Viva la difference!(The views expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the positions of Headline Bistro or the Knights of Columbus.)

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