November 2003

Are the sexes really so different? You bet!

By Suzanne Strazza

Quiz time:

Six adults and two teenagers are on a river trip. One night, while camping on a beautiful beach, the party splits up by gender. One group snuggles together under sleeping bags, gazes at the stars and shares personal thoughts and feelings. The other group digs a hole in the sand, fills it with the biggest sticks they can find, pours white gas on the pile and proceeds to recreate the burning man festival.

Which group was the men and which was women? Need a hint?

The pyromaniac group included the teenagers farting into the flames to see if the gas would ignite.

Get it now?

What is it that makes us so different? Once again, the age-old question of Nature vs Nurture comes up. But even more baffling is, if men and women are this drastically different, how have we managed to survive as a species?

I was one of those folks who believed that if you raised your children to be different than “typical” boys or girls, then they would be. In other words, I believed in Nurture over Nature.

I now realize that anyone who buys this theory does not have kids. I was going to be one of those parents whose two boys would play with baby dolls and learn to knit. No guns, no rough play and certainly none of those noises that all boys make. What a joke that turned out to be! My sons began the truck sound before they could even say “Mamma.” If they don’t pummel each other on a regular basis, they suffer. They play with dollies all right; they tear off their clothes, their heads, their arms. Knitting needles make great arrows. Need I say more?

Now, this is not specific to boys. I know girls whose parents are rough-and-tumble, live in teepees and whose mothers are more physically competent than many men. These girls have been given trucks and Carhardts. The trucks end up providing transportation for Barbie, Carhardts are rejected in lieu of frilly pink dresses, and make-believe play is about going to a potluck.

No matter what you do, girls are girls and boys are boys.

Last weekend, we went to a llama ranch to train for a backpacking trip. Here, the males and females are separated into different pastures. The males tend to be more independent and less herd-inclined. They are very sensitive due to their tendency to fight and kick below the belt. They were also extremely wound up whenever the females were in sight – even if it was a mile away.

The females, on the other hand, moved in a herd; had, as a group, taken over care and protection of the single baby in the unit; and showed only a mild interest in the males.
Sound familiar? It’s universal. Males and females are not the same; Nature will always win out over Nurture.

Many of you may have already realized this, but may sometimes believe the gap between the sexes is not that great and can be bridged. Then, as I am frequently reminded that this gap is the size of the Grand Canyon, I wonder how it is that we as a species haven’t died out.

Animals are one thing – they’re smarter than we are. Most only come together to procreate and then move on.

Humans, on the other hand, have a twisted need to form relationships, communicate and get along. There are exceptions to these rules; wolves mate for life. (Hmmm, maybe they’re not so smart after all). Some people do only come together for one reason, and, some folks seek compatibility over practicality (procreation) by sticking with the same sex.

My befuddlement is with the men and women (including myself) who continually try to find common ground. I am happily married and wouldn’t trade it for the world, but “Happily Ever After” it is not. I want to talk, he says I talk too much. He forgives and forgets, I over-process. I watch my friends’ children and he stresses over the loss of freedom.

I play with kids, feed them, clean the house, do the laundry, make zucchini bread, fix hot dinners and bring a meal to a sick friend, all while making sure we have Band-aids in the right places and enough red crayons to go around. He has to put the kids in front of the TV to do the dishes.

On the other hand, after a long day at his job, he will work until 3 in the morning building kitchen shelves, whereas I need to “nurture myself” and retreat to bed at 9. He wants “it” every night, while I’m pretty content to sleep in the bunk bed with the kids.

Somehow, though, the will (be it sane or not) to make it work between the sexes is strong enough that we still go on. We have found ways to connect – at least often enough that humans haven’t died out. And most of the time, as difficult it is to communicate with a completely different species, I am thankful that not everyone in this world is just like me. That would be horrific.

Thinking back to that scene on the beach, try to picture the men in the sleeping bags and the women standing around the 10-foot flames. Impossible.

Now, imagine this: If the group had been all women, it would have ended up in a major cat fight or it would have taken three days of “voicing our truths” to launch the boats and float down the river.

If it had been all men, there would have been a contest to see who could rig the fastest, who rowed the heaviest boat and who could kill a bighorn sheep with his bare hands.

Since there would have been no one to cook it, they would have gnawed on the raw meat. But thanks to the balance of estrogen and testosterone, we awoke in the morning, had a wonderful meal, rigged our boats and had a peaceful day on the river.

One last question to ponder. That night on the river, who had the more meaningful experience?

Suzanne Strazza writes from Mancos.