Nature or Nurture?
John Gray, an author, famously stated that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, this quote highlights the huge differences between men and women especially in how they communicate. Just what is communication? (Allen, 2004) defines communication as “to represent the dynamic nature of processes that humans use to produce, interpret, and share meaning.” The big question is why the differences? Some researchers say that it is due to their different biological and neurological makeup (nature) while others say that it is because of socialization (nurture). This paper seeks to support the nurture school of thought using scientifically researched data that is applied to day to day life experiences.
The proponents of the nature theory like (Brizendine,2006) use arguments like “women have different brain sensitivities to stress and conflict. They use different brain areas and circuits to solve problems, process language, and experience and store the same strong emotion.” She says that the differences in say, the amount of words spoken by men or women or how the different sexes express their emotions is due to different ‘wiring’ in the brain. She attributes the ability of women to read faces and deduce non-verbal cues and other social nuances to “girl's brain cells sprout more connections in the communication centers and areas that process emotion.” The male behavior of aggression, poor communication skills and lack of emotional display is attributed to “a huge testosterone surge beginning in the eighth week will turn this unisex brain male by killing off some cells in the communication centers and growing more cells in the sex and aggression centers.” In a nutshell the argument is that the behaviors of men and women exist in a chemical and neurological vacuum and have to relation to the prevailing social circumstances.
The scientific arguments brought forward by the proponents of the nature argument are indeed correct in every way. However it is the application of this very valuable knowledge that is upside down, more like the question of which came first, the chicken or the egg? (Darwin,1859) stated that “ it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” These powerful words by ‘the father of evolution’ father of evolution shed a lot of light to this debate. These wirings and adaptations of the male and female brains mentioned occurred due to the prevailing social conditions during evolution, it is not the social conditions that adapted themselves to the wiring of men and women.
(Brizendine,2006) says that women are able to read facial expression and respond to unspoken emotions a programming that enables them to respond to the needs of infants who cannot talk and also to maintain social harmony since they are smaller. This is however a misconception because it is the demands of child bearing and the need for parental care that lead to these evolutionary adaptions. Human beings had small brains at the beginning of evolution that evolved and grew larger during the course of evolution. The female human-being had to develop these adaptations so as to be able to take care of her children better thus ensuring continuity of the species.
As human beings evolved the role of men was mainly hunting and gathering so as to bring food to the women and children. Hunting was tough as there were no sophisticated hunting weapons and sometimes the men had to physically fight these animals in order to kill them. What does a species do in the face of these problems? It has to adapt. This is why the male brain evolved “by killing off some cells in the communication centers and growing more cells in the sex and aggression centers” according to (Brizendine,2006). The aggression helped in hunting and the sex helping in looking for mates since language developed during the time of the Homo erectus, way after man was already in existences!
Enough about the early man, what about today? What are the characteristics of modern communication between men and women? Women are known to be more open about their feeling, to speak more words, more politely, to use qualifiers and quantifiers and to speak hesitantly according to (Allen,2004) Why so? All these characteristics are what make women, at least most of them, great conversationalists. According to (Levine ,n.d) “Keeping a conversation going is one of the traditional female social functions.” In the 18th and 19th centuries the hunter gatherer role of men had changed slightly, instead of going into the forest the now went to factories and offices to look for food while women still stayed at home to look after children. The women were socialized to be polite, attentive and caring so as to take of the children and respect the man as he was the sole bread winner.
(Allen, 2004) describes a common scenario in the modern world, that when a child is born the first question asked is usually about the child’s gender, why? Because this determines how people are going to treat the child, if it is a girl she will be surrounded by the color pink, frills, and bows people will call her a princess and she will be treated with kindness and taught from a very early age about how women are supposed to behave, this will include how she should communicate. A baby boy will be told that he has to man up, this involves being aggressive, not being very talkative and that they should never display any emotions. It is no wonder then that men actually say fewer words and share their emotions. A gossipy man is described as a ‘woman’ and one who is emotional a ‘sissy’ these pejorative terms that are mostly female cause men to be men.
(Vanfossen, n.d) in her study about differences in communication across the two genders found that even though women talked more words, they actually talked less in the presence of men. She also found that during such conversations men were much more likely to interrupt women and surprisingly that the women were actually okay with being interrupted by the men. Men were also found to exaggerate their achievements while women, even those who were highly successful actually downplayed their achievements and were always crediting their achievements to other people.
(Levine ,n.d) attributes the propensity of men to interrupt women to the pre-feminism era where women were considered to be inferior to the men both physically and more so intellectually, they were perceived as having nothing important to say. The women on the other hand actually believed these assumptions and this is why they were actually okay with men interrupting them and always sought to downplay their achievements, “Women aren't taught to blow their own horns. In fact, they're not even supposed to admit to owning any instrument of that nature.” These attitudes continue to exist even in todays’ post feminism era that has had the advantage of affirmative action, maybe because the gender roles of men being the provider and women being the care givers have not changed a lot.
(Allen, 2004) describes English as a patriarchal or sexist language and attributes this to societal conceptions that lead to the different socialization of men and women. She talks about the abundance of derogatory words that are used to describe women and yet there are very few that are used to describe men which are also feminine. Words describing important positions were masculine such as chairman and foreman and also universal words like mankind, even God is described as He. This aspect of the English language shows that the society then looked down upon women and considered them to be lesser especially intellectually, the men were considered to be important and valuable. Women growing up in those times accepted their role in the society and had to adapt by being polite in their language, developing an ability to deduce non-verbal cues as men did not talk a lot and reading emotions which enabled them in the role of taking care of children.
Men have been described as logical, argumentative, formal and factual in their conversation while women have been described as emotional, informal, intuitive and less argumentative. (Levine, n.d) attributes this to the traditional roles that men and women have and also to the traditional activities that they take part in. Men are generally the bread winners and so they work, working requires facts and aggression, and this is why they are both factual and argumentative. Men like sports because of the action and the competitiveness; it is such activities that have led to the development of logical, factual and argumentative style of communication. Women on the other hand are mainly caregivers at home, this gives them the ability to read emotions, solve conflict and be good at conversation. The curious case of female intuition has been attributed to women’s constant use of emotions that has enabled them over time to be able to ‘perceive’ things more than their male counterparts would be. Again socialization comes into play here due to traditional roles delegated to men and women that have led to the development of these characteristics.
Brizendine, Luoanne. (2006) The Female Brain Morgan Road Books.
Allen, Brenda. (2004) Difference Matters: Communicating Social Identity.Waveland Press Long Grove: IL.
Vanfossen, Beth. Gender Differences in Communication. Retrieved from
Levine, Rebecca. Gender Communication. Retrieved from
Darwin, Richard. (1859). The origin of species.