To arrive at a common definition of “masculine” and “feminine,” we are using two prototypes, Max and Fran. Max is the prototype who operates in the middle of the bell curve of all U.S. males; Fran is the prototype representing the average U.S. female.
What makes Max and Fran different? There are deep roots in nature and nurture that shape masculine and femine differences. By nature, I mean physiological differences that have enabled the survival of our species. By nurture, I mean what we learned from our culture—the norms of what is okay and not okay to do. While men and women (you and me) may not be hard wired to be either masculine or feminine, the essence of what we mean by “masculine” and “feminine” is based on elements of nature and nurture that go back millennia.
One major driver of difference in masculine and feminine is in our brains. Recent studies show there are differences in Max’s and Fran’s brain. This science is evolving fast and isn’t free from controversy. But what we are learning lines up with differences in Max and Fran.
Simon Baron-Cohen, Louann Brizendine, Anne Moir and David Jessel, among others, have written about differences in the physiological drivers of behavior in Max and Fran, including the existence of the “male brain” and “female brain.” Due to hormonal events in the uterus and in early infancy, the brains of Max and Fran develop differently and have different degrees of “differentiation” or “lateralization.” When I was in school, I learned that the left hemisphere handled logical, linear thinking and language. The right hemisphere was the source of feelings, intuition and creativity. Brain science shows that this distinction is truer for Max’s brain than Fran’s.
Max’s brain (like the one I learned about in school) has one center for language, on his left hemisphere, and one for feelings, on his right. On the other hand, Fran has multiple centers for language and feelings and they exist on both hemispheres! Now who—Max or Fran—do you think has an easier time talking about feelings? Of course, Fran does. It is easier for her to because of her brain chemistry. As a result, Fran tends to share more openly and intimately in her relationships (talking about her feelings). Max is more comfortable talking about things than feelings. It is easier for him to compartmentalize, for example, business and personal matters.
This difference drives what relationships mean to Max and Fran and what each expects from relationships in the workplace. An important distinction when leading both men and women in your business.
Are you aware that our brains may actually influence how much we talk about feelings and that this difference may actually explain differences in behaviors at work?