Thursday, 3 January 2013

Are girls meaner than boys?

Forty years ago, a man told me that girls are meaner than boys. He explained that if a guy got into an argument with another guy, they would go out back; beat the crap out of each other and it would be finished. If that guy got into an argument with a girl, it would never be over. Ten years later, they could be doing something totally unrelated and that girl would say something like, "Do you remember what you did ten years ago?" In other words, she would never forget; she would hold a grudge forever.

At the time, I thought it was a curious generalization and admittedly, I had no idea whether it was true or not.

This past Christmas, I am attending a holiday luncheon for a group of 65 people and at my table; I am seated between two women, both of whom are mothers. At some point in the conversation, strangers discussing various topics in an attempt to find some amusing common ground, these two mothers make the statement that girls are more difficult to raise than boys. I was surprised to hear two women, strangers to one another, mothers, independently make statements which in some way related to what I had heard decades ago. In fact, just to make sure I hadn't misunderstood either of them, I reiterated this premise of girls are more difficult than boys to raise and asked each of them to confirm that this was what they were saying and to then explain why they were saying it. The older of the two woman explained that boys tend to be more physical. They would fight and get it over with. Girls were not, however, physical in general and tended to dwell on conflicts and hold grudges.

Really? This reminds me of how we may look askance at clichés and stereotypes as being representative of the collective wisdom but I have always wondered about the etymology of these things. People just didn't make this stuff up; it all had to come from somebody's experience. Of course that experience is very much tied up in society and the mores of a particular era. Yes the cliché may not be true in a scientific objective sense but at that particular time, in that particular society, that cliché was very much true.

My Research: It's true... ?
I go through Wikipedia, various newspaper articles, and blogs and I end up finding a number of scholarly articles and firsthand accounts of the trials and tribulations of dealing with the adolescent female. The empirical evidence is in: girls and boys are different. Okay, that's in part me being funny but the serious side of it is that girls tend to be less physically violent and more emotional while internalizing their aggression. A number of moms and dads stated that their little girl was harder to raise than their little boy and they argued more regularly with daughters than with sons. Parents felt peer pressure, image problems, and even hormones played a bigger factor with girls than with boys. (Daily Mail - Sep 15/2010: 'Rude and aggressive' - why girls are harder to manage as teenagers than boys)

True? False? Can I find enough supposedly objective data to corroborate this idea? If you've read my blog, you know that I hate making statements based on one or two stories. I don't like anecdotal evidence; I like to have something which is statistically significant. The Wikipedia article on Aggression points to a number of scholarly studies done in this area which seem to support this idea. I sure that each parent will have their own opinion but I return once again to the collective we. What is the sum total of all our experiences and can we give some meaningful percentages?

But if we come back to the idea that boys are more physically violent while girls tend to internalise their aggression and use non violent forms of expression, what exactly does this mean?

Indirect aggression or relational aggression seeks to damage one's relationships or social status. While used by both sexes, studies indicate it is more prevalent among girls and that girls are more aware of it and distressed by it. This is exemplified by the movie Mean Girls. Are we back to the idea that while the female sex tends to be non violent, it resorts to other means to be aggressive?

Why is female on male abuse funny?
Over a year ago, I rewatched all of the episodes of the TV comedy-drama series Castle. Writer Richard Castle tags along with New York Detective Kate Beckett to do research for his next novel. While we have a budding romance, there is also a side of the relationship which portrays Castle as the mischievous boy who needs to be guided and sometimes punished by the female adult. During the series, we see Beckett twist Castle's ear or pull his nose to get him to talk. It is all played up for laughs of course but I began to wonder why this was funny. Certainly if Castle the man had done something similar to Beckett the woman, it wouldn't have been the least bit funny. In fact, we would all be screaming male violence. Why? (my blog: Double Standard: Why is female on male abuse funny?)

I investigated and found the answer written up by a web site called "TV Tropes". They pointed out three reasons:

1. no woman is strong enough to harm a man
2. any man weak enough to be harmed by a woman isn't a real man
3. a man being abused by a woman must have done something to deserve it

In my article, I show a video done by ABC News. They staged scenes where a woman abuses a man in public. Afterwards, the station interviewed passers-by and their initial reaction was that the man must have deserved it. Curious. It corroborates what TV Tropes said.

Woman are more violent?
John Archer, professor of psychology at the University of Central Lancashire and president of the International Society for Research on Aggression, conducted a study of 34,000 men and women as reported by The Independent (Nov 12/2000: Women are more violent, says study). The conclusions:

* in a domestic confrontation, women are more violent than men
* but, men are more likely than women to injure their partner
* female aggression tends to involve pushing, slapping and hurling objects
* men made up nearly 40 per cent of the victims in the cases studied

I read this but do I believe it? The entire article is interesting reading but as I sit here by myself with only my story to tell, maybe with one or two or three other stories passed on to me by family and friends, maybe something I've read in a newspaper, do I have enough information to be stating anything one way or another in comparison with a survey of thirty-four thousand men and women? What is the truth? Statistically there are more men in jail. Statistically there are more men charged with violent crimes. Why? I would ask if this is true or not: When a man does cross the line and become aggressive, he doesn't push, slap, or hurl an object, he becomes violent. It seems to me that push, slap, or hurl an object represents frustration while violence means injury. Are these reactions genetic or are they taught? Do boys and girls, men and women, do what they do because it's in their genes or do they do it because society has conditioned them to behave that way?

