Last month the journal Nature published research showing that women are more genetically complex than men and that our differences are greater than we thought.
That could have been published in the Journal of Duh!
The old joke about men knowing eight different colors while women note 20 is pretty close to true. We men are either incapable of keeping the subtleties in our heads, or we just don’t care about them.
We know we are different. And we are learning more about how we are different. So what? Perhaps the more important question is what we have done about these differences in the past and what we can do about them in the future.
Over the last several thousand years, women have been oppressed, repressed and suppressed by religion, law and social mores. Until recently in this country, women couldn’t vote, rarely went to college, and lived in a culture where spouse abuse was quietly condoned. Even today women do not receive equal pay for equal work.
Most social scientists agree that racism, sexism and other forms of discrimination are based on fear of something that confuses or frightens us. So in the face of that fear, we are inclined to act aggressively.
And I think that’s true. For men. A man’s primordial instinct is to perceive difference as danger and react. But women, with their chromosomal complexity, are more likely to react with curiosity, not aggression. They are more likely to move toward understanding.
This difference may help explain what men have done to women over the millennia. We oppress women because we fear them. And we are afraid for many reasons including our physical attraction to them.
But most certainly we are afraid of their emotions. The Salem witch trials were triggered by a young girl who had a seizure and made emotional outbursts. Others apparently caught this fever and behaved in similar ways.
Extremely emotional women have been called “hysterical,” based on the Greek term hystera, which means uterus. Before Freud, it was thought that women who were very emotional had a floating uterus. And the prescribed treatment was often pregnancy in order to anchor the uterus and ultimately control the emotions.
Because of our ignorance, we blamed women for everything from autism to schizophrenia. Then we discovered the magic of mood management through pharmaceuticals. Librium and Valium were seen as “mother’s little helpers.” Many women actually suffered severe depression and anxiety, and medication often helped. But many drugs were used in the service of men’s anxiety about women’s emotions.
And now many marital therapists are trying to help couples by teaching men how to be more like women and get in touch with their deepest feelings. Won’t work. Remember, eight colors.
Over the last 30 years, and along with their mothers, I have been involved in the raising of three sets of girls. And, after being exposed to these different kinds of women, I am prepared to share with my male readers the most important lesson I learned:
They are only emotions!
We really don’t have to be afraid of them, control them, make them better, or explain them. They are just feelings.
I know most of us were taught that to be a good man, everyone in the family must be well cared for and therefore happy and content. So if someone is upset, that means we are not doing our jobs. But if we just listen, honestly try to understand, and care about the person speaking, most of the time things calm down, and a dialogue begins.
For thousands of years, we have been doing whatever we could to manage feelings that overwhelm us. But the more we try to manage them, the bigger the emotions get. When we get defensive, the feelings get bigger. And when we deny they exist, the problems get larger still.
When an emotion makes us uncomfortable, that means someone we care about is in distress. Saying nothing and listening carefully can be the most courageous things we can do.