The real difference between men and women

by Alisa on August 9, 2010

Last week there was this loud, shirtless man at the bus stop. He was pacing back and forth and he was shouting the f-bomb every so often. A bus came. When I didn’t get on, he got in my face and asked, “Is that your bus?” I said, “No” and he walked toward a different person and asked her the same question.

The whole encounter gave me the willies. To make myself look less approachable, I pulled out my phone and pretended to be very engrossed with the screen. To keep up the illusion of having very important phone business to conduct, I went on Facebook and wrote a status update about the shirtless, cursing man. Four female Facebook friends commented, “Run!” Two male Facebook friends left the following comment, “I’m sorry. I’ll put my shirt back on.”

The stark differences in their comments made me think about the differences between men and women.

I’m not necessarily a Mars/Venus or a Waffles/Spaghetti person. But I do think that there is one fundamental difference between men and women and it’s this: women are more fearful than men. We’re a lot more likely to see peril and danger than men are.

I don’t necessarily think that this is a genetic difference. I think it stems from the fact that women are physically weaker than men and, therefore, more likely to be preyed upon. You know the stats: one in 6 women will be sexually assaulted in a lifetime. Compare that to 1 in 33 men.

My husband—who is 6 foot 1 and 180 pounds—might see a shirtless F-bomb shouting guy at the bus stop and think, “A-hole.” I see the same guy and think, “Please don’t hurt me. I don’t want my daughter to grow up without a mother.”

And I think, “don’t hurt me” even though I’ve taken years of martial arts classes. My husband has never once taken a martial arts class, yet he rarely, if ever, worries about someone hurting him.

I’ve made it my business to learn a few different ways to kill or seriously maim someone with my bare hands (squash the trachea, rip off the ear, break the nose and shove it into the brain, dislocate the knee, scoop out the eyeball, cut off the air or blood supply to the head…) My husband does not know how to kill or maim someone with his bare hands. In fact, I doubt it has occurred to him that this knowledge might come in handy.

Yet, I’m the one who, despite what I know about human anatomy, wanted to drive just a few blocks to book club a few months ago because I worried about what might happen if I walked back home in the dark. My husband was the one who said, “Oh just walk. It’s safe here. No one has ever been murdered here.”

I was the one who thought, “I could be the first person who gets murdered here.”

It’s this difference between men and women, I think, that leads to marital disharmony when it comes to child raising. Many parents tell me that dad is the Mr. Party and mom is Mrs. Bodyguard. Dad sees a tree and thinks, “The kids will have so much fun climbing that.” Mom sees a tree and thinks, “I don’t want my kids to fall out of that.”

Dad complains about mom always worrying. Mom complains about Dad never worrying.

We see the world differently and, as a result, we parent differently.

Perhaps just in knowing and understanding this basic difference, dads and moms can come to an understanding about how to raise children without fighting about it.

What do you think?

A professional journalist, Alisa Bowman is the author of Project: Happily Ever After, a memoir of how she saved her marriage, and coauthor of Pitch Perfect, a must-read if you've ever had a sense of dread tie up your insides before a speech, presentation, or conversation. If you enjoyed this post, you will no doubt love her updates on Facebook and Twitter.

{ 29 comments… read them below or add one }

Siddhartha August 9, 2010 at 12:36 pm

The differences between men and women are too numerous to even begin rattling them off but I was pleasantly surprised to read “women are physically weaker than men and, therefore, more likely to be preyed upon” in your post.

I think it’s one of the most obvious differences but one many people are loathe to discuss. Perhaps because there are some women who are physically stronger than some men. But a rule doesn’t have to be true all the time to be generally true.

Even when a woman is stronger than the typical man however, she still behaves differently than men because she still has instinctively female characteristics. A weak man will still act aggressively–in fact sometimes more aggressively–even though his chances of winning a fight are lower.

The fact that women are weaker in general make all women targets.