Men are visual; women are verbal
It's a classic perception of the sexes but is it true? In my blog Sex: Men are visual I discuss the idea by pointing out how science says that both sexes respond to visual stimuli but how our behaviour is very much shaped by our society, its mores, and the predefined roles men and women have in our traditions. In other words, it isn't completely that women are innately not visual but verbal; in part they are taught to be like that.

In asking if girls are meaner than boys, in asking if girls hold grudges while guys don't, is it something innate, something in the Y chromosome or is it something taught by our society?

Two-thirds of divorces are filed by women. (ref#1) About 70% of divorced men and 58% of divorced women remarry. (ref#2) How are men and women different? Wikipedia's article Remarriage discusses people who have lost a spouse to death.

Widows are more likely to report that they are reluctant to give up newfound freedom and independence. Many widows perceive a sense of liberation no longer having to take care of another person, and value this more than additional companionship.

Are these ideas for windows applicable to divorcées?

I have read a number of blogs on divorce written by people in the midst of going through a divorce or after a divorce. I'm not sure why but the majority of these seemed to have ended up being written by women. Do women tend to write about personal matters more than men?

I'm a guy. I'm the enemy. I have joked that I should wear a cup when I read some of these blogs. Yes, sometimes the man in question deserves to be raked over the coals but as a guy, I sometimes cringe.

#MyExIsTheKindaGuy who I told to go fly a kite...but he couldn't get that up either.

Ha ha. Ouch but ha ha.

In my posting Divorced: It's over. Or is it? I talk about reading a blog written by a woman that gave me the impression she was recently divorced. I discovered she had been divorced for 12 years. 12 years? Do I ask if she is ever going to get over it or do I ask if the divorce is so traumatic (emotionally, financially, plus maybe raising kids alone) that it is comparable to a permanent injury? You get your arm caught in a woodchipper and have it ripped off. You now have to live the rest of your life without that limb.

Final Word
I want to end by quoting the British newspaper The Independent: Male violence remains a more serious phenomenon: men proved more likely than women to injure their partners. No matter what is debated, no matter what I have pointed out, that seems to be self-evident.

But violence per se wasn't my original question. Do women tend to internalise their aggression while men just duke it out and get it over with? Do women tend hold a grudge because they haven't gotten it out of their system?

Admittedly, I have insufficient information to state what's right and what's wrong. I am no closer to the truth. But I have asked the question as I have heard the cliché; I have heard two mothers, two total strangers say something which seems similar to the cliché, and I have found references on the Internet talking about this. What is the truth? Or is the best we can hope for is "truthiness", a word coined by Stephen Colbert?

Truthiness is a quality characterizing a "truth" that a person claims to know intuitively "from the gut" or because it "feels right" without regard to evidence, logic, intellectual examination, or facts.

I'll keep trying. Somewhere I'm going to find evidence confirmed by a university sanctioned analytic methodology of double blind testing with a statistically significant cross-section of the population. "The truth is out there" to quote the X-Files.


Google search: "girls are worse than boys"

Google search: "girls are meaner than boys"

Wikipedia: Aggression
Aggression, in its broadest sense, is behavior, or a disposition, that is forceful, hostile or attacking. It may occur either in retaliation or without provocation. In narrower definitions that are used in social sciences and behavioral sciences, aggression is an intention to cause harm or an act intended to increase relative social dominance.

Wikipedia: Aggression: Gender
There are multiple theories that seek to explain findings that males and females of the same species can have differing aggressive behaviors. However the conditions under which women and men differ in aggressiveness are not well understood.
In general, much research has suggested that males use more physical aggression than females. While females use more verbal aggression than males... Girls’ relational aggression, meaning non-physical or indirect, tends to increase after age two while physical aggression decreases... A possible explanation for this could be that girls develop language skills more quickly than boys therefore they have better ways of verbalizing their wants and needs.
Females between the ages of 10 and 14, around puberty age, show a more extreme rate of relational aggression compared to boys... Studies show girls’ aggressive tactics included gossip, ostracism, breaking confidences, and criticism of a victim’s clothing, appearance, or personality, whereas boys engage in aggression that involves a direct physical and/or verbal assault.

