Sex Differences in Social & Emotional Behavior During Infancy & Childhood

Sex Differences in Social & Emotional Behavior During Infancy & Childhood

Rhawn Gabriel Joseph, Ph.D.


For most of the first year of life, infants are fairly indiscriminate in regard to contact seeking and show little fear of strangers. It is not until humans reach 8-11 months of age, that wariness and fear of strangers has become fairly apparent (ref). At this age, girls and boys seek the proximity and the arms of their mothers when in the presence of strangers. However, boys will more quickly disengage from their moms, and will become less fearful of strangers at a much earlier age than females (ref). Moreover, over the course of their second year of life males are increasingly likely to approach individuals they do not know whereas girls continue to seek their mother.

The manner in which boys interact with strangers differs from girls as well. For example, boys between the ages of 3 to 5 will avoid making full facial contact with strangers and will tend to stand at an angle with their heads turned to the side (STERN & BENDER). Males find direct facial and eye contact aversive and aggressive (Exline, 19; Joseph, 1985) and young males are wary of provoking attack. However, when in the presence of strangers young males tend to place their hands behind their back which is a form of genital display and a type of threat (Wickler, 19; Ebl-Ebesfeldt). Hence, young males tend to assume postures that are intermediate between fear and threat. This enables them to mask their true feelings whatever they may be.

Females, in contrast, will fully face the stranger and smile or hide their face with their hands. They are also more likely to make hand to face gestures, such as touching their hair, head, or eyes or lips, and to hold their hands in front of their bodies when facing strange adults or when feeling fear or anxiety (STERN & BENDER). Placing the hands in front of the face is a common defensive posture used across cultures and is employed during times of surprise, shock, and embarrassment (Eibl-Eibesfeldt; Ekman).

Not just girls but young women tend to show apprehensive smiles and mouthing behavior, such as biting or sucking their lips in, holding them tightly together and smiling, particularly when faced with strangers or novel situations. These are smiles of fear (Eibl-Eibesfeldt) and are used to signal appeasement. Female baboons, chimpanzees, and macaques also use the fear grin to ward off attack (DeVore, 1965; Elia; Kummer, Goodall; Fedigan; Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Wickler).

Girls, however, sometimes avoid making direct eye contact during these times and may stand as if frozen, or assume a hunched protective posture without moving. They may also fail to smile. However, often they do smile which makes them appear to be acting coyly when in fact they are experiencing low level fear. Moreover, in contrast to males, young females are also more likely to retreat and withdraw from situations involving strange adults. Boys are not only less fearful in general, but by age 10 they are more likely to stand closer to someone they fear, whereas females are more likely to stand closer to someone they like (Guardo).

Young females also tend to be very fearful of strange, complex or novel situations or environments even when no strangers are near whereas young boys have no difficulty playing under these conditions ( Lewis & Weinraub; LeMasters 1975; STERN & BENDER, ROSENBLUM Hannerz, 1970 Haugh et al. 1980; Rubin et al. 1983). Even during play in a familiar environment when no strangers are present females are far more likely than males to gather close to their mothers and teachers (Fagot, 1978; Omark & Edelman, 1976; Freedman, 1974; Rubin, et al. 1976Bott, 1971; Komarovsky, 1964; Young & Wilmot, 1957), and the same is true of female primates.

Girls will also play longer when in the company of their mothers vs strangers or even their fathers in which case they may withdraw or sit quietly, whereas boys show no difference. If given a choice between remaining near their mother or exploring a complex or strange environment, males are far more likely to explore and to greatly decrease maternal contact whereas females will increase maternal contact even though it is only toys and novel objects that confront them and no stranger is present (ROSENBLUM).

Females, in fact, are not only less self-confident and more fearful than males (Lenney, 1977; Dweck & Bush, 1976; Dweck et al. 1978) but they are far more likely to develop phobias and pathological fearfulness as adults (54). These findings hold true across cultures be it the Japanese, Balinese, Chinese, or even Australian Aborigines, and is also the case for boys and girls blind from birth.


Beginning before the first year of life and continuing throughout childhood girls remain more fearful of strangers or novel environments or situations, and are more attached to their mothers whom they seek for reassurance. This is not a function of differential parenting or sexist training, however, for these sex differences hold true even among opposite sex twins as well as among all social female primates ( Mason, et al. 1959; Brooks & Lewis, 19; Goldberg & lewis, 19; Mitchell, 19; Goodall, 19; Fedigan; Elia). These sex differences are innate.

