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It seems to be a fact that men and women have behavioral
styles.? Around 50 percent of all marriages in the United
States, including second marriages and so on, end in divorce,
and most clients report trouble in their marriages. It is
believed that the problem boils down to the fact that men are
generally more aggressive and less emotionally attached than
women, and therefore, it is difficult for men and women to
settle differences.? The gender differences between men and
women continues to garner the interest of sociologists and
psychologists because there are some studies which show that
men and women have more in common than they have differences.
For example, Zuckerman (1985) found that the men and women
reported similar life goals, self esteem, interpersonal self
confidence, and self concepts.? Bevir (1996) found that
people of all cultures share the same expressions, and Otis,
Levy, Samson, Pilote, & Fugere (1997) believe that there is
some indication that gender roles are becoming less diverse.
Yet, the divorce statistics remain high and counselors still
discuss marital problems with their clients.? In fact, the
bulk of studies continue to show that there are distinct
sociological and behavior differences between men and women.
Several conflict studies (Brooks-Harris, Heesacker &
Mejia-Millan, 1996; Klinetob & Smith, 1996) support the fact
that either of the two persons involved in an argument who
has gained a position of power will back off from an aversive
discussion.? In other words, the partner in a position of
power has nothing to lose and everything to gain by backing
off from the ensuing communication.? Yet, all three of these
studies report that this does not always mean that men will
back off.?? Often, men will continue an argument whether they
are winning the argument or not, especially if the woman
wants to continue the discussion.? These studies found that
men practice aversion to avoid aggressive behavior. In a
similar study on conflict, Maccoby (1988) found that men use
physical force, such as holding a woman’s arm while making a
point, while women use verbal persuasion.
Culturally, men and women exist in a world where girls and
boys receive different types of attention and are rewarded
for different reactions in social situations.? According to
Ehrhardt & Wasserheit (1991), these early rewards create a
lifelong response to various situations.? In their study,
Ehrhardt & Wasserheit showed the behaviors are influenced by
sex roles and social and cultural values.? Girls are punished
verbally for acting aggressive in making their point and boys
are encouraged for the same behavior.? Girls are rewarded for
acting passively, while boys are rewarded for acting bravely
and with strength.
While this study shows that these behaviors are changed
early, Otis, Levy, Samson, Pilote, & Fugere (1997) found in a
study of 2,060 college students that many of the gender
differences are developed during the dating period, where
women take less initiative than men.? They believe that
subsequent relationships between men and women may be based
on this dating standard.? They state that the reason in the
difference in behavior is that the motives for dating are
different.? “For women, emotional reasons are more compelling
than for men, for whom lust and the quest for sexual
domination are pervasive.? Men also usually perceive sexual
innuendoes in women’s verbal and non-verbal messages,
although this is not the case for women.? Men are more
inclined than women to initiate sexual relations, and they
often resort to strategies like pressure and manipulation”
(Otis, et al., 1997).
This same study found that while these differences are
beginning to disappear in the dating relationship compared to
the results of studies conducted in the 1960s, “gender
relationships are still characterized by an asymmetry in
which women continue to be dominated by men in certain sexual
areas, while in other spheres this asymmetry is attenuated or
even non-existent” (Otis, et al., 1997).
Part of the problem is in nonverbal communication.? For
example, while Otis, et al. found that some of the
differences are beginning to disappear, men may withdraw from
an argument, but they do this to avoid displaying emotion.
While backing off means that the men agree with their
partners, they were unwilling to involve themselves in
discussions or a show of physical emotion for fear of
? Briton & Hall (1995) have shown that there are
differences in the nonverbal cues given by men and women.? In
their study, Briton & Hall found that women are generally
better at decoding nonverbal cues than are men.? They report
that some theorists attribute this capacity to the fact that
women are more sensitive and more emotionally receptive.? In
their study, Briton & Hall (1995) found that women use cues
such as smiling and laughing and gesturing more often than
men.? They also found that men were interruptive, nervous,
aggressive, and less capable of demonstrating more positive
physical cues (Briton & Hall, 1995).? The authors felt from
their observations that biologically, women may have a
greater capacity for facial expressions as the others studies
show, but they admit this may be based on sociocultural
expectations, rather than biologically gendered responses
(Briton & Hall, 1995).
In a study by Klinetob & Smith (1996), the authors found
that the person who usually withdrew from conflicts was the
initiator.? Klinetob & Smith studied of 90 couples and found
that during the course of a wife-generated topic, the wife
was viewed as the demander, while her husband withdrew from
the discussion.? In contrast, during the course of a
husband-generated topic, the opposite was true; the husband
demanded and the wife withdrew.? The main difference in
gender responses according to the authors was that the men
tended to withdraw more often.? The authors felt that this
was because the man more often obtained the “winning”
position, and the woman wanted to continue the conversation,
while the “winner” did not? (Klinetob & Smith, 1996).
