man are from mars, woman are from venice
December 28, 2006 11:16am CST
God created woman. And boredom did indeed cease from that moment." Friedrich Nietzsche was no feminist, but he apparently appreciated the female mind. He was not the first. Women have been adding zest, wit, intelligence, and compassion to human life since our ancestors stoked their fires in Africa a million years ago. Now women are about to change the world. Why? Because during the millions of years that our forebears traveled in small hunting-and-gathering bands, the sexes did different jobs. Those jobs required different skills. As time and nature tirelessly propagated successful workers, natural selection built different aptitudes into the male and female brain. No two people are the same. But, on average, women and men possess a number of different innate skills. And current trends suggest that many sectors of the twenty-first-century economic community are going to need the natural talents of women. Please do not mistake me. Men have many natural abilities that will be essential in the coming global marketplace. Nor have men been laggards in the past. They have explored and mapped the world; produced most of our literature, arts, and sciences; and invented many of the pleasures of contemporary life, from the printing press to light-bulbs, sneakers, chocolate, and the Internet. Men will continue to make enormous contributions to our high-tech society. But women have begun to enter the paid workforce in record numbers almost everywhere on earth. As these women penetrate, even saturate, the global marketplace in coming decades, I think they will introduce remarkably innovative ideas and practices. What are women's natural talents? How will women change the world? I begin with how women think. I believe there are subtle differences in the ways that men and women, on average, organize their thoughts—variations that appear to stem from differences in brain structure. Moreover, as discussed throughout this book, women's "way of seeing" has already begun to permeate our newspapers, TV shows, classrooms, boardrooms, chambers of government, courtrooms, hospitals, voting booths, and bedrooms. Feminine thinking is even affecting our basic beliefs about justice, health, charity, leisure, intimacy, romance, and family. So I start with that aspect of femininity that I believe will have the most ubiquitous impact on tomorrow. In this chapter I maintain that women, on average, take a broader perspective than men do—on any issue. Women think contextually, holistically. They also display more mental flexibility, apply more intuitive and imaginative judgments, and have a greater tendency to plan long term—other aspects of their contextual perspective. I discuss the scientific evidence for these female traits and the probable brain networks associated with them. Then I trace women's outstanding march into the world of paid employment and conclude that women's broad, contextual, holistic way of seeing will pervade every aspect of twenty-first-century economic and social life. The Female Mind "When the mind is thinking, it is talking to itself," Plato said. Everyone has tossed around in bed at night churning over a business problem or a troubled love affair. Images appear, then vanish. Scenes unfurl. Snippets of conversation emerge from nowhere, dissolve, then repeat themselves. A rush of anger engulfs you. Then pity. Then despair. Then rationality takes over for a moment and you resolve to do this, then that. On goes the debate as clock hands wind from three to four. A committee meeting is in progress in your head. "The mind is a strange machine which can combine the materials offered to it in the most astonishing ways," wrote the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Both men and women absorb large amounts of data and weigh a vast array of variables almost simultaneously. Psychologists report, however, that women more regularly think contextually; they take a more "holistic" view of the issue at hand. That is, they integrate more details of the world around them, details ranging from the nuances of body posture to the position of objects in a room. Women's ability to integrate myriad facts is nowhere more evident than in the office. Female executives, business analysts note, tend to approach business issues from a broader perspective than do their male colleagues. Women tend to gather more data that pertain to a topic and connect these details faster. As women make decisions, they weigh more variables, consider more options and outcomes, recall more points of view, and see more ways to proceed. They integrate, generalize, and synthesize. And women, on average, tolerate ambiguity better than men do—probably because they visualize more of the factors involved in any issue. In short, women tend to think in webs of interrelated factors, not straight lines. I call this female manner of thought "web thinking." The Male Mind As a general rule, men tend to focus on one thing at a time—a male trait I first noticed in my twenties. At the time I had a boyfriend who liked to watch the news on television, listen to rock music on the stereo, and read a book—presumably all at once. In reality, he just switched channels in his head. When he was imbibing from one modality, he tuned the others out. Not I. The flashing of the TV screen, the throbbing music, the printed words: all of these stimuli swamped my mind. Men are good at compartmentalizing their attention. Just ask a man who is reading the newspaper a simple question. Often he doesn't hear you. When he does, he appears to rouse himself as if returning from a different planet. Men tend to tune out extraneous stimuli. Their thinking process is, on average, more channeled. Faced with a business problem, men tend to focus on the immediate dilemma rather than putting the issue in a larger context. Unless facts are obviously pertinent, men are inclined to dispense with them. Then they progress in a straightforward, linear, causal path toward a specific goal: the solution. As a result, men are generally less tolerant of ambiguity. They like to weed out what appears to be extraneous, unrelated data to focus on the task at hand. This capacity for focusing attention is particularly evident in the male attitude toward work. As psychologist Jacquelynne Eccles puts it, many men show a "single-minded devotion" to their occupation. Charles Hampden-Turner, a business consultant and member of the Global Business Network in Emeryville, California, believes that American business managers epitomize this male perspective. He and his colleague Alfons Trompenaars conducted research on the values and business practices of American male and female executives. Men, Hampden-Turner reports, tend to analyze business issues in distinct parts, such as facts, items, chores, units, and other concrete segments. They often view a company as a set of tasks, machines, payments, and jobs—a collection of disparate components. Female executives, he believes, see a company as a more integrated, multilayered whole. I call men's focused, compartmentalizing, incremental reasoning process "step thinking." Juggling Many Balls, Wearing Many Hats Janet Scott Batchler has described this gender difference succinctly. She writes feature films with her husband and partner, Lee Batchler. She says of her spouse, "He does one thing at a time. Does it well. Finishes it and moves on. He's very direct in his thought processes and in his actions. And he deals with people in that same focused way, meaning exactly what he says, with no hidden agenda. I'm the one who can juggle a hundred balls at once, and can realize that other people may be doing the same thing, professionally or emotionally." The scripts that Hollywood film writers create illustrate these different ways of thinking vividly. The scripts that men write tend to be direct and linear, while women's compositions have many conflicts, many climaxes, and many endings. American's national pundits express this gender difference, too. Essayist Barbara Ehrenreich declares flatly, "Women historically don't compartmentalize as well as men." When political scientist Roger Masters of Dartmouth College asked men and women about their political views and then showed them videotapes of politicians with various facial expressions, the sexes' responses were noticeably different, too. Masters concluded that "information about a leader and the nonverbal cues of the leader are integrated more fully by women than by men." Spokeswomen for the National Foundation for Women Business Owners say that American female business owners stress intuitive thinking, creativity, sensitivity, and personal values. Male business owners stress focused thinking, methodical processing of information, and concrete analysis of data. They report that "women business owners are thus more easily able to switch among multiple tasks." Demographers for the United Nations Development Programme have documented this gender difference in many cultures. In 1995 they canvassed the working habits of men and women in 130 societies. In places as different as Norway, Botswana, Argentina, and Mongolia, they report, "women in particular have developed a facility for juggling many activities at once." As women around the world do multiple tasks simultaneously, they are mentally assessing and assimilating an abundance of data— engaging in web thinking. Web Thinking in Childhood This feminine way of mentally processing information begins in childhood. In the classroom, boys are more task-oriented. They concentrate intently on one thing at a time. Girls have a harder time detaching themselves cognitively from their surroundings. When playing on the computer, boys are likely to head straight for their desired goal, while girls tend to browse through a host of alternatives before settling on one.