Like their human counterparts, female primates are much more wary of strangers than males (Mason, et al. 1959; Elia; Goodall). Similarly during the first two years of life female primates prefer to remain closer to their mothers and will run to her when frightened (Mitchell, 1979; Fedigan; Goodall). For example, even when there is no stranger present four month old females macaque monkeys spend 75% of their time with their mother, whereas males are as likely to wander away as to maintain contact. Similarly, when a stranger is present, infant female macaques are significantly more likely to seek their mother's, whereas males do not. In fact, female primates spend almost twice as much time with their mother whereas males spend as much time with either the stranger or mom or engaged in some other activity (Fedigan). Moreover, if the mother is absent females will avoid the stranger 10 times more so than males and will withdraw and sit in a far corner or as far away as possible. It is not until much later in age that females begin to show a decrease in their wariness and are willing to approach strange females (but not males) as much as their mothers (ROSENBLUM).


Almost regardless of animals species (excluding insects) females tend to be fearful and wary of males throughout their lives, and this includes human, chimpanzee, rhesus, baboon, wolf, lion, dog, tiger, and even lizard females. Because they are more fearful and less confident, human, primate, mammals, and lizard females are therefore much more likely to utilize appeasement gestures when males approach. In addition to sexual posturing these appeasement signals include smiling and head bobbing which in turn acts to reduce the likelihood that she may be attacked or that her behavior will be viewed as threatening (Eibl-Eisbesfeldt, 19; Wickler, 19; Mason et al. 1960; Jolly).

Richard and Steven were walking down the street, arguing over who was the best quarterback in the NFL, when two girls from their school walked around the corner and passed close by. One of them gave Richard a quick smile and then dropped her eyes as she turned her face back toward her friend and resumed talking.

Steven playfully slugged Richard in the arm and said, "That chick likes you."

Richard was surprised. It was just a few days ago while running at school that he had bumped into her and almost knocked her down. He remembered she seemed frightened.

A few minutes later a well muscled boy, just about the same size and age as Richard began walking toward them. Steven avoided looking at the boy and stared down at the sidewalk. However, Richard and the stranger made very brief eye contact, and nodded at each other without smiling.

As Steve and Richard rounded the corner, a smaller boy approached and began nodding his head and smiling as he looked at them.

"What are you looking at twerp?" Steven demanded through gritted teeth.

"Nothing," the boy muttered as he looked away and stared at his feet.

As Richard and Steve approached their school they could hear the shouts and yells of the other kids as well as fragments of conversation. Near the drinking fountain a bevy of blond females stood chattering away, their faces adorned with smiles of delight. Near the garbage cans stood several boys hiding cigarettes, their faces impassive, scowling, or erupting in laughter.

"Those chicks are so phony," Steve complained.

"Why's that?" Richard asked.

"They smile and laugh even when they don't mean it. Even when nothing is funny."

"I don't know," Richard commented. "Maybe they're laughing at you."

Females begin smiling soon after birth and at an earlier age than males (Wolf, ref). Females also smile on average about 30% more than males and are far more likely to maintain sustained and direct eye contact with a woman than a man is with a man 6. Even across cultures females smile more than males and at a higher rate (Freedman, 1980; Ebl-Eibesfelt).

Males are reticent to do so because among males the bearing of the teeth can be viewed as a threat (Devore; Jolly; Ebl-Eibesfelt). When employed by females, however, the bearing of teeth is suggestive of fear or pain as well as friendliness and appeasement.

Indeed, smiling is frequently employed to signal appeasement and submission; i.e. "don't hit me. I'm friendly." Among apes and humans it often acts to reduce aggressiveness in those who are being smiled at (Mason et al. 1960; Devore; Jolly; Ebl-Eibesfelt). This is why females are more likely to smile in general, whereas males are more likely to smile at females than other men. Males avoid providing appeasement gestures except when under duress and are more leery of smiling as it may be perceived as aggressive by other males who in turn are likely to demand, "What are you smiling about?" In that a smile can involve the bearing of teeth, it is thus not surprising that a grin might be seen as antagonistic, particularly since males tend to perceive or suspect belligerence even when there is no aggressive intent (ref).

