After investing three hours of watching “Secrets of the Sexes” on Oregon Public Broadcasting, I figured that I should share what I learned about how men and women are different. Aside from the obvious, I mean.
Note: this is serious research-based stuff, not cocktail party surmising.
In the first episode I watched various Britons (this was a BBC production) riding in a cab and being treated to some personal cabbie chatter. When asked to recall the particulars of the conversation and cab ride, women were more tuned in to the emotional situation while men were more thing-oriented. Not a big surprise.
So this suggests that women like relationships and men like facts. True perhaps, except when the provider of the facts is wearing a low-cut dress. Men watched two newscasts: one read by a man, the other by a woman in a revealing outfit. They could recall lots of facts conveyed by the man. Typical comment about the female newscaster: “She had nice breasts.”
The conclusion: “We found that men are indeed interested in facts, but one thing they’re more interested in is sex.” Not a big surprise either.
Nor was the result of an experiment in which a young girl sat forlornly on a sidewalk, back up against a wall, decidedly abandoned-looking. This was a measure of empathy. Will passers-by check on her? During the time of filming 41 women stopped to help. Only two men did, one of them accompanied by a woman. 22% of the women stopped; just 1% of the men.
At this point in the program, we were told:
Things aren’t looking very good for men. Object-centered, partially deaf, unempathic, sex-obsessed fantasist, is not how most of them would like to be remembered. Men are supposed to be go-getting, thrusting, successful. So we’re giving them a chance to shine. After all, men love competition and they’re great at driving. Aren’t they?
Cut to a go-cart track. Tests of testosterone levels were taken throughout the racing. It was revealed that men and women have a different biological response to competition. There was a big testosterone fluctuation in men, almost zero in women. This makes men more likely to take risks. Conclusion: “There’s no doubt that women can be competitive, but they don’t have the edge that testosterone can give men.”
Here’s another unsurprising fact: if you’re looking for a skilled heavy equipment operator, you’re much more likely to end up with a man. I heard, “In our survey of half a million people, the biggest difference between men and women was in visual-spatial tasks. On average, men scored 40% higher than women. But some women did exceptionally well.”
This also may be due to testosterone. Men and women were given instructions in how to operate a Caterpillar digger, then they had to carry out various tasks: pick up a bucket of water with the fork, nudge eggs into a container, make an air horn sound. Women did much worse than the men, aside from a woman who had an unusually high testosterone level.
The program moved to a familiar question: What do men find physically attractive? Computer software allowed men in the study to manipulate (virtual) female bodies anyway they wanted. Each man got to create his ideal woman. What would they focus on: Breasts, legs, bottom?
Supposedly this was the first research of its kind. Which found, shock!, that men like relatively large breasts, a C or D cup. The most striking finding, though, was men’s preference for an hourglass figure, the equivalent of 36 inch hips and a 23 inch waist. Probable reason: “The hip to waist ratio is one of the best ways of seeing if a woman is fertile.” In other words, evolution has attuned men to like hourglass women.
Then came speed dating. Men and women dialed in a “first impression” rating to researchers. A three minute conversation ensued, after which each person re-rated the potential date with whom they’d been talking. Result:
The immediate chemical attraction is of priority for most people….Analyzers showed that men and women who decided to date had made up their minds within seconds. With few exceptions, the three minute conversations made no difference at all. Clearly looks are all important, yet it’s not the face but the body that counts.
In terms of physical attractiveness, two factors made all the difference. They were different for men and women. For men, the factor that blew all the others out of the water was the waist to hip ratio. With speed dating, women whose figures came closest to the ideal got the most offers of dates.
So how much did male physique matter to the women? They also were given the opportunity to fashion an ideal male figure on a computer. But unlike the men, at the speed date there was no relationship between this figure and the bodies of the most popular men.
For women, height was the most important factor. Which I find entirely appropriate, given that I’m over six feet tall. A researcher advised guys, “Don’t bother about going to the gym. Don’t bother about putting on new flashy clothes. Be tall.”
Moving to the more sublime side of male-female relationships, I learned that there are important evolutionary reasons why love activates reward systems in brain: “Love is a mechanism that has been built into our brains so that we stay together with a particular person; in the case of mothers and fathers, that they stay with their child and help in raising it.”
Unfortunately, the researchers said, studies have found that the initial powerful bonding effects of romantic love only last for two to three years. So what about after the chemicals wear off? Howard Markman has studied what makes marriage thrive and what makes it fail.
There are four research-based danger signs:
(1) Withdrawal (usually by the man). Women often pursue in the face of withdrawal, which can make the man withdraw further. (2) Escalation. Interactions become increasingly negative. (3) Sweeping negative interpretations add fuel to the fire of negativity. “You’ve never loved me.” You’re just like your father.” (4) Invalidation. The other person is attacked verbally, and sometimes physically.
If a couple is able to get through the rough times that plague every long-term relationship, they can look forward to smoother sailing into old age. The last hour of this three part series featured a charming gray-haired pair who appeared to be in their seventies.
I enjoyed their repartee:
He: “Do we argue?”
She: “All the time. Never a day goes by.”
He: “Always. If she says, ‘that happened,’ I always say, ‘no.’ Automatically we argue about it.”
She: “I’ll say to him, ‘I’d like to do so and so. He’ll say, ‘not bloody likely,’ excuse my language, ‘not bloody likely.’”
He: “And then we’ll end up doing it.”
That’s the main secret of the sexes I’ve learned after thirty-fours of marriage: go along with your woman, and you won’t go wrong.