Sunday, May 29, 2005

Two responses to power

I am a member of the Zoo New England Advisory Council. The reason I am committed to supporting Zoo New England and other zoos because I love animals and have spent some of the happiest days of my life walking though zoos with my husband, Bruce. Zoos are wonderful parks, a great place for families to learn together, and a destination that transcends class. People of all ages and economic levels can enjoy and learn from observing animals.

Friday afternoon, May 27, I toured Franklin Park Zoo with John Linehan, Zoo New England president, and three other Advisory Council members. The purpose of our zoo "walkabout" was to enhance team spirit among Advisory Council members and to identify projects we could adopt or transform.

As we passed an exhibit of a family (mother, father and baby) of large apes, John Linehan commented that the male member of this family usually exhibits aggressive behavior when he sees John. I was curious to learn more details. John's theory was that the family's "father" is an Alpha male and he can tell that John, as senior executive of the zoo, is also an Alpha male. I asked how he could know this, and John said he assumed that it must have something to do with body language.

At this point, Sari, one of the other Advisory Council members said to John "I'll never forget the day we were touring the zoo, and the female ape acted so seductively towards you".

It was one of those light-bulb-going-off, "aha" glimpses of insight. Could it be that at a core, primal, subliminal level, one male instinctive response to male power- Alpha males - is aggression and one female response to Alpha males is seduction? If this hypothesis is true, is it possible that "civilized" men and women exhibit these aggressive and seductive responses in very subtle ways, through body language, eye contact or eye pupil dilation or changes in body odor?

If there is any validity these gender-specific-response-to-power theory, aggression maintains the power and independence of the bigger, stronger male, and seductive behavior potentially creates an opening or invitation for two to continue exploring connection.

Friday, May 06, 2005

Newsweek Article

I am a relatively new blogger and when I attempted to insert the link to the Newsweek article that summarizes gender differences, I failed. The article, The More Social Sex, is worth reading and references several books and studies.

I immediately ordered The Essential Difference, the Truth About the Male and Female Brain, and hungrily read every word.

It all made sense to me. The book described gender differences that could be observed in infants one week old. Babies of both genders were shown inanimate "mechanical" objects and human faces. The male babies stared for more seconds at the inanimate objects and the female babies stared for more seconds at the the human faces. The book does go on to interpolate that these preferences make men better at systems thinking and women better at nurturing professions. As I have always been good at math, I did not think the "human-focused" preference of females makes them less able to work in science or math. To me, it suggested that the interest and focus of the female brain is linked to the context of the intellectual inquiry: how the problem is "framed". For example, I was told that the engineering program at Cornell University offered a course "How to Design a Race Car". Year after year one or two women at most enrolled in this course. Then, using the same course material, the course was renamed "How to Design a Vehicle that Helps the Handicapped". The renamed course became gender balanced, attracting over fifty percent female students. For me (and I hypothesize many other women), it is all about context. I believe I can solve any problem. The question is, which problems are worth my time and energy. For me the important problems are the ones that have direct impact on how people feel.

I felt so validated to have a book that confirmed some of my feelings until I attended a program at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard University. This panel of women scientists discussed Impediments to Change: Revisiting the Women in Science Question. These women tore to shreds the book I felt has so validated my feelings. The sample was too small, the observer had known the sex of the babies being tested. The list of scientific impropriety went on and on.

Promise for the future

Teamwork is my passion. I believe we can do it better if we do it together. I, Donna Denio, promise by 2020 a world celebrating teamwork as a way of life.

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Communication, connection and community

Are women the more social sex?

A year ago this month (May 2004) my friend Jo-Ann Marzullo forwarded an article she read in Newsweek. It was from a special issue focused on women in honor of Mother's Day. According to the article, "Human and primate studies suggest that friendship does for females what status does for males-that it enhances their own sense of well-being while improving their children's prospects for survival."

The article goes on to describe studies of baboons and human mothers. For humans and animals alike, mothers with the most social connections had higher birth-weight babies.

Is it possible that women feel and relate to social status differently than men? My own experience is that for me, and maybe other women's, social status is flexible. Depending on who you date and marry, your social status can change dramatically.

I remember being the envy of my entire high school gym class when my boyfriend drove up beside our field hockey game in his new ice blue Corvette Stingray. Six months later, he was history and so was my new found fame.

Women's wealth and social connections do not seem to be as important to men when choosing a mate as physical beauty. In some instances, status actually feels like it makes women less desirable.