When females smile at males, they also tend to make fleeting eye contact coupled with head bows, nods, and other appeasement signals 8. Similarly when female and subordinate male chimps approach dominant males, they will smile, bow, and bob their heads. The smile and bowing indicates friendliness or submission which serves to reduce social tension and threat, which is why females smile more than males. These are common appeasement gestures utilized not only by humans, monkeys, and apes, but wolves, dogs, and similar creatures.


By early adolescence many young females have begun to carry their bodies in a provocative manner so that their developing breasts are proudly displayed. They also begin to walk in high heels so that their derriere is elevated in a posture that invites sexually mounting. However, even at a more tender age, some young females will behave in a coy, almost provocative manner with their fathers, adult males, or male friends of their older brothers (deBeauviour; Friday). Essentially they are experimenting with their sexuality by role playing and through practice, and for the most part this behavior is rather innocent with no expectation that a sexual response will be forthcoming --at least insofar as fathers are concerned.

Adolescent and prepubescent female chimpanzees and baboons are no different (Elia; Devore; Kummer; Fedigan, Goodall). Like their human counterparts, they often begin to behave in what appears to be a sexually precocious manner during late childhood and will actively solicit sex even though they are not sexually receptive (Fedigan, 19; Elia, Mitchell, 19; Goodall, 19).

Of course, some of this sexually suggestive behavior is not sexual at all but is a consequence of modeling, attention seeking as well as a reflection of submissiveness. Young females note that these behaviors draw male attention or promote male protectiveness and thus emulate the actions and postures of their mothers and other adult females (FRIDAY, Goodall; Segundo).

However, these sexual appeasement gestures do not appear to be learned per se. Nor are they the product of cultural or sexist pressures. Rather, they appear to be the residue of an innate predisposition. Females of most species are wary of males, and their sexuality is often utilized to mask their fears and to assuage male violence (Wickler, Lorenz; Devore; Eibl-Eibesfeldt). This is why sexually laced appeasement gestures are similarly employed not only by humans, but chimpanzees, baboons, rhesus monkeys, and numerous others primates and mammals so as to reduce male belligerence and the threat of attack (Wickler, 19; Eibl-Eibesfeldt; Jolly). Females are innately aware that males can be quite mercurial and attack without provocation.

Females have adapted by developing sexually laced appeasement gestures which protect them from attack, and which serve to channel male aggressiveness into sexual interest (Lorenz). By emphasizing submissiveness and sexuality, females reduce the likelihood that their own behaviors will be viewed as threatening or aggressive (Wickler, Eibl-Eibesfeldt).

However, it is important to emphasize that it is not sex that these females desire, but guarantees against attack. It is also why these strategies are also employed by female children. Young girls are wary of males in general, and adult males in particular (ref), and often employ coy and sexually laced behaviors so as to indicate they are friendly, harmless, non-threatening, and submissive. They behave in this sexually precocious manner sometimes because they are afraid. Tthese postures curb male aggression. However, just as male aggressiveness is innate, so too is female submissiveness and fear.


Insofar as a smile may be mistaken for appeasement (or conversely as aggressive), men are less likely to employ a smile even when making direct eye contact. They are in fact even less likely to make direct eye contact with other males (vs females) due to the propensity of some males to aggressively demand, "What are you looking at?" Males often perceive direct eye contact as a threat and are thus less willing to provide it 7. Many male animals, including apes, monkeys, and even dogs, also avoid direct eye contact except to indicate aggressive intent (Manning; Eibl-Eisbesfelt, Lorenz). It is for this reason that among many cultures direct eye contact can even connote evil and the casting of spell; i.e. the "evil eye." Hence, males tend to avoid staring at others.

In consequence, even among married couples women often complain that their husbands or sons fail to look at them when they are talking, as they instead tend to stare at a newspaper or the television. Male often fail to provide sustained eye contact even with his dates or girlfriends unless he is feeling aggressive or sexually aroused. As such, the woman is likely to feel he is not paying attention or taking her seriously, and may even feel threatened by what she believes is his "roving eye."

This male reluctance regarding eye contact is evident during infancy and is even suggested in the types of toys boys vs girls prefer 9. That is, females are more drawn to toys that have an easily identifiable and human-like face, such as teddy bears and dolls. They also play games such as jump rope, house, or with their dolls, where there is minimal competition and maximal cooperation and social stimulation often involving face to face contact (Ahlgren & Johnson, 1979; Olds & Shaver, 1980; Duda, 1983; Fagot, 1978).