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Fran August 9, 2010 at 12:44 pm

I have totally thought about this, and you are 100% right. It completely forms our frame of reference. It reminds me a lot of college. Girls would always let their roommates know where they were, and if you didn’t show up, people got worried/upset. Guys would disappear for days, and it would never occur to anyone that something was wrong. They probably thought their buddy had met a girl and gotten laid!

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Sarah Liz August 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm

I have to agree with this, I’ve always believed there are TONS of differences between men and women, and the “fear” gene is definitely one of them.

About the worrying: I agree, I think women tend to worry about most everything, where as men tend to worry about very little. However, I honestly think that we women could learn a lesson from men in this department, in some cases, their easy-going-ness (except of course if it’s important or a safety issue for their family) could rub off on us and probably make things a lot easier. Just my two cents.

What an interesting point about the parenting differences, I personally see that by watching my friends who are parents. I’d probably be an over protective mom myself. I agree with Fran also, when girls go out, “who, what, when, where, why, how?” and guys are just “whatever, dude, see ya when I see ya!”. I think Fran makes a good point, thanks Fran! Happy Monday, everyone, have a great day/week!

Alisa, I hope you had a terrific birthday!

Many Blessings,
-Sarah Liz :)

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Drummer Guy August 9, 2010 at 5:28 pm

Great post as always Alisa. I am 100% with ya on the differences between men & women. So true on safety issues as well as the way we think, act, talk, interact with others & the list could go on & on & on & on. Well you get the point..lol

I may be a bit unusual in that I am more aware of the whole safety issues. Probably because I was an Air Force Cop (We were called Security Police back then) a LONG time ago. In that job you see assault, rape & the absolute worst in people. Law Enforcement Officers really do do an underapreciated job protecting us. But those few years taught me the importance of being careful. If it had been me on the bus top I would have either left are called 911……lol :-)

I love your insight about the way mothers & fathers approach child safety. I remember when I was about 5th or 6th grade & wanted to play little league football. My dad said “Great son you can learn a lot”. My mom was “Are you nuts you are one of the smallest kids there. They’ll kill you”..lol :-)

Like you I had studied a lot of self defense stuff but it was in the military. Even as a cop I was 5ft 11in tall & maybe 130lbs. I had to learn to restrain people twice my size. Ad to that them being high in PCP or some other substance & stun guns didn’t exist. It made for some interesting situations. Good training kept me from being pummeled on several occassions. Besides if we ever had to fire our weapon it caused a lot of paper work & that whole court marshal thing….lol :-)

Keep Rockin
Ron :-)

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Jason Peringer August 9, 2010 at 5:58 pm

Well, I’ve done some dangerous work in the past, (P.I., surveillance, process server) so I have to say that I usually tend to size most people up on sight. This means I judge how long it would take for me to “take them down”. I cannot say that I have EVER met a woman that does this, but I know quite a few guys that do. (Must be the company I keep?) I have carried a gun only a few times (legally) and have decided I’d rather take care of business with my bare hands. In fact, now that I think about it, I rather enjoy that idea… See, I guess it IS a guy thing!

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Kathy August 9, 2010 at 8:45 pm

Alisa, I was one of those people telling you to run, only because I figured you weren’t packing heat (gun). But if you know martial arts, why would you be afraid? I don’t pack heat, but I’m not usually afraid simply because I know I could protect myself if push came to shove – unless it’s me against 2 or more guys. (I have four, all older, all bigger, stronger brothers – I have pent up animosity that I’d love to let loose on some idiot that thought I was an easy target.)

Also, I’ve been told, even tho I’m not that big (5’6″ and at the time 115 lbs), that I look formidable – as in don’t mess with me, I have no patience for such nonsense.

