In 1993, Frank Baird began working with the Valley Trauma Counseling Center in California. The facility provides support for those who have suffered sexual or domestic violence, and Baird wanted to find a way to get more men involved in the fight to stop these crimes. Men are often perceived as the problem in discussions about sexual assault or spousal abuse, so movements surrounding these issues are often led by women. However, Baird believed that men had a stake in these issues as well, so in 2001 he proposed the "Walk a Mile in Her Shoes" event [source: Walk a Mile in Her Shoes]. During the event, men march in high heels to increase awareness of gender violence and to raise funds for rape crisis centers. The sight of men walking in high heels often brings spectators and the press out in droves, and so this funny thing for men to do -- walk in high heels -- has proven to be an effective way to help women.
We're often told to walk a mile in another person's shoes so that we can see things from his or her point of view. In this article, we'll consider some of the ways that men and women experience the world differently. None of these experiences is more valid than another, but it's helpful to understand where the other sex is coming from. So strap on a pair of high heels or men's loafers, and let's get started.
Even if you're not religious, you probably have developed a sense of what should or shouldn't be done. Every day, men and women face temptations to do something that violates that sense of right and wrong. A church may call succumbing to such a temptation committing a sin, and according to the Vatican, men and women do so differently. A 2009 study of confessions revealed that men are more likely to report the sins of lust, gluttony and sloth, in that order. Women, on the other hand, are more likely to confess the sins of pride, envy and anger [source: BBC].
Not only do men and women commit different sins, they tend to consider their wrongdoings in different ways. Historian Elizabeth Reis examined confessions during the Salem witch trials and concluded that varying viewpoints on sin might account for the high number of women and the low number of men convicted of witchcraft. Men were more likely to see their sins as individual wrongdoings that could be quickly righted with God, whereas women were more likely to believe that any sin was the mark of a vile nature. Because women were easily convinced that one sin marked them as evil, it may not have been difficult to persuade them that they had entered into a bond of witchcraft with the devil.
The stress response begins the same way in both men and women: Hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol are released, which raise blood pressure and suppress the digestive and immune system. These processes ready the body to run away or to do battle with the stressor -- the so-called "fight-or-flight" response. The body also releases oxytocin, which is a hormone associated with maternal and social behavior. Though both men and women release oxytocin during times of stress, women release more of it and men tend not to be as affected by its presence (due to other hormones, such as testosterone) [source: Eller]. This burst of oxytocin changes the female stress response; rather than fight-or-flight, women tend to exhibit a "tend-and-befriend" response. While a man may lock himself in a room to brood or pick a fight with a loved one, a woman is more likely to spend extra time with her family and friends.
The evidence is mixed on whether either method is more advantageous. On the one hand, doctors believe that the oxytocin that women release could protect them from some of the more damaging side effects of adrenaline and cortisol, such as high blood pressure. But on the other hand, brain scans indicate that women may hold on to their stress longer than men do, which may make them more susceptible to depression or anxiety disorders [sources: Eller, Tavella].
The Internet has become a ubiquitous presence in our lives, but men and women don't use this remarkable tool in the same way. For one thing, men use the Internet far more often than women do, and they tend to adopt new technology, such as Internet-equipped smart phones, before women do. Men are more likely than women to take care of business -- such as paying bills or trading stock -- online, and they also rely on the Internet for recreational activities, such as listening to music, playing games or joining sports fantasy leagues. Women, on the other hand, enjoy the Internet as a tool to build relationships. They're much more likely to send out in-depth e-mails to friends and family, and women outnumber men on social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace [sources: Fallows, Goudreau]. These sites allow women to build communities and provide an easy way to share photos and news. When it comes to Internet searching, men will search for a wide array of information from many different sources, whereas women tend to have narrower search needs and accept information from a few trusted sources [source: Fallows]. And don't think that researchers study this sort of stuff just for fun; marketing companies learn about this type of information and work diligently to tailor Internet ads to each gender.
When it comes to working out a problem, women are consummate multitaskers. A woman may ask a male friend to work through a relationship problem during meal preparation or during a long drive, only to be frustrated when the man asks that they consider the problem later. In this situation, the woman might do well to give the man time to think about the issue; a 2010 study revealed that men aren't as skilled at dealing with more than one problem or task at a time as women are. In the study, men and women were asked to complete several tasks in a short period of time, including solving math problems, reading a map, answering a phone call and explaining a strategy to find a lost key. The researchers expected the men to perform better at these tasks because previous studies had shown that men excel at the spatial reasoning required by these problems. However, the women performed 70 percent better than the men did at juggling the demands and completing the tasks [source: University of Hertfordshire]. For best problem-solving results, men may need more time without interruption than women do.
If there's one thing that men and women have in common, it's an unwillingness to discuss money. Both men and women are taught that it's not a subject for polite conversation, and so we may not realize that there are differences in the ways that men and women spend and earn money. When it comes to spending, women are more likely to shell out for the things that make any given day work -- groceries for meals, gas for the car, a sweater for the changing seasons. Men are more likely to spend money on big-ticket items that represent an investment, such as a house or an antique guitar. There are downsides to both methods: Women are less likely to have long-term security represented by a paid-off mortgage or a large retirement account, whereas men may feel so much pressure about their investment items that they're unable to enjoy them without guilt or worry [source: MacDonald].