In contrast, boys like face-less toys, such as guns, trucks, blocks, hammers, military toys, vehicles, machines, sports equipment (Rhengold & Cook, 1975; Fagot, 1974; Smith & Daglish, 1977; Gaylin, Ross), including action figures where their essential humanness is deemphasized; e.g. Ninja Turtles. Hence, whereas male toys emphasize aggression, killing, conquering, and destruction, female toys and games tend to stimulate social cooperation and face to face interaction. This is because females are more geared toward receiving and providing social stimulation.

Even female infants are more socially inclined and responsive to faces than are males (Kagan, 1971; Lewis, 1966). For example, they can differentiate adult male from female faces and voices, and are more interested in faces and will stare at faces longer than boys even during early infancy. In contrast, infant boys are as likely to respond to a bull's eye as a face (Lewis, et al. 1966).


Girls are much more socially inclined and thus provide friendly facial gestures which are often coupled with appeasement cues which maximize cooperative and non-violent social interaction. As such they are more socially responsive to faces, are more likely to make direct facial contact and will directly face and smile at strangers. However, these gestures do not always indicate friendliness but often belie feelings of fear and anxiety, particularly if the female is alone and in close proximity with a strange male.

These sex differences in fear and approach behaviors are also apparent when interacting with other children. For example, a child who perceives himself as less dominant and tough than another, will spend more time smiling at the tougher child (Freedman, 1980).

However, if the tougher child is a girl, although subordinate girls continue smiling at her at a high rate, inferiorally ranked males are not similarly inclined. In fact, a dominant girl will smile more at a subordinate (less tough) male than vice versa. Hence, girls spend more time smiling at boys regardless of their toughness or dominance. However, they smile even more at the toughest and most dominant males (Freedman, 1980).

This is an important appeasement strategy for female survival. Smiling acts to reduce aggressiveness and to promote cooperativeness and social cohesion particularly when coupled with head bobbing and nodding and reduced eye contact. These actions make it clear that the smiles are indicant of friendliness, appeasement and fear.

It is in this way that female behaviors and facial displays tend to inhibit male belligerence, serving to soothe and calm the savage male breast, much as male behavior acts to reduce female aggression by suppressing its expression. In fact, human female body language and speech also often serves to reduce social contentiousness and antagonism while conversely promoting cohesion and cooperation.


Boys are not only more pugnacious and assaultive than females, but by age 6 most begin to recognize these differences and view themselves as more domineering, powerful, authoritative as well as smarter than females, even when that is clearly not the case. Of course, they tend to overrate themselves in regard to their male peers as well (KOHLBERG & ULLIAN). In part this is based on their accurate perceptions as to sex differences in size and strength, as well as the more emotionally expressive capabilities of females including crying. Crying suggests weakness to most males. When coupled with the female tendency to provide appeasement gestures, males tend to see females as weak and inferior.

Nor are these beliefs a product of parental or cultural training for these stereotypical attitudes appear cross culturally as well as among boys who are raised without fathers. Even juvenile chimps, baboons, rhesus macaques, and other male primates recognize these sex differences and will swagger and make belligerent displays not only to their female peers, but older adult females as well (Devore, Goodall, Fedigan, Mitchell; Elia). Female primates in general also recognize these distinctions and even those who are older will respond submissively and display appeasement gestures not only to adult males, but to juvenile, adolescent and even infant males (Savage & Malick, 1977; Mithcell, 1979). Hence, females in general are not only wary of males, but are innately predisposed to viewing them as dominant and powerful even when they are not.

Young human females also recognize these sex differences and tend to view males are more powerful and dangerous. Hence, like our primate cousins, they tend to curb their own aggressive and competitive tendencies, and even behave submissively to males who are below them in dominance, talent or capability. This has been repeatedly found in tasks involving cooperativeness, competitiveness, and among activities where females have a clear advantage over males (Ahlgren & Johnson, 1979; Freedman, 1980; Olds & Shaver, 1980; Lenny, 1977; Duda, 1983; Gill, 1986).. Females do not try as hard to win when males are present as apparently the threat of male belligerence inhibits female aggressive and competitive tendencies and instead promotes appeasement and acquiescence.


