Saturday, July 19, 2008

Men are from Nick, Women are from Nora

I’m about to embark on an exciting writing adventure - collaborating on an urban fantasy novel with a female writer. As our lead characters evolve we are exploring the differences between male and female protagonists. In doing my research I’ve learned there are many good reasons why a man and woman together make the perfect detective team. Their brains really do work differently.

There is a good deal of solid scientific evidence to support women's intuition. No, I’m not talking about psychic powers, but rather a highly developed ability to read body language, facial expressions and emotional responses that men simply don’t seem to have. It doesn’t appear to be environmental but actually hard wired into your brains. (Don’t believe me? Check, for example, the neat book Why Men Don't Listen and Why Women Can't Read Maps or the more technical The Female Brain. )

I can hear you snickering already. “See, we told you,” you’re saying. “Men just don’t pay attention.” Well, not really true. We’re just paying attention to different stuff.

If women were always more attentive there wouldn’t be a cliché about woman drivers. Men aren’t better drivers and carpenters because we’re smarter. It’s because we’re hard-wired to be spatial thinkers. We can estimate speed and distance better. We’re hunters, and our perception is 360 degrees when we’re on the move, but we have tunnel vision for problem solving.

I’m married to a professional facility manager. Denise can solve complex personnel and supply problems talking on the phone set to speaker, while doing her make-up and making a grocery list. She got mad skills with the multi-tasking, but she can’t read a map to save her life. She can distinguish 18 colors that I’d call “blue” but can't tell which connection will let her plug her ipod into the stereo. And she can TELL time, but she can’t tell how much time has passed. "Dinner’s ready" means I have a good 6 minutes to get downstairs, and "I’M ready" means I can read 4 more pages of the book I’m holding.

And men are born to defend. Conflict is our business. Women are born to nurture. Getting along is your stock in trade. Again, don’t blame me. It’s hard-wired in our brains. And it’s great stuff to use in fiction. Detectives need to be able to read people and negotiate. They also need to be able to spot the bad guy and put him down hard before he hurts somebody.

This is what makes the male/female detective team perfect. When they walk into a room, the woman is focused on the people: what are they wearing, who’s happy or sad or nervous. The man is checking for ways in and out, who might be a useful ally or dangerous enemy, what’s broken, what could be an improvised weapon.

Woman detectives are great to write too, because they talk thru their problems. Guys tend to turn off talking and listening when we’re thinking.

BTW, if you watch women and men in groups you’ll notice that women are wired to listen and talk at the same time. It’s white noise to us guys. We tend to take turns because we’re wired like CB radios. Can’t hear when I’m in transmit mode. Want me to really listen to you? Schedule a meeting and give me the agenda.

1 comment:

Sue said...

I strongly suggest that you read something with a bit more academic/scientific validity about male/female differences, such as Deborah Tannen's You Just Don't Understand. There's very little support in the actual scientific literature for "hardwired" differences. The differences you describe exist, but they are primarily the result of gender socialization beginning from birth.