The Counseling Corner: Men and women: There really is a difference

The Counseling Corner: Men and women: There really is a difference

By Frances O. Thomas, M.Ed., N.C.C.

Although it hasn’t always been politically correct to say so, women and men really are different, and not in just the obvious ways. But rather than be frustrated by such differences, as many of us sometimes are, it can be helpful to understand both how and why the two sexes differ.

In their book, Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, Barbara and Alan Pease explain that some of these differences date back to prehistoric times. Back then, men were the hunters and women were the gatherers. Men were protectors and women were nurturers. To be successful in these roles, men and women needed different characteristics. Women needed a stable community in which to raise their children with a social support system and a network of relationships. Men needed to achieve dominance over others—to be the better hunter and protector to survive.

Those types of demands upon men and women in early society eventually affected how the most successful, the survivors, developed. Today’s modern brain scanning equipment has shown that such early conditioning is now hard-wired in our brains. We know that men’s and women’s brains actually do operate differently. Many of these differences are described in Brain Sex by Anne Moir, Ph. D. and David Jessel.

On average, women have better sensory skills than do men. They generally have better peripheral vision and usually can see better in the dark—helpful skills that enabled women to better defend their nests. Men, on the other hand, have more acute distance vision and can see better in bright light—qualities that enabled them to see prey better when hunting.

Women also hear better, especially high pitched sounds such as a baby’s cry. But men are better at distinguishing where a sound is coming from, another plus for a hunter. Women are more easily disturbed by loud noises and more easily comforted by soothing sounds like singing. In fact, six times as many women as men can carry a tune.

These sensory advantages also help to account for women’s “intuition.” Actually, there’s nothing mystical about it. Women simply notice more details and changes in the appearance and behavior of those around them than men do. Women are better at interpreting nonverbal cues to emotion with one exception. Men are more sensitive to signs of anger in other men.

Researchers have found that the left side of girls’ brains develop earlier. The result is that girls usually speak sooner, read earlier, and learn foreign languages more quickly. In boys, the right side of the brain develops earlier, giving them better spatial and logical skills. This may explain the dominance of males as chess players. Women, however, tend to have more connections between the two sides of the brain, enabling them to be better multi-taskers.

Studies find that even as babies, girls respond more to people and faces. Boy babies are just as happy gazing at objects. At two to four days of age, girls spend twice as long maintaining eye contact with adults, showing greater interest in communicating even then. By 4 months of age, girls can distinguish photos of people they know from those of strangers. Boys can’t. The groups formed by school-aged girls stress cooperation. Boys’ groups feature competition, but are more inclusive. Girls also have more freedom to cross over into more typically male activities without raising parental eyebrows. In other words, it’s still easier for a girl to be a tomboy than it is for a boy to play with dolls.

By the time they can stand, boys already show greater interest in exploring their small worlds. Boys enjoy taking risks and dares. One unfortunate result of that is, by adulthood, more men than women commit violent crimes.

Since men are generally taller and heavier than women, they outperform them in sports requiring strength and speed. They also have better eye-hand coordination. But women usually have more endurance. But the differences in many sports are shrinking.

Although we no longer have to pick berries from a bush or throw rocks at a mastodon to have dinner, we probably still could if we had to. The traits our ancient ancestors needed to survive are still a part of our genes, and one of the main reasons why men and women aren’t the same, yet bring very complementary elements to a relationship. Appreciate your differences.

Frances O. Thomas is a freelance writer and pastoral therapist in St. James City, Fla.

“The Counseling Corner” is provided as a public service by the American Counseling Association, the nation’s largest organization of counseling professionals, and with the support of the American Counseling Association Foundation. Additional information for consumers and counseling professionals is available through the ACA Web site at

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