Lisa was excited when her gym teacher announced that the girls were going to play "flag football" with the boys. Now Lisa wasn't so sure it was such a good idea. Twice she became so afraid of the boys running at her that she froze when the ball was thrown and didn't catch it. Her friend Ruth was doing even worse. Ruth became so afraid she quit running, hunched up, and dropped the ball. The other team picked it up and scored a touchdown. But, Lisa knew it wasn't Ruth's or her fault. The boys weren't playing fair, and were yelling, and screaming, and trying to scare everyone by acting like they were going to tackle and hurt you. Lisa couldn't help it if she got scared, so after a while, she just quite trying. It wasn't even fun.

Girls and women, including female primates, are innately predisposed to be wary of males and to avoid directly confronting them in an aggressive or competitive fashion; the exceptions being their mates, boyfriends and children. These tendencies are manifested in formal situations and even games where the chance for injury is almost nonexistant.

In one series of experiments, when all male vs all female dodge ball teams were made to compete against one another, the girl teams consistently lost (FREEDMAN, 1980). Even when all girl teams competed against male opponents who ranked far below them in skill and talent, the girl teams capitulated to the less talented boys and lost all games. Indeed, girls tended to move about less and generally refused to run after the ball (FREEDMAN, 1980).

Even boys who were clumsy and not nearly as athletically inclined as the females won more games and would even run after the ball more often (FREEDMAN, 1980). In fact, when a boy went after the ball, girls refused to even try as they apparently had no desire to directly compete in an aggressive fashion even against inferior males. The girls lost their desire to win the games.

Conversely, the inferior boys tried harder against the girls than they did against other boys, as they apparently believed themselves to be superior to females who were in fact better players. They also tried harder as they did not want to lose to girls (FREEDMAN, 1980).

Hence, males tend to overestimate their own capabilities, underestimate the abilities of females, and exert a suppressive influence on female dominance and strivings for independence. In contrast, females are predisposed to yield to even inferior males.

Like most sex differences, these tendencies are innate and are reflective of sex differences in competitiveness and aggression. Women and girls are not as competitive as boys and men (Ahlgren & Johnson, 1979; Olds & Shaver, 1980; Lenny, 1977; Duda, 1983; Gill, 1986).

For example, when girls play dodge ball against girls and boys against boys, the males are far more competitive and run after the ball significantly more often. In one series of experimental observations, usually more than 7 boys would simultaneously chase after a loose ball on any single occasion. In contrast, generally only one or two girls would chase after a loose ball and sometimes no one would. Hence, girls are less willing to physically compete even against girls.

Females are also less willing to take charge (Dobbins et al. 1990) or to wrest control over the game or to physically compete with each other. Rather, they tend to directly compete only when their chances are very high of winning. In contrast boys will compete even if they have almost no chance of winning and when their adversaries have a clear advantage (FREEDMAN, 1980).

These differential attitudes toward competition and dominance even extend to those tasks where females are known to perform better than males. For example, it has been repeatedly established that females tend to have, in general, a superior vocabulary and better reading and writing skills as compared to males and are more grammatical, articulate, and verbal, and are better spellers (see chapter 1 & 9). Yet even when competing against males on language tasks, such as spelling bees, boys volunteer significantly more responses than girls, even when the girls against whom they compete are superior spellers.

Although girls with a high degree of spelling ability volunteer more responses than girls with low ability, low ability boys out volunteered these same superior females by 60% even when the girl had her finger on the button before the boy. Boys are more competitive even in almost hopeless situations. Thus, males being more aggressive and competitive are provided a considerable advantage when competing with women and girls as the female sex will generally not even try as hard to win (Molner & Weisz, 1981; Deaux, 1984; Dweck & Elliot, 1983; Huston, 1983)

In part these sex differences are also a function of females being less concerned with the competitive aspects of the game and more interested in social interactions (Gilligan). Often in group games, females will case to pay attention to the action even while playing and instead get caught up in discussing interpersonal concerns that have nothing to do with the game. In contrast, boys tend to talk and focus strictly on the game, and may say almost nothing to their friends other than to yell and cast taunts. Because of these and other sex differences, boys and girls often do not enjoy playing with members of the opposite sex (LeMasters 1975; Hannerz, 1970; Bott, 1971; Komarovsky, 1964; Young & Wilmot, 1957; Haugh et al. 1980) and find members of their own sex more fun to socialize and play with.


