Stress & Gender Differences

The other day, my daughter mentioned that she and my son-in-law had heard a Dennis Prager interview with author John Gray, whose new book, Why Mars and Venus Collide, is about the different ways in which men and women experience stress. She recommended that I download the podcast and listen to the interview, which she’d found very interesting.

I listened to the interview and it surprised me. I was suprised to learn that research into brain and hormone differences between men and women dictate how differently we handle stress. Men react with fight or flight; women react with tend or befriend. And, when men or women are blocked in their ability to have stress relieved in gender-appropriate ways, they become frustrated, depressed, and eventually ill.

That explains a lot.

I didn’t really believe John Gray, though. First, he’s a popular psychologist–reason enough to doubt him. Second, surely if there are such major, scientifically-proved gender differences, wouldn’t this be all over the media every day? Shouldn’t such important health concerns become the subject of legislation (like those places trying to legislate what’s in our food or what McDonald’s serves these days), or at least some sort of workplace concessions? One would think so.

On the other hand, we now have two generations of women who have been raised to believe that they can not only do anything a man can do, they basically are men. Men with breasts and vaginas, who go to work every day and are expected to bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan, and continue to be the wives and mothers their grandmothers were. Yeah, and look good and be skinny.

Which brings me to another issue: fat. The reason women gain and keep weight is because they don’t have enough of the hormone oxytocin, which relieves stress and burns calories. I was familiar with oxytocin as a breastfeeding advocate, for in La Leche League we called it the breastfeeding hormone. But oxytocin is more than that; it’s the female orgasm hormone, and it’s the nuturing, tending, caretaking hormone. Women relieve stress by tending babies, children, and just about anything or anyone else–pets, husbands, elderly parents, one another, themselves. At least, this is what I’ve been reading.

I also read that women in happy marriages can relieve workplace stress by simply coming home to a happy marriage. Men don’t need happy marriages for stress-relief, in biological terms. They merely need television, sports, or fun and games–and sex, of course. Women need relationships, we need to nurture and be nurtured, and we need to talk. So all those stereotypes, the ones they berate and belittle us for, are pretty much true. But because we hate ourselves collectively, we women, we downplay our nurturing, caretaking, receptive, talkative sides and we go out there and act like men. This increases our testosterone and compromises our immune systems. No wonder so many women have immune system problems and mysterious illnesses and depression, John Gray says.

This explains a lot. I’m still thinking about it. And I thought I’d blog about it and invite you to read a few of these reports and tell me what you think.

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