Flash! Men and Women May Be Different!

March 20, 1994|By PETER A. JAY

Havre de Grace. -- The Wall Street Journal reported this past week that women are different from men.

This interesting and potentially important discovery turned up in a series of articles about computers. It seems women (and girls) don't view the things in the same light that men (and boys) do. They use them differently, too.

Experts consulted by the Journal report that women use computers as tools to do a job, but they don't love them. They want them to function, but they don't care if they understand them. Men, on the other hand, find their computers fun and challenging. They have relationships with them, and think about them at home. Some 80 percent of the subscribers to computer magazines are male.

This doesn't necessarily mean that men do better work at their computers than women; the reverse may in fact be true. One survey found that 82 percent of women, but only 67 percent of men, thought computers made their work easier. That's probably because men spend more time playing with their computers, and trying to befriend them. Women don't care about that.

''Some theorists,'' says the Journal vaguely, suggest that this is because men's brains are dominated by the left (logical and analytical) side, and women's by the right (emotional) side. I wasn't surprised that these theorists didn't want to be quoted by name in the newspaper; saying something like that publicly these days could ruin your career and drive your insurance rates up.

As further evidence that these differences are more attributable to nature than nurture, the Journal notes that they often appear at an early age. Boys tend to like video games, it says, and girls don't. Girls often see video games as dumb and nerdy, but they shouldn't, the paper concludes preachily; by not jumping in there and mastering Super Mario today, they may be hurting their chances in tomorrow's workplace.

A lot of this stuff rang a bell with me. In our household, both adults use computers. One (right-brained?) adult sees the computer as an uninteresting but certainly helpful tool. The other (left-brained?) adult, far more skilled at computer operation, finds it fascinating to learn new, advanced applications.

The right-brainer swears at the computer when it doesn't work, and sees no more recreational potential in it than in a dishwasher. The left-brainer can be found at the keyboard evenings and weekends, and subscribes to computer magazines.

As it happens, I'm the right-brainer here and Irna Jay is the left-brainer, but no doubt this is just one of those exceptions that proves the rule. (Our two children, one of each gender, are both computer-literate, both play video games, and both spend a lot of time reading books that have nothing to do with computers. I tend to think any workplace that gets either of them will be lucky.)

But what about this business of male-female differences? Are they built into the brain's distinctive hemispheres, or are they primarily political? I know people who believe they're all artificial constructs designed to perpetuate the inequalities and injustices a patriarchal society. (People who believe this often really do talk that way.)

The marriage of George and Barbara Bush was considered by many to be emblematic of the bad old system in which He worked and She kept the house. Although it was obviously a practical and affectionate union, it was out of tune with the times. How refreshing it seemed to have the Bushes replaced by the young Clintons, whose marriage was the perfect egalitarian New Age partnership.

The Clintons, in their public life as a married couple and in their politics, exemplify the accepted doctrine that women are just the same as men in every meaningful way, except when it can be demonstrated that they're superior.

What better example of modern marriage could we have than the First Couple -- two ambitious lawyers setting out to restructure the world and the lives of everyone in it, while raising a child in their spare time? They give the lie to that sexist right-brain, left-brain nonsense; he's the one who sheds the tears, and I'll bet she has a better personal relationship with her computer.

Some of us who live on farms have been slower than our city friends to accept current thinking about human gender differences. We know first-hand that the behavior of bulls and stallions is fundamentally different from the behavior of cows and mares; failure to understand this has over the years cost more than a few people their lives.

We don't confuse people with livestock, but as prisoners of our experience, we still suspect that in some pretty basic ways human males too are very different from human females. In the current climate we tend to keep this suspicion to ourselves, though, and are a little surprised the Wall Street Journal didn't do the same.

Peter A. Jay is a writer and farmer.

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