Many girls tend to play in small groups or in pairs; i.e. best friends. Hierarchies tend to form based on personality, articulatory skills, and physical attractiveness; e.g. who is the "nicest," prettiest, or the most fashionably dressed , rather than based on physical competitiveness (although that is often a factor) 4 (Ladd, 1983; Gagon & Simon, 1973; Travis & Offir, 1977)

Young girls are also more likely than boys to engage in cooperative activities that focus on friendship, intimacy, sharing, talking, imagination, and being liked. Challenges and competition between girls are more likely to be subtle and indirect, whereas cooperativeness, at least overtly, is the glue which binds them together 5. Women and young girls are more concerned with cohesion and forming relationships and maintaining personal attachments. Hence their personal interests, and those of their closest friends, including family, are seen as more important than non-kin or individuals who are not a member of their social group.

Girls are much more likely to play games where there are no winners and losers and where all participate and are cooperatively engaged simultaneously in the action, such as dancing or jump rope (Ahgren & Johnson, 1979; Olds & Shaver, 1980; Duda, 1983; Gill, 1986). They are equally likely to engage in games based on real life experiences, mimicking their mothers, playing with dolls which they baby, having tea parties or practicing for real life roles such as mother, nurse, doctor, glamorous sexy movie star and those depicted by the media. Their playthings tend to consist of soft and stuffed toys, dolls, doll houses, domestic items, telephones, a large variety of clothes and shoes, and their bedrooms tend to be decorated with soft colors, lace, fringe, floral motifs, and ruffles (Rhengold & Cook, 1975; Fagot, 1974; Smith & Daglish, 1977).

When a girl reaches adolescence and young womanhood increasingly she tends to seek to establish and maintain her sense of self worth in regard to her sexual attractiveness, clothing, and cooperative activities involving other females, children, as well as men (deBeuvoir, Friday; Cowan & Kinder; Norwood; Forward). In this regard it is the relationship or status rather than combative domination that she seeks. She talks about fashion, boyfriends, making out, sex, personal and family difficulties, as well as her teachers and friends of her friends. Her femininity becomes increasingly tied in with her sexuality, her lovableness, her parents, her children, and her capacity for nurturance and to make and maintain friendships.

If a woman were to overtly compete with her friends this would cause strains in their relationship and this is not what she desires. Hence, in general, women and girls are not as physically or aggressively competitive as males (Ahlgren & Johnson, 19789; Olds & Shaver, 1980; Lenney, 1977; Duda, 1983) except in regard to their clothing, verbal skills, and ability to attract male admirers.


Boys compete against girls, boys, their teachers, parents, and imaginary enemies, and will form large coalitions so as to struggle against and establish dominance over other large groups of males. Even as groups of males form there is much rivalry and jockeying for status as they compete for dominance and leadership positions, or to establish themselves at a certain rank in comparison to their fellows.

However, some boys are unwilling to compete for top slots but only middle positions. In part, boys who prefer the role of follower are sometimes lacking in self-confidence, personality, or athletic ability. However, some boys are so awed by their fathers, or because they have been brought up without fathers, that they accept their subordinate status and go through life happy just to be accepted by a group of males. To dominate other males does not feel familiar or comfortable to these boys and men. Others are just the opposite and relish dominating and controlling others.

Hence, when twelve year old boys establish groups, they very quickly arrange themselves into followers vs leaders. In contrast, when females form groups they often have tremendous difficulty imposing any type of structure or determining "who is in charge" (Dobbins, et al. 1990; FREEDMAN, 1980). Even women in positions of power and position have difficulty initiating structure and imposing control over their subordinates (Brenner & Vinacke, 1979; White & Rowberry, 1977; Dobbins et al. 1990). Rather, whereas males take control directly, women are much more likely to use subtle approaches including covert forms of manipulation (deBeauviour; Friday; White & Rowberry, 1977).

This same differential attitude occurs when women gather together during social functions. Hostesses tend to avoid directing or telling their friends what to do, and in fact ask them not to help. Of course, what they are really saying is for their friends to take charge of themselves and to find something to do without putting the onus of responsibility on the hostess. Unfortunately, if their guests take her at her word and one of them simply retires back into the living room to talk with the men, the hostess, as well as some of the other ladies may find this irritating. The cohesiveness and cooperation of the group will have been weakened.

