Recently I spent the day with my eldest son at the Embolden Conference. Travelling there and back, we talked a lot as fathers and sons do, and the subject got around to the challenge of raising daughters compared to sons. My son has 5 daughters 9yrs to 1yr and I have 4 sons and one daughter and the daughter born last. Make no mistake, the batting order does make the world of difference. My son pointed out the huge challenge a father has raising five daughters, especially having come from a nearly all male family.
The conversation was both fascinating and intriguing all at the same time. My son pointed out that daughters are much more interested in extensive “connected face to face” conversations, rather than boisterous “shoulder to shoulder” activities and adventures that are most preferred by boys, and fathers, for that matter. It is not that girls don’t like adventure or boys don’t like deep and meaningful conversations, but that girls and boys are different. Where have I heard that before?
He went on to say that living in a house full of woman has changed him. He told me even his friends had noticed and said he has become more ‘softer’. As I thought about his statement I would agree with his friends. Marriage makes a man softer. Having children makes a man softer again. Having daughters and daughters, only makes a man “softer” still. Herein lies a challenge because as the man said, “Men and woman are different!”
This fascinating article by Dr Christian Jarrett called, Do men and women really have different personalities?, unpacks the reality that fathers have to adapt to raising sons or daughters, or both.
“It’s been said that men and women are so unlike each other, it’s as if they’re from different planets – a claim that continues to amuse and irritate. John Gray’s original mega-selling book Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus, first published in the early 1990s, has sold millions. (Editor’s Note: Much to the chagrin of our Gender bending feminist friends.)
While our physical differences in size and anatomy are obvious, the question of psychological differences between the genders is a lot more complicated and controversial. There are issues around how to reliably measure the differences. And when psychologists find them, there are usually arguments over whether the causes are innate and biological, or social and cultural. Are men and women born different or does society shape them that way?
These questions are particularly thorny when you consider our differences in personality. Most research suggests that men and women really do differ on some important traits. But are these differences the result of biology or cultural pressures? And just how meaningful are they in the real world? One possibility is that most differences are tiny in size but that combined they can have important consequences.
One of the most influential studies in the field, published in 2001 by pioneering personality researchers Paul Costa, Robert McCrae and Antonio Terracciano, involved over 23,000 men and women from 26 cultures filling out personality questionnaires. Across these diverse cultures, including Hong Kong, USA, India and Russia, women consistently rated themselves as being warmer, friendlier and more anxious and sensitive to their feelings than did the men. The men, meanwhile, consistently rated themselves as being more assertive and open to new ideas. In the jargon of personality psychology, the women had scored higher on average on Agreeableness and Neuroticism and on one facet of Openness to Experience, while the men scored higher on one facet of Extraversion and a different facet of Openness to Experience.
Similar results came in 2008 when a separate research team asked more than 17,000 people from 55 cultures, to fill out personality questionnaires. Again, women scored themselves higher on Agreeableness and Neuroticism and this time also on Conscientiousness and the warmth and gregariousness facets of Extraversion.
One obvious criticism was that the participants were rating their own personalities. Perhaps the women and men differed simply because they were describing themselves in the way their societies expected them to be. But this seems unlikely because another study, led by McCrae and his collaborators, found broadly similar results from 12,000 people from 55 diverse cultures even though they were asked to rate the personality of a man or women they knew well, rather than their own personality.
Adding to the picture, other research has shown that the genders begin to differ in personality very early in life. For example, one study published in 2013 looked at ratings of the temperament of 357 pairs of twins made when they were three-years-old. The boys were rated as more active, on average, than the girls, while the girls were rated as more shy and as having more control over their attention and behaviour.
And gender differences in personality seem to persist into the twilight years. Another study looked at average differences in personality between women and men aged 65 to 98, and just as with research on younger adults, the elderly women tended to score higher on Neuroticism and Agreeableness than the elderly men…
Yanna Weisberg at Linfield College and her colleagues tested this possibility in 2011 by measuring what they called the two personality “aspects” for each of the Big Five traits (Extraversion, Neuroticism etc) in over 2,500 people. Extraversion, for example, comprises two aspects: enthusiasm and assertiveness, while Neuroticisms comprises volatility and withdrawal.
Taking this approach, the researchers actually found gender differences for every one of the 10 aspects of personality that they looked at – women scored higher, on average, on enthusiasm, compassion, politeness, orderliness, volatility, withdrawal, and openness, while men scored higher on assertiveness, industriousness and intellect. The researchers said that these would not have shown up in studies at the level of the Big Five traits, as used in most earlier research…
Marco Del Giudice’s research team from the University of Turin disagree. In 2012 they published a paper in which they claimed previous research had underestimated gender differences in personality by taking the average of all trait differences rather than viewing them cumulatively. In an email, Del Giudice explained his approach to me with an analogy. “Gender differences in personality are very much like gender differences in facial appearance,” he said. “Each individual trait (nose length, eye size, etc) shows small differences between men and women, but once you put them all together… differences become clear and you can distinguish between male and female faces with more than 95% accuracy.”
By using this approach to study samples of over 10,000 men and women, Del Giudice and his colleagues documented gender-based differences in personality which they said were “extremely large by psychological standards”. They added that they believed their approach “made it clear that the true extent of sex differences in personality has been consistently underestimated”.
There you go, men and women are different! You cannot argue with biology, nor can you argue with so many expert studies. Unfortunately, many fruitcakes will, but you don’t have to become a fruitcake yourself as a father. In fact, if you have daughters they want you to be a man, a masculine man, tough but tender. Herein lies the quandary. A woman makes a man softer and man makes a woman tougher. The truth is always in the tension and we need the tension to make life interesting.
Our children need the tension too. It helps them grow. That’s why children need a mother and a father. They need a mother and a father to first love each other and then share the overflow of that married and committed love with them. Interestingly it is the married and committed love that produces them in the first place.
Sadly, we had a person write to us and complain that the latest TV ad we produced of a father singing a lullaby to his little baby was ‘a political statement’. It was “the mother and a father are a perfect team” part that they objected too. How incredibly sad! From what heights has our society fallen? Just make sure you don’t fall too! Your children need you to be a man as a father and not anyone else.
Yours for Children Needing a Mother and a Father