And when it comes to earning money, women earn less than men for the same amount of work, a phenomenon known as the gender wage gap. Researchers have suggested that women's hesitancy to negotiate a salary offer, particularly for their first job, plays a big role in the gap; one study revealed that four times as many men asked for more money after receiving their first job offer [source: Vedantam]. Solving the problem isn't as simple as telling women to ask for more, though: Another study found that both male and female managers were likely to hold negative opinions of women who tried to negotiate. It made no difference to the managers if the men did the same thing [source: Vedantam].
Stand-up comedians have earned millions of dollars making jokes about differences between the sexes. But who laughs more at those jokes, men or women? Gross-out humor and slapstick comedy are usually on the menu for a man's comedy marathon, while cerebral wit is more likely to appeal to a woman. Researchers have used brain imaging studies to find the funny spot of the brain, and in both men and women, it's the ventromedial prefrontal cortex. That part of the brain lights up when we hear or see something funny, but the process of getting it to light up is different in men and women. In one study, men and women watched cartoons and rated them according to how funny they were. When the women watched the cartoons, a part of their brain associated with analytical thinking was much more active than men completing the same task. Then when women decided a cartoon was funny, their reward centers lit up much more strongly than the men's did [source: Colligan]. The researchers decided that women think more about whether something will be funny, and they don't necessarily believe it will be. As a result of this pessimism, when something strikes them as funny, they get a greater reward out of it than men do. Men, on the other hand, may see a Three Stooges episode and decide that anything those crazy guys do will be hilarious.
In considering the different ways that men and women experience the world, it's important to point out that men and women don't see the world in the same way -- literally. Men and women's eyesight is different; most notably, men are more likely than women to be colorblind. Researchers suggest that one reason for the disparity is due to men's ancient roles as hunters and women's ancient roles as gatherers. It was beneficial for women to be able to see a wider variety of colors so that they could find and select the best foodstuffs for her family.
Evolution may also play a role in how men and women see art. In one study, men and women were asked to study paintings and photographs and determine whether they were beautiful. During the exercise, brain-scanning machines recorded which parts of the brain lit up as the participants viewed the art. The scans revealed that while men and women used similar parts of the brain for viewing, men also used an area associated with big-picture thinking, while women used an area of the brain associated with details and direction [source: Strickland]. It's possible that the women needed to note details in a scene and how they were related to each other directionally (noting, for example, that the red flowers are to the left of the berry bush) in order to forage, whereas men needed a more general lay of the land in order to kill their prey, and these evolutionary food-gathering techniques remain with us as we view painted landscapes in a museum [source: BBC].
One of neuroscience's greatest mysteries is why people dream. Are they making sense of the events of the day? Preparing for events that will happen in the future? While we may not know the answers to those questions, we are learning that men and women dream of different things when they close their eyes at night. According to a 2009 survey, women have many more nightmares than men do, while the men are more likely to dream about sex [source: LiveScience]. Women aren't completely sex-starved in dream land, though; in 2007, a Canadian University reported that women are reporting more sex-related dreams than they did 40 years ago. That growth may be due to women becoming more comfortable discussing sex, however [source: Fiore]. Other gender-related dream differences: Women are also more likely to dream about friends and family members, while men are more likely to dream of strangers, and men are more likely to dream about physical aggression, such as an attack, but women are more likely to dream about verbal aggression, such as an argument [source: LiveScience].
You're about to cross the street when the walk sign turns into a caution sign. You only have seconds left to get across four lanes of traffic before cars start moving. Do you make a mad dash or stay put? Your answer may depend on whether you're a man or a woman. Men, according to many studies, are considered more likely to take risks than women are [source: Harris, Jenkins]. In many cases, that sense of daring can prove fatal. An excess of testosterone may be the culprit for men's death-defying stunts, but don't count out a desire to impress a lovely lady. In a study of male skateboarders, the subjects were much more likely to try a riskier stunt and exhibit measurably higher levels of testosterone when women were watching than when other men were watching [source: LiveScience]. While men have a desire to astound others by taking risks, another study showed that women were more likely to believe that the worst possible outcome of a risk-taking stunt would occur to them, leading them not to take the risk [source: Harris, Jenkins].
If you had a nickel for every movie or television scene in which a man rolled his eyes at a woman who couldn't control her emotions, you'd have a great deal of nickels. It's a popular stereotype that women go through life far more emotional than men do. Brain scans have revealed that men and women have different brain structures for experiencing and processing emotions, and other studies have shown that women are better able to determine another's emotion from the sound of a voice or from a picture [sources: Lloyd, University of Montreal]. But other studies have shown that when it comes to facial muscles under duress, there's no difference to the response shown by either sex [source: Begley].
In a 2009 study, subjects looked at pictures of men and women exhibiting different emotions, such as anger, sadness or fear. Each picture came with a caption that explained why the person felt that way (examples: "dog just died," "cut off by another driver"). Even though the subjects were given the reason for the emotion shown in the picture, they had different theories as to why the person felt that way. Women, the subjects claimed, were just more emotional, and the context didn't matter, whereas the caption and context was the only reason that a man would feel that particular emotion [source: Begley]. In other words, even if a man and a woman's picture were both accompanied by a caption about a dog dying, subjects would assume that the woman was emotional because of her natural state, not because of her dog's death. The gender of the subjects making that assumption didn't matter, indicating that it's us who maintain the stereotype of the overly emotional woman not in control of herself, not necessarily the women themselves.
Lots More Information
- 10 Secrets of the Male Mind
- 10 Ways Men and Woman Communicate Differently
- The Ultimate Male/Female Communication Quiz
- Gender Inequality Puzzles
- Men and Women Puzzles
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