Now, to the different parenting styles. I see your point. But since I was a tom-boy growing up, I wasn’t all that worried about my daughter getting hurt. I wanted her to have adventure the same as I did. And even if she wanted adventure with something I was afraid of, I didn’t think it was right for me to put my fears on to her. Hence the picture of her as a toddler checking out the 15 foot python (uncaged) at the wildlife park. But I did make her dad stand close to her. I took pictures from a distance (I am horribly afraid of snakes) and made sure the snake had recently been fed.

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Ginny August 9, 2010 at 10:51 pm

Interesting, very interesting.

First of all, I never fear walking at night or getting “taken down” or stress about my girls getting into this or that trouble. In fact, I just let the two 18 year old girls go walk a few miles to the bookstore on Friday night at 8:45pm. It is not in my lexicon. But I have been in a few of those “Oh, this might be my day” situations where things could have gone horribly wrong.

Buuut they didn’t–I’ve always walked away unharmed.

However, last week, I was walking down the street with a friend at 11pm in Toronto after seeing a show, and this very large man, and I mean large as in 6’3″ish and muscle bound was walking toward me and my 50-something friend (I am all of 40). I am no wimp at 5’7″ and athletic, but I was no match for this man. Here’s the 5 second story:

We are walking down a well lit, populated street, I see him with a female companion. I size up that he is huge and there would be no hope unless I had help. He get closer, swerves directly at me, puts up his hands and I have the one second “OH SH**” and I am sure it registers on my face. And then he swerves back into his own path, laughs and says “Oh Sorry!”

WTF WAS THAT!!??

Meanwhile I have to manage my fight or flight response all the way down to the subway.

Somedays I wonder…

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Judy August 10, 2010 at 8:00 am

One of the words I would use to describe my husband is SAFE. He makes sure our home and cars are safe. He wears safety glasses and hearing protection when he uses power tools. He has a concealed weapons license and carries a handgun almost every place he goes. He is on hand if I climb a ladder. On the other hand he is very brave and not affected much by other folks behaviors. He is not afraid of much. Right before we got married we went on a canoe trip and he paddled right over to a 10 foot alligator. Brave? yes. Stupid? Yes. I on the other hand am a fraidy cat. Always have been. I think women’s protective and safe behavior comes from being mothers. I sometimes feel like a deer who hears a sound and lifts her head and perks up her ears…then high tails it over the fence. Yes, men and women are different and I think it was desgned to be so. :)

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Alisa Bowman August 10, 2010 at 8:18 am

Wow–it’s so interesting to get these differing perspectives!

Kathy–just wanted to answer the question about the martial arts and safety. Years ago I used to ask my husband to jump out and attack me. It was all very similar to the Pink Panther, though not quite as comical or destructive. I just wanted to see if I really had the skills to fend off someone bigger than me. Putting aside the fact that I am never going to use lethal force on my husband, these little practice sessions put the fear of God into me because he was able to completely incapacitate me so quickly. My marital arts instructors kept telling me that a little person could fend off a big person, but I couldn’t even fend off my husband who wasn’t really trying to hurt me. Again, like I said, if I had been willing to head butt him in the nose or something, the tables might be turned. But I guess that’s why I still don’t want to walk alone at night in certain places.

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Kathy August 10, 2010 at 8:34 am

Alisa,

I totally get it. But I don’t think having your husband “attack” you is the same as a stranger attacking you. I know I could never “hurt” my husband, even in play. But I think (and I certainly hope) that if it were a stranger, I’d go completely ape shit crazy all over their ass and totally protect myself or a loved one.

I have this hope, because my daughter did it when she was 13 or 14 (5’2″ barely 100 pounds). Some guys were messing with her and her friends (a girl and a guy – guy was a bean pole and wouldn’t hurt a fly – very passive). The mean guys started slapping bean pole and my daughter jumped on the mean guy’s back and started hitting him and cussing like a sailor. When the kids had to relay the story to the cops, the cops nearly lost it laughing when they said the guy was about the same size as the cop (huge Polynesian guy).

