In 1998, my wife and I were driving through northern New South Wales, and had the radio on. Margaret Throsby introduced her guest, Allan Pease, told us the name of his new book, and said something like, ‘Now I want to take issue with you at once about the title. I can read a map as well as any man!’
‘How do you do it?’ he asked.
‘Well, I point it in the direction we are travelling and it’s straightforward.’
‘That’s exactly the point of the title,’ he responded. ‘Most men can read a map however it is pointed, but most women have to place the map so it is line with the direction they are travelling.’
And he went on to explain why it was so, or why he thought it was so. My wife had said ‘So do I!’ when Margaret had spoken, and we agreed we ought to get a copy of the book.
I did so, read it, and was wonderfully rewarded. It made such sense of so much I had seen and experienced, particular as an administrator, about more of which in a moment. And in the interpersonal aspect of our lives, the relationships of men and women, it was so good that I bought several copies and gave them to our grown-up children, commenting to the men that this was compulsory reading. They all enjoyed it, because it is well written, well argued, right to the point, and often deliciously funny. Example: a wife complained that her husband ought to show her more warmth and affection, so he washed and polished her car… There are many more vignettes like that one.
The Peases based their argument on about 150 books and articles, plus scads of interviewing all over the world. Without explicitly saying so, their argument rests on the proposition that over a couple of million years, and through natural selection, men learned how to be good hunters (and, after the hunt, to be able to return to where the cave was), while women learned how to manage the cave and watch the children, which gave them a reputation for having eyes in the back of their heads.
I’ll jump now to an account of the great effort universities made in the 1990s to get more women to choose Engineering as a preferred course. My university didn’t have mechanical engineering (educating ‘greasers’) as an offering, so we thought we should do well. After five years we realised that success was not coming to anyone. UC didn’t in fact top the list. Melbourne, from memory, did top the list, and it did have mechanical engineering. But at the end of the time, only 25 per cent of the students in engineering as a whole were women. The fabled and desired 50:50 was never in sight. Women weren’t all that interested in Engineering, whatever the inducements. Nor are men all that interested in Nursing.
The Peases would tell you that it was a lost cause from the start. Men are hard-wired to look for and take an interest in weapons, structures, implements and conveyances; women are not. Women are hard-wired to nurture, build relationships, communicate, solve social problems; men are not. When I was a young father, my wife and I thought that Dr Spock (not the one from Star Wars) was the right guide to parenting. So we provided a variety of toys and let the young daughters choose what they want. They wanted dolls, and were not much interested in anything else. I don’t think we offered them a gun, and in fact when I was a boy we made guns out of pieces of branch. Eucalyptus branches offer an almost infinite variety of shapes. Twenty years later, after three girls and one boy, my second second was born, and he too rejected dolls, and went for things. No one taught him. It’s just the way he was.
I ought to stop here and say that the Peases were well aware that they had taken one side in the nature vs nurture debate, and that the monstrous regiment of feminists would have a go at them. Indeed some did, like Cordelia Fine, in her Delusions of Gender. The Peases argued, and I think argued well, that they were saying men and women were different, not that men were somehow superior. In fact, I think any clear-headed reading of the book suggests that women are in most respects superior. They can multi-task, where most men cannot. A man can do one thing at a time and powerfully, but if he is driving and the radio is on, and his wife starts to talk to him, he will need to turn the radio off (that’s so in my case). My daughters could do their homework with the music on. I can’t even read and listen, let alone write and listen. I have watched my wife (and marvelled) keep her eye on a simmering pot, hold the baby, talk on the telephone, wave to me and listen to the news, all at the same time. I have watched four women, all friends, in conversation. Most of the time more than one person was talking, yet all were listening. No group of men I have ever seen could do anything of the kind.
The sections on love and romance are just wonderful, and I felt the authors giving me a kick in the backside on almost every page. Male behaviour with respect to women is so single-minded and so stupid, most of the time, that it is a wonder that anyone ever forms a long-term relationship. Little aphorisms like ‘men need sex in order to feel loving, while women need loving in order to want sex’ may be overdone, but there is a powerful truth in such an observation. Ah, we learn as life goes on.
The most powerful truths in the book came to me in my role as an administrator, a role I had occupied, in whole or in part, since I had turned thirty. I had observed many times how adding women to any kind of committee changed the thinking of the committee. If it was composed of men, and it was dealing with a problem of some kind within the organisation, the common reaction of the men was to see a change in structure as the way to go, or (reluctantly) to replace the person in charge. A committee of women given the same challenge would look for the relationship problem that must be there, and try to determine some kind of win/win outcome that would keep the show going, and not cause anyone to be humiliated.
Even more important, they turned up. Committee work in any organisation is not rewarding in itself. Yes, you get to learn about something that is happening, but you also have to deal with the formal business, agendas, minutes, recommendations, responses. Many men find this stuff boring and pay little attention to it. They will say they have important work to do at the lab bench, or in the library, or anywhere but at the meeting. They hate meetings to go on any longer than one hour. Many don’t even read the agenda or the papers that accompany it, and turn up expecting to find out what’s happening. In general, women take the whole business much more seriously, and make every effort to attend. If the meeting needs to go on a little longer they will sigh, but stay.
Before I had read the book I had developed my own sense of male/female differences, at least as I observed them in the workplace. After reading it I was able to put names to the differences. For women, in my view, the central dynamic in life is The Relationship, not just the one with her highly significant Other, but relationships in general. For men, the central dynamic is The Game, and that applies not just in sport, but in business, in politics and in almost everything. Men are competitive, women work together.
If you haven’t read the book, get hold of a copy. They’re still available from Amazon, and every library ought to have a copy. It won’t take you long to read and you’ll be glad you did, even if you disagree with the authors.
Which prompts me to add that I don’t want to deal with comments that tell me that the commenter doesn’t agree with the authors, especially if he or she hasn’t read the book. Life is too short.