Males are more domineering, challenging, competitive, and willing to dictate to others because they are more concerned with their status and establishing dominance. They have little problem telling a friend to come over and help them build a fence or fix their car, or directly and aggressively informing another man when they are unhappy with his behavior. They also have little difficulty bragging about their own capabilities and accomplishments so as to establish their own superiorities and dominance. Moreover, because these concerns are so great, males tend to downplay their own weaknesses and to overestimate their capabilities. Indeed, almost every male is a potential braggart by the time he reaches age four (Freedman, 1980; Savin-Williams 1980).


Four year old boys have enormous egos and rate themselves as the toughest and strongest member of their group even when this is clearly not the case (Freedman, 1980; Savin-Williams 1980). Although by age 6 their ratings are more realistic, they continue to rate themselves far above their actual level of capability and see themselves as stronger and tougher than other males who are clearly their superiors. Hence, as early as age four and continuing from 6 until adulthood, males tend to overrate their dominance status (Freedman, 1980; Savin-Williams 1980) as well as their abilities, and accomplishments.

Among teenage boys and young men this is especially evident when discussing sexual matters, for they are highly likely to exaggerate their conquests. It is not uncommon for their claims of sexual experience to border on the grandiose. It is a rare male who, after age 16, will admit to being a virgin, even if he has had no experience at all. Similarly most adult males will brag about and exaggerate their sexual accomplishments and other capabilities.

It is in part due to this ego-aggrandizing propensity that males are willing to compete even in hopeless situations and will accept foolish dares, or volunteer for suicide missions or tasks which are nearly impossible to accomplish. Since the male overestimates his abilities and is so competitive, he often fails to accurately appraise the outcome when faced with adversity. Although this confers certain advantages in regard to one's orientation toward success and adversity, excessive competitiveness has a downside as well. One might not only lose, but die.


The male tendency to compete rather than cooperate, and to overestimate his own talents, not infrequently interferes with their ability to win or succeed at what they are doing. This is often demonstrated during games and athletic competition, where one team member may "hog" the ball, or try to swing at bad pitches or steal basis, such that in consequence they lose the game. Indeed, these tendencies are not only evident among adults but children.

For example, when 3 year old males and females were placed in same sex pairs on a task requiring cooperation in a marble pulling game, the all girl teams cooperated by quickly learning a turn-taking strategy and acquired more marbles. The boys, instead, competed against one another and ended up with almost none. When boys played against girls, they again ended up with no marbles, whereas the females continued to win. Hence, at a young age boys compete foolishly, whereas females cooperate intelligently. However, when girl-boy teams played, the boys slowly learn to become more cooperative (CRONIN, 1980), and the girls become more competitive (Szal, 1972).


Even on cooperative tasks, girls who are judged to be highly dominant, again behav submissively toward boys, including those ranked far below them in ability (Kaplan, 1970). For example, on cooperative tasks where two same sexed but unequal children were matched, the high dominant person became leader about 75% of the time. However, when dominant females and less dominant males were placed in pairs, the male became the leader over 80% of the time, and it was usually the female who decided the male should lead (Megargee, 1969). He became leader in part because the female acquiesced but also because she collaborated in his assumption of power.

This is a characteristic not only of young girls, but grown women and female primates as well as wolves, dogs (Faludi, 1992; Mori & Kawai, 1975; Mitchell, 1979; Fedigan, 19; Goodall, 19; DeWall; Elia) and even feminists (Steinem, 1992). Females defer to males, in part because they are wary of attack and the males propensity to behave in an contentious, domineering or mercurial manner. However, because females view themselves as less aggressive or domineering, it is their tendency to support members of the male rather than female sex in the assumption of power.


It is noteworthy that girls who are in all girl classes and who attend all girl schools tend to take dominance status much more seriously. Girls in these environments are also tend to overrate themselves in regard to ability and even toughness. They also tend to be more outspoken, active, spontaneous, and athletic and this remains true of women educated in all female colleges. Of course, some of these women are lesbians who are probably in possession of male brains (see chapter 11). However, it is also a function of the removal of male suppressive influences. Females are less likely to acquiesce if there is no male about.

Similarly most females understand what a dominance hierarchy is, and many are willing to compete for the top position. This is particularly true when the competitive interactions involve social comparison, fashion, attractiveness, personality, and social skills (deBeauvior, Joseph, 1986; Friday; ref).