I don’t think my daughter could ever just hurt someone. But when push came to shove, she let it rip. This is why I can sleep at night with her living 2 blocks from Hollywood Blvd. I have complete trust/faith that she can protect herself if needed.

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Kaytee August 10, 2010 at 9:37 am

Such a great point, and one that’s really elaborately examined in Gavin de Becker’s book: The Gift of Fear. http://www.amazon.com/Gift-Fear-Gavin-Becker/dp/0440226198

All of the ladies on here should read this book, and men too, for that matter. It is a scientific and yet approachable explanation to what is essentially “female intuition” and will absolutely change the way a woman might think of this fear as “debilitating” and instead can use it to her advantage to become the protector.

Great read. Thanks!

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Joanne & Ray August 10, 2010 at 10:01 am

Once when I was about 16 my father attacked my mom during an argument and I body blocked him clear to the front door and just kept running because I knew if he got a hold of me I would be in deep but I still did it. I think Kathy is right; you would be surprised what you are capable of when the time comes.

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Joanne & Ray August 10, 2010 at 10:08 am

As far as parenting styles between men and women, I know that Ray would get mad at the kids if they left a paper plate or glass in the living room or their bedrooms because he had a eating in the kitchen only rule. He would think they were purposely disrespecting him. I understood that the kids got home from school, went to get a snack, said “Oh darn, my show is on” and took it into the living room. Ray wasn’t even a thought process until he got home and started yelling. They weren’t trying to be disrespectful they were being disobedient kids. I took another tact, I would walk into the house , announce the kids had 15 minutes to pick up their lives and get it out of my living room or I would throw anything out and then go relax for a few minutes.
We were both authoritarian I just couldn’t get into the yelling at the end of a work day.

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B-Kat August 10, 2010 at 11:56 am

I don’t live in fear but I will say that I am hyper-aware if I sense any unease in a situation. My Mom always told me “Walk with your head up” and “Walk like you are going somewhere” Not to scurry along afraid, nor be preoccupied with something that makes you inattentive, but have a confident purpose to your step. I know that it makes a woman seem less vulnerable if she appears confident.

In my line of work I see people from all walks of life. Believe me there are a lot of mentally unbalanced people in this world, and when you cross that with addictions their behaviour is very unpredictable.

Bad things do happen to good people.

Years ago a friend of mine was in a bank with her 2 children ages 3 and 6. A man with a gun came in and did the movie line “Nobody move” She moved anyways, crouching in front of her kids and shielding them with her body. She wasn’t cowering in fear but I picture her like a lioness in front of cubs. She made eye contact with the man and he quietly said to her “I won’t hurt your kids”. He still robbed the bank, and my friend was still scared to death but I can be sure of the power in her look to him.

As for my parenting style, I am trying not to coddle my kids too much. (Even though I still do sometimes) I don’t want them to be afraid, just aware of situations that could be unsafe. So far only a few stitches and a couple of chipped teeth. (Not bad for 3 boys).

I survived my own childhood without a carseat, bike helmet or even a seat belt till I was 10! I climbed trees, played in the park past dark, rode my bike on the streets and (gasp) talked to strangers! SADLY it isn’t the same type of world as it was 30 years ago. I firmly believe that kids still need life experience to gain confidence and that being said, sometimes it is outside of this mommies comfort zone!

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Drummer Guy August 10, 2010 at 12:21 pm

B-Kat you make a very interesting point. We did things in our youth that most wouldn’t even consider today. Like you when I was young we never wore helmets when riding a bike. I don’t even know if they made them then..lol.. I can remember being taken to little league games with my team mates in the back of a pickup truck. I worse no pads on a skateboard or roller skates. My parents probably thought I was half monkey (& there is some truth to that…lol) when it came to trees in the yard. We also lived in a very small town where everybody knew there neighbors. Kids could run around & ride bikes unattended with no fear of preditors. You probably couldn’t even do any of that today in that same small town. It is really ashamed what has happened today. But it is good that we have become much safer today as far as safety equipment goes.
Ron

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Alisa August 10, 2010 at 12:59 pm

Kathy this line cracked me up: “I’d go completely ape shit crazy all over their ass and totally protect myself or a loved one.” So perfectly timed and artfully said.

