Every once in a while, a story hits the media about someone touting the differences between men and women as the source of abilities (or lack thereof) related to science, math or military service. Welcome to proof-texting, taking a quote or data point out of context adding validation to an otherwise erroneous argument. Proof-texting works for the women can’t do science type of arguments because there are subtle differences between male and female brains. Using these differences as arguments to bolster positions about intelligence or aptitude is categorically without merit. Understanding how the differences influence decision-making can go a long way to effectively manage communication at the broad stroke level. Conflict management and prevention, applications to negotiations, sales, and all forms of personal and commercial relationship can benefit.
Let’s look specifically at an area of communication and relationship with a dominantly male leadership community and a target demographic largely female. Self-defense.
If you want to frustrate a female student, assume she is wired just like a male student. There are a variety of ways we can investigate learning and processing differences among all our students – again – regardless of gender, for this conversation I want to look at where gender differences can matter.
Specifically, take into consideration two structural/design differences between the male and the female brain1:
- The male brain has about 6x more grey matter and the female brain has roughly 10x more white matter.
- The female brain’s corpus callossum (the cord connecting the two halves of your brain) is about 10% thicker on average.
White matter and the connectivity between the hemispheres are collectively responsible for the ability to make inferences, drive curiosity and discovery oriented decision-making, integrate large caches of information and remain open to changes in how one navigates problems and solutions. The reason for this is pretty simple. White matter is made up of myelinated axons. An axon’s job is to connect to other axons and collectively, they serve as the brain’s information highway connecting the points where data is stored (grey matter). With more white matter, a female brain has more myelinated axons v. the unmyelinated version of grey matter and as a result, more interconnectivity and interaction among the data storage centers2.
Think of white matter as the train lines in a subway or commuter rail and the grey matter as the individual stations. The more stations that are interconnected, the more there will be travel between all the points, the more often the travel will occur and the more station hopping there may be on a single trip. It’s one of the reasons women can have a multi-dimensional conversation without losing track of all the different topics being discussed simultaneously.
What this means in teaching women in a mission-oriented paradigm like self-defense? The subtle increase in gray matter causes men to be slightly more inclined to approach a task through a mission directed mindset. Get it done. “I need new boxing gloves” – goes to vendor or store, finds boxing gloves of correct weight –buys gloves. Done.
Women are more likely to consider how long the previous gloves lasted her and how they were used during that time frame. She may measure out the weight of the gloves against her training goals and her upper body strength along with the color and design as they influence how she feels about the gloves. She will investigate the vendor as well as the product and do more comparison shopping. If this is the first pair of gloves, the guy is going to ask the instructor: what should I buy? Tell him 18 oz gloves in X price range and he’s good to go. She is going to want to know more information, or may go out to buy them and come back with a fistful of questions instead of a pair of gloves.
On the mat, tell him he needs to move offline at a 45-degree angle and he has a mission to accomplish. Done. Tell this to her and out of respect and the power differential, she may jump in with the same mission-oriented approach. For a while. Eventually, she is going to wonder about why the 45 degrees is the preferred angle for this skill. She is going to think about other situations and circumstances and where the failure point is.
She may even play around with the failure point. Like she investigated the purchase of her gloves, she is going to investigate the technique. If no one else is doing this in class, she may wait until she’s off by herself, away from the critical eye of her fellow students and instructors. She may play with it in her thoughts and visualize it instead of a physical test of the thing, but she is going to play with it.