The Genuis of Women

– by Lee Smith, Ph.D.

I marvel at my secretaries and at my wife, at their necromancer memory, at their ability to somehow organize office or Christmas chaos, to thrive when there’s too much to do and to complain otherwise, at knowing where my file or the ketchup is. And then there’s spare brain juice for simultaneously making a zillion other observations and judgements, with kindness all the way. Guys, we’re in the presence of genius.

Evolution delivered the big and spatially competent males who could roam far and wide to snag meat, shelter and materials and, at home, to provide protection, to tinker and make tools and to divine answers to the questions about survival. The lesser muscled females worked the portfolio of life nearer home, which included the minor matter of offspring, food organization, safety, social equality and getting along, and knowing the immediate surrounds and contingencies.

Today, our Stone Age mind-brains may set up a David vs. Goliath story in many families. Female brains have got the goods for managing much of the complexity of raising a family, while muscles matter less. Verbal fluency, knowing how everyone is feeling and doing, being graced with a frighteningly detailed and always handy diary-mind, and doing the work of a bees nest give women the nod.

Sex differences are many. Male and female brains show different motor (movement) and visual abilities depending on how far away the action is. Females work more skilfully in near (here) space and men in far (there) space.

In critical ways male and female brains appear to use different strategies to achieve the same result. For example, male rats and male humans are the same (ladies, don’t get too smug just yet, there’s more) in that they depend on directional (left-right, north-south) cues to navigate space. Here’s the equalizer – female rats and female humans both work better with positional (beside the bus station) cues.

And the superabsorbent female brain unintentionally soaks up information about their immediate surrounds while male brains, um, well, you know.

More to the point, neurobiological evidence indicates that females automatically attend to emotion in most of its forms, while men’s brains seem pre-dialed in to anything related to power.

Socialization adds to these differences. A baby in a blue blanket is handled in a manly way. The same baby in a pink blanket receives gentle coos and cuddles.

Males are taught to restrict their experience and expression of vulnerable emotions (like sadness, fear or guilt), while females more often receive acceptance and support. As a result, men have a harder time identifying and tolerating feelings, which may underlie the fact that men are way more violent than women.

Lots of studies have shown that women prefer working with people and that men prefer working with things. So while young guys perfect specific skills, like their slap shot and free throw, females work on nurturing (dolls), values (chick flicks) and communicating.

The female mind can be highly attuned to inner lives, theirs and others. No wonder men feel some disadvantage when the complexities of raising a family arrive. The ancient residue of Father Knows Best calls for men to lead, but the genius of women places the competence to stick handle the complexity of family more often with them.

A recent paper in the Journal of Individual Differences showed that men overestimate their abilities more than women overestimate theirs. What makes men think they’re so smart remains a good question.

Another study found that the biggest predictor of marital success was the husband’s willingness to readily buy-in to his wife’s judgment. So it’s good advice to be humble anytime, and particularly when you’re in the presence of genius!