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aguyreader August 10, 2010 at 1:27 pm

I believe youre number are low. At our mental health centers we are reporting that they are 1 in 5 for women and 1 in 20 for men. We believe that they are actually higher than 1 in 20 for men, but that men are less likely to report.

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Bern August 10, 2010 at 9:30 pm

An interesting post – I think there are vast differences between males and females, and not just physical ones. There is a very good book (an update on the ‘Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus’ one) by Allan & Barbara Pease called ‘Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps’. It’s quite humorous but a real eye opener for me. I bought and read it when my (former) marriage was in trouble to help me understand a bit of what was going on, and found it good. I said to my then wife that she might find it enlightening too, and that it couldn’t have been more about us than if it had had our names in the title! However, she said she couldn’t be bothered (she was already planning to end the marriage and didn’t want to read or hear anything that might conflict with her plan I guess).

Interesting comments about the safety thing as well – in my former marriage I was the one who fretted more over the safety and well-being of our two boys much more than my wife did, and in fact at times it would cause some conflict as I thought her attitude to their safety was very casual.

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Robin August 11, 2010 at 7:31 am

Awesome post. I’m supposing that my amazon build and rough voice are what make my husband and others think I’m “tough”.

I love the idea of taking martial arts classes in order to know how to defend yourself.

I definitely worry more over the kids’ safety than my husband. He says I’m overprotective. There was a lot of abuse going on in my childhood that my parents were oblivious to. My Dad was an abusive alcoholic (How I wish I’d had the guts to body slam him to the floor!), danger was right in my house. After my Mom died (I was 10) the four of us kids were alone with Dad, until he remarried, but things stayed the same. This is why I’ve lived the majority of life on “high alert”.

This is also why I try to portray myself as bigger and meaner.

I realize this post wasn’t about this sort of extreme. But it sure is good to know that my husband isn’t being uncaring, just guyish, and that some fear is natural. Like a lightbulb went on.

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Sarabeth August 11, 2010 at 2:20 pm

Kathy, Your “ape shit crazy” line made me laugh out loud in my office. :) Thanks, I needed that!

Next tuesday will mark the three year anniversary of when I was mugged at gunpoint in a parking lot. The man was a huge dude. Even to this day, I don’t remember his face, but I remember the look of nasty belly hanging over the waist his shorts. He held a gun to my head, bumped me in the head with the gun, stole my purse (by pulling so hard that he broke the strap from my shoulder), pushed me on the ground, stole my car, and robbed a bank. After the whole ordeal, they found the guy. He had done the same crime one week prior to another woman. It took two years to convict him. He was sentenced to 40 years in prison, mostly because bank robbery is a federal crime.

It has taken me quite some time to deal with the anxiety that arose in my life after that event, and I’m still dealing with it today. I’ve re-lived the situation in my head a million times. Why didn’t I do something to protect myself? Well…for all of you believers of self-defense out there…let’s walk through my options at the time and the most likely outcomes.

1. Run…get shot.
2. Kick him in the knee…get shot.
3. Scream as loud as possible….Done. No effect, but could’ve gotten me shot.
4. Carry a gun in my purse…No time to retrieve it and a higher chance of hurting myself in the process. Even if I had a loaded gun and managed to get it out of my purse, there is a good chance the guy would’ve been able to take it from me and shoot me with my own gun.
5. Carry pepper spray…same situation as #5.

I’m just saying. Even if you have the skills to fight back, if he has a gun, there’s really nothing you can do.

On another note, “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus” changed my life. I recommend that book more than anything I’ve ever read!