Wikipedia: Relational aggression
Relational aggression, also known as covert aggression, or covert bullying is a type of aggression in which harm is caused through damage to one’s relationships or social status. Although it can be used in many contexts and among different age groups, relational aggression among adolescents, in particular, has received a lot of attention with the help of popular media including movies like ‘’Mean Girls’’ and books like ‘’Odd Girl Out’’ by R. Simmons (2003) and ‘’Queen Bees and Wannabes’’ by R. Wiseman (2003). Relational aggression can have various lifelong consequences. This type of aggression has been primarily observed and studied among girls. However, research shows that it is quite commonly used by boys as well.

Daily Mail - Sep 15/2010
'Rude and aggressive' - why girls are harder to manage as teenagers than boys
Girls are harder to manage as teenagers than boys, a study of parents has revealed. Mood swings and fall-outs with friends coupled with peer pressure and image hang-ups emerged as the main flashpoints within the family. While boys can be harder to communicate with over teenage issues such as puberty, acne and sex, parents still rated them easier to handle.

ParentDish - Sep 15/2010
Teen girls more difficult than boys By Kelly Rose Bradford
A new study has claimed that teenage girls are harder to manage than boys. Three thousand parents were surveyed about their childrens' behaviour for the research, which resulted in many respondents branding their daughters 'aggressive' and 'rude'. Mums and dads blamed their children's mood-swings and fall outs with friends for most of the rows erupting in their family, with two thirds admitting that their daughter's behaviour was far more difficult to deal with than their sons.

Total Life Counseling - Mar 23/2010
Are Girls Meaner Than Boys?
Can’t we all just get along? The answer seems to be, “no,” especially among adolescent girls. We have all heard that girls are meaner than boys, but some studies report that girls are simply more “aggressive” indirectly. Psychiatrists call it “indirect aggression.”

The Independent - Nov 12/2000
Women are more violent, says study by Sophie Goodchild
Bruised and battered husbands have been complaining for years and now the biggest research project of its kind has proved them right. When it comes to domestic confrontation, women are more violent than men... Women lash out more frequently than their husbands or boyfriends... [But] Male violence remains a more serious phenomenon: men proved more likely than women to injure their partners.

Social Psychology and Human Nature by Dr. Roy Baumeister
Are women more emotional than men?
A long-standing stereotype depicts women as more emotional than men... A large-scale study by Larson and Pleck (1999)... [showed that] Men and women were remarkably alike.

my blog: Double Standard: Why is female on male abuse funny?
I didn't write this to raise the question of domestic violence; I was merely asking the question why a female dominating a man with varying degrees of violence is considered funny. I now believe TV Tropes accurately explained it based on the traditional assumptions that "no woman is strong enough to harm a man" and "any man weak enough to be harmed by a woman isn't a real man" and "a man being abused by a woman must have done something to deserve it". Whether those assumptions are true or not is another question but those assumptions do exist in our culture. Strange? At one point we all thought the world was flat.

my blog: Sex: Men are visual
...while men are more likely to get 'turned on' by visual stimuli, it's because of social conditioning versus actual physiology. ... Women, until recently, have been taught to repress their sexuality as much as possible. Therefore, it is not 'right' for women to be titillated by visual stimuli lest she be labelled a jezebel, for she is focusing on the 'carnal' and physical side of the issue.

Men, OTOH [on the other hand], are taught to repress their sensuality. They (we) are conditioned to separate the physical acts from the emotional and mental corollaries. This is not to say that things can't change. ... The 'problem' here is not that we are not excited by certain things, but that we refuse to let ourselves be excited by them.

ref#1: my blog: Two-thirds of divorces are filed by women
In 1988, on average 61% of the time, the woman was the petitioner. If there were children involved, the stat was 65% and without children it was 56%. It was only around 7% of all cases where the husband and the wife together petitioned for divorce. This means that 93% of the time, it was only one spouse who petitioned for divorce. The table, dating from 1975 to 1988, consistently shows that women petitioned for divorce twice as much as men.

ref#2: my blog: Does divorce make us happier?
Two-thirds of unhappily married spouses who stayed married reported that their marriages were happy five years later.

Wikipedia: Truthiness
American television comedian Stephen Colbert coined the word in this meaning as the subject of a segment called "The Wørd" during the pilot episode of his political satire program The Colbert Report on October 17, 2005. By using this as part of his routine, Colbert satirized the misuse of appeal to emotion and "gut feeling" as a rhetorical device in contemporaneous socio-political discourse.


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Tor Hershman said...

DNA in general just plain stinks.

Ms. Quote said...

Women are meaner than men hands down and I wholeheartedly believe that women are meaner to other women than they are to men. Most women have this driving need to be the most attractive or have the most toys and status symbols, which are usually their bragging rights as to how well their men treat them or how wealthy their men are. Women can be especially cruel in throwing other women under the bus to get ahead in the workplace or to "eliminate the competition." It's silly. It's also the reason why I have more male friends than female friends. The few female friends I have don't have time for this bullshit.