Honor the Differences – Gender, Personality, Culture…

No two people are exactly alike in every way, even twins. We are born a sex – male or female.  We are trained to be a gender – feminine or masculine.   Culture and social rules keep us stuck in what has been rigid sexual and gender roles that don’t make sense anymore and keep us locked into roles and rules that limit our self-expression.

Cooking and financial skills are not based on gender or sex. The reason most girls in past generations weren’t math whizzes like they are now is that they were relegated to wife and mother roles.

Because of the way we are raised and the expectations for how men and women will behave and because of cultural and social pressures, many of us quietly break the rules or we follow the rules… at least for awhile.

Our Ideas of “True Romance” Forces Us Into Inflexible Gender Roles

When it comes to romantic relationships, we have fairy tale ideas about how romance should be (blame it on Walt Disney).   The thing is that if you want to be a princess and find a prince, then he must save you so how are you going to be a successful leader? It’s confusing!

When we have expectations of how others should act – no matter what the source of those expectations – we are disconnected and disappointed.  We are not dealing with them soul-to-soul or heart-to-heart; we are dealing with them through these roles and rules that limit our and their self expression. These roles and rules for how to be good boys and girls as children and adults are not based on who they are as individual souls.  Research (2015) about transgender adults showed that when they experienced more than four incidents of discrimination in a year (bullying, violence, rejection from their family), 98% thought about committing suicide and 51% attempted suicide.

Of course, we are all different – no two people are alike due to differences in culture, family, education, experiences, and gender, even identical twins have differences. In some cultures, girls are encouraged to go after their dreams. In other cultures, girls are raised to be wives and mothers from the time they are little. In some cultures, boys are be raised to fight and be aggressive to get what they want; other cultures, boys are raised to be more relationship-oriented.

Can you imagine if you couldn’t self-identify with the sex you were born into?   Even when we do self-identify, women and men who don’t match the roles and rules closely may experience judgement and discrimination from others because they don’t fit the mold.  My Jewish mother who I loved dearly wanted nothing more than to be a grandmother. I didn’t want to marry just to marry and avoided what I felt was pressure to be a wife and mother.  For years people asked me why I wasn’t married and were not impressed with all I had accomplished because I wasn’t a Mrs. and a mom.

In the first edition of my book “Why did you load the dishwasher like that?: 9 Whopping Mistakes That Push Love Away,” I provide a list of several differences that researchers report. (Additional research I’ve done since then raises the question of whether much of the research was valid, such as that false claim women typically talk more than men!)   Several of the differences have been my observations and experience as well but not all the time.  And none of these are the truth because – as I said earlier – we are all unique.  If the list helps you understand differences between you and another person, no matter what their sex or gender preference, great.  If not, ignore it!

Here are five examples from the book of differences between men and women that you may agree with or not.

Characteristic Women Men
Sense of Self From relationships and connections From what they accomplish on their own
Connect by Maintaining appearance of equality; asking questions to connect Using opposition and put-down to show power; avoid asking questions which might reveal a lack of knowing
Focus Multi-focus – juggles multiple tasks at same time Single focus – one task at a time; can’t listen while doing; linear
Goal of Conversation Rapport talk – goal of inclusion, emotional consensus, support. cooperation Report talk – the goal of exchanging information with little emotional engagement; value competition (a result of testosterone)
Listening style Active, clarifies, head nod shows listening (but men assume she agrees) Neutral listening (women assume he’s bored)
Listening for “What do they need from me?” or “What does this have to do with me?” Listening for “What’s the point?” or “What’s the problem you need me to fix?”

In these examples, can you see how the differences can lead to misunderstanding?  The misunderstandings are increased because we all expect people to think, feel, act and speak like we do and are surprised when they don’t. Most of these differences reflect a woman’s concern for connection and rapport talk – it’s about taking care of the relationships and a man’s concerns for getting things done or gaining information. Each misunderstands the motives of the other; he thinks she is unsure of herself when she asks questions rather than state what she wants, and she thinks he is selfish because he doesn’t ask questions of her.  She listens for how to serve and he listens for what needs to be fixed.

In my marriage, my husband more closely maps to the men traits and I to the women traits and yet there are times where we are reversed.  I prided myself on being an “independent woman” most of my life. When I dated men, I made it quite clear I didn’t enjoy cooking and cleaning and if they were looking for a wife, keep looking. I wanted a partner.  I fought the rules and avoided marriage which I saw as a trap.

Competitive Women in Business

I watched the movie “What do men want?,” about a woman who is a sports agent who is locked out of promotion by the “boy’s club,” the men who are the other partners. (SPOILER ALERT! She is very competitive and is always looking how to outsmart the partners to prove she is worthy. She gains the ability to read men’s minds and uses that to beat them at their own game; however, in the end she realizes she has lost herself in the journey to the top.  She finally realizes she can find her own way of working with clients that resonates with who she is instead of trying to fit in.   The point of this is that we may try to fit in with others but, in the end, the goal is to be yourself.  And I would add… to act consistent with your values – such as respect, honor, kindness or whatever else is how you want to show up in the world.

The message here is be who you are.  If you are not being “yourself,” then you are in survival, trying to get attention, love or admiration from others.  Men and women who are trying to out-compete others to get ahead in an organization rather than operating from their values often have regret or shame at how they treat others.

To be who you are requires that you know who you are … and that is a journey worth taking.  Understand your unique self and seek to understand the unique self of the people you meet.  Labels prevent people from being loved for who they are, just the way they are.


Link to Transgender article: https://williamsinstitute.law.ucla.edu/publications/suicidality-transgender-adults/


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