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Jennifer Margulis August 11, 2010 at 4:53 pm

We have something of a role reversal in our house. My husband is Captain Safety. He worries about the kids all the time. I am much more relaxed. I want to arm them with self-defense techniques and street smarts and then send them into the world. I am very aware when I’m alone but not fearful. I trust my instincts to the point where if I have an inkling of worry, I act immediately and get the fuck out of the situation. But if I’m just annoyed and my gut says there’s nothing really dangerous about the situation, I stay where I am… So, I don’t think that women and men are as different as you write here. I think it depends on the woman and on the man. Plus, I know a lot of women who are physically and mentally stronger than men…

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Jennifer Margulis August 11, 2010 at 4:56 pm

@Sarabeth — I’m so sorry that happened to you. It sounds scary and awful. And you are SO right. If he has a gun, there’s really nothing you can do. You did everything exactly right and did not get yourself shot. Of course if a woman has a gun there’s nothing anyone can do either. Maybe I should modify my first comment and say that men do seem to be more violent and aggressive than women and they are more often perpetrators of violent crimes…

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Paul Byerly August 11, 2010 at 7:25 pm

“I don’t necessarily think that this is a genetic difference. I think it stems from the fact that women are physically weaker than men and…”

Of course being smaller is a genetic difference! Silliness aside, women have developed ways to avoid things men can confront, and that is as much about biology as it is culture.

Paul

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Kathy August 12, 2010 at 8:24 am

Sarabeth, glad I could make you laugh. Sorry about your mugging.

I don’t think any of us truly knows how we’ll react/respond until we are actually in that situation. I just hope I’m never in that situation. And I’m sorry for that that have been.

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Sarabeth August 12, 2010 at 11:33 am

Kathy: “I don’t think any of us truly knows how we’ll react/respond until we are actually in that situation.”

You’re not going to believe how I responded. He yelled, “Give me your purse! Give me your purse!” I responded by saying, “NO!”

NO?!?!? What the heck was I thinking??? I will certainly never know! It was just an immediate reaction. Good thing he didn’t shoot me for that!

In the end, I’m a better person for going through all of that. It sucked really bad, but right now, I’m not sorry it happened. Because of it, I am more cautious around strangers, am always hyper-aware of the environment around me, and evaluate how situations might escalate before I find myself in them. It’s things like this that shape our existence.

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Kathy August 12, 2010 at 2:14 pm

Sarabeth, there was a silver lining to a bad experience. I think I’ve learned some very valuable lessons from my worst experiences.

I’m glad you have a “healthy” outlook on your mugging. That’s very commendable. Some people stay in the victim mode.

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DMH September 22, 2010 at 3:20 pm

good responses but I think I can sum it up real easy…..

Men are PROTECTORS and Women are NURTURERS therefore, Men think completely differently than Women do by nature. We (men) are simply wired different. That’s what makes being in a relationship with a women so challenging. It’s like comparing apples to oranges, but BOTH are necessary. POW!

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Glady Bethay October 28, 2010 at 8:02 pm

That was a tremendous write-up. I don’t agree with every single thing that you said but still good nonetheless. On a side note, I am so thrilled that the NFL is back. It seems like I been patiently waiting forever. This has to be my favorite time of the year. Sorry, I’m rambling. lol

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Colleen Kelly Mellor August 15, 2011 at 8:34 pm

Alisa–I must say, as a 65 year old woman, I know the truth of which you speak. Yes, we are focused often on “What if?” And because we’re weaker (physically), that realization we can run into harm is a good thing. Little guys need to worry, too, which is why the medical term ffor it is: “He suffers from Short Man Syndrome.” Translation–Little guys need affect a posture of cockiness and brazenness to make up for what they don’t have–physical prowess. We women just tend to fade into our phones (pretending absorption) in a confrontational situation.

On the other hand, I wrote a much breezier version of the difference between men and women on my blog today at http://www.biddybytes.com….Come and visit.

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