Rubenstein (1994) conducted a study on cooperation between
professionals at a mental health facility.? While Rubenstein
found no significance differences in self-assessment and
objective observations between the genders in relationship to
the area of cooperative effort, there were great differences
in self-perception between the genders about their
professional roles at the facility and how others perceived
them.? This study indicates that perception of gender roles
plays a significant part in working relationships.? Women
were reported as being more receptive by both he men and
women surveyed, while men were considered to be less
receptive to suggestions by women.? Part of the problem in
the Rubenstein study was the fact that men, in fact, held
higher positions at the facility, and the author felt this
may have influenced the outcome.? For example, often the
doctors had no direct contact with nurses and other staff who
Bevir points out how most research seeks to create a chasm
between men and women when the actual objective and
subjective views held by both genders are similar.? He writes
that Peter Winch identified the results of the research as
contributing to “limiting notions” (Bevir, 1996).? Bevir
believes that this line of thinking only serves to make the
differences apparent, and feels that there is overwhelming
evidence that people share similar emotions about work,
church, school and other experiences.? He states that men and
women have a much stronger necessity to get along than to be
at odds, and that they achieve this (Bevir, 1996).
Despite Bevir’s view, the results of research are
overwhelming that there are differences between the way men
and women respond in conflict situations.? In a 1997 study of
alcoholics in a VA recovery and counseling program and their
wives, Murphy & O’Farrell (1997) found that women “exceed men
in facilitative-enhancing communication, regardless of
alcoholism status” (Murphy & O’Farrell, 1997).? However,
these same researchers suggest that the use of alcohol may be
the cause of the alcoholic husbands’ lack or limited use of
communication since the husbands had severe alcohol-related
The women in this study were also very passive.? The
researchers suggested that the husbands’ verbal or physical
aggression may have been instrumental in the wives’
willingness to concede or defer power to her husband.
However, what they found was that aggressive and
nonaggressive alcoholics differed in their ability to end
Murphy & O’Farrell discovered that by the second lag in a
negative communication, the nonaggressive husbands avoided
conversation.? Physically aggressive husbands always reacted
aggressively, and in fact their aggression escalated
significantly after the second lag in conversation.? In
addition, the physically aggressive husbands continually
responded negatively to their wives’ negative interchanges,
and were not likely to end the conversation.
Because a significant number of the couples had been
married in their teens, the authors suggest that the
husband’s inability to end the negative interchange may be
attributed to early onset male alcoholism, where aversive
conversations became an integral part of the marriage from
its inception.? Even in this context, the authors concluded
that the results suggest that the wives were more
constructive problem solvers than their alcoholic husbands,
especially when aggression was present.
As these studies show, the lessons learned early in life
continue throughout as Ehrhardt & Wasserheit (1991) and Otis,
et al. (1997) posit.? These behaviors are based on reward
systems in place during the early stages of life where men
are rewarded for aggressive and insistent behavior and women
are rewarded for passive and persuasive behavior.
Bevir, M.? (1996, Jan).? Review Essays.? History & Theory,
v35, pp. 391.
Briton, N.; & Hall, J.? (1995, Jan).? Beliefs About Female
and Male Nonverbal Communication.? Sex Roles:? Journal of
Research, pp. 79-81.
Brooks-Harris, J.E.; Heesacker, M.; & Cristina
Mejia-Millan. (1996, Nov). Changing Men’s Male Gender-role
Attitudes by Applying the Elaboration Likelihood Model of
Attitude Change.? Sex Roles: Journal of Research, v35 n9, pp.
Ehrhardt, A.A.; & Wasserheit, J.N. (1991, Nov).? Age,
Gender, and Sexual Risk Behaviors for Sexually Transmitted
Diseases in the United States.? In J. N. Wasserheit, S. O.
Aral, K. K. Holmes, eds., Research Issues in Human Behavior
and Sexually Transmitted Diseases in the AIDS Era, American
Society for Microbiology, Washington, D.C., 1991, pp. 97-121.
Klinetob, N.A.; & Smith, D.A. (1996, Nov).
Demand-withdraw Communication in Marital Interaction: Tests
of interspousal contingency and gender role hypotheses.
Journal of Marriage and Family, v58 n4, pp. 945-958.
Maccoby, E.E. (1988).? Gender as a Social Category.
Developmental Psychology, v24, pp.? 755-765.
Murphy, C.M.; & O’Farrell, T.J. (1997, Jan). Couple
Communication Patterns of Maritally Aggressive and
Nonaggressive Male Alcoholics. Journal of Studies on
Alcoholism, v58 n1, pp.? 83-91.
Otis, J.; Levy, J.; Samson, J.M.; Pilote, F.; & Fugere, A.
(1997, Spring). Gender Differences in Sexuality and
Interpersonal Power Relations Among French-speaking Young
Adults from Quebec: A province-wide study.? Canada Journal of
Human Sexuality, v6 n1, pp. 17-29.
Rubinstein, G. (1994, June).? Cooperation Patterns of
Israeli Mental Health Practitioners. Journal of Social
Psychiatry, v134 n3, pp. 275.
Zuckerman, D. (1985).? Confidence and Aspirations:
Self-esteem and self-concepts as predictors of students’ life
goals.? Journal of Personality, v53 n4, pp.? 543-560.
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