Because female dominance relations are based more on social rather than physical status, they also appear to remain more stable as compared to males (Elia, Fedigan; DeWall; Goodall). In part this is due to the male tendency to physically compete and even assault one another (which may result in his rising or falling in rank) and the female tendency to cooperate and smooth things over (Gilligan, Glass, Tannen). Because females compete for dominance in regard to an entirely different dimension of social relations (Gilligan), and as there is little overt aggression or physical struggling, their social rank remains generally much more stable as compared to males.


It is important to note that although females are not as physically combative, competitive, or animated they can be quite verbally active, belligerent and antagonistic, and are capable of assaulting or challenging their peers or boyfriends and husbands and may take a special delight in emotionally wounding their male lovers and female friends (Joseph, 1986; Friday, 19; DeBeuvior). However, males are far more likely to be aggressive physically, especially young males who tend to fight, push, hit, tease, dare, and struggle with one another.

Boys not only seek to establish their own dominance and superiority, but to determine or establish the weakness of their competitors (Ross, Gaylin). Hence, their status seeking battles tend to enter all spheres of combat and include physical threat and punishment, competition and daring, name calling, as well as teasing. As such, because they wish to indicate how tough they are, even when among friends they may engage in mock attacks or accept verbal abuse without protest. They learn to expect it and to dish it out as an indicant of friendliness, comraderie, and toughness.

"Hey dick face," Richard yelled at his friend Jimmy from across the school yard.

"What's up butt head?" Jimmy replied as he rode up on his bike.

"Nothing fart breath. You still riding that sissy bike?" Richard asked, as he slugged his friend on the arm.

"Better than walking like a homo like you..." Jimmy replied as he shoved Richard by the shoulder.

Teasing is in fact a common means by which boys relate and show friendliness as well as achieve dominance and root out another boys weakness. Those who cry and can't take it, are rejected, isolated, and/or are tormented unmercifully. If a man can't stand up for himself, then he is a weakling and is to be avoided and shunned. However, when males insult one another in fun, it solidifies their relationship. It is a demonstration that each appreciates how tough the other fellow may be.


When boys and men are not teasing, they are daring one another to engage in dangerous or pointless stunts, such as jumping out of trees or into traffic, playing chicken, walking a fence or log and so on. Males frequently dare one another to engage in risky and often foolhardy stunts, such as lying in the middle of a busy street, or driving their car too fast.

The one who is the recipient of the dare has his ego very much on the line, even when what is asked of him borders on the crazy and insane (David & Brannon, 1976; Kogan & Doros, 1978.) If he refuses the dare, his very masculinity, his bravery, his physical capabilities are questioned. It is the emerging male ego which makes and accepts the threat, for it requires that one also conquer one's fear.

More often than not, if a female is the recipient of a dare, she is likely to decline the offer to behave in what she perceives to be a clearly foolish or dangerous fashion (Farr, 1988). She sees little advantage in taking unnecessary risks or even in behaving in a "brave" manner unless it involves saving her child from danger. Her ego is not on the line and she is not likely to view herself as unfeminine if she fails or refuses to rise to the challenge. Indeed, her disinclination, or even her failures, may reinforce the image of her as feminine. Nor is she likely to be attacked or verbally denigrated by other females for her failures or lack of bravery (Farrell). Unlike males, females are also much more willing to offer support to those who fail and do not tend to feel disgraced if they refuse to behave in a courageous manner.

Lisa was walking across the school yard and waved to her friend Ruth who was riding her bike toward her. Suddenly the front wheel hit a hole and Ruth fell to the ground crying. Nearby two boys stood and laughed.

"Are you OK?" Lisa asked, as she ran over to comfort Ruth. "That stupid hole. Somebody out to sue the stupid school for not fixing it. They know that it's dangerous," she said as she helped her friend up.

"I didn't see it," Ruth whimpered.

"I wouldn't have seen it either," Lisa replied, giving her friend concerned looks and dusting off her clothes. "Nobody would have."

Off to the side, the boys were still laughing and smirking.

Among male children and teenagers, not only virtue and courage, but avoidance of shame and disgrace are extremely important (Gaylin, Ross). Girls are more likely to comfort one another and to provide as well as accept nurturance and understanding and support should they fail. Males look to one another, not for nurturance and support, but approbation and acceptance once they succeed. A male must succeed or at least try, for his friends may think much less of him if he fails, and may avoid him if he refuses (Gaylin, Ross). Hence, it is both skill and accomplishment as well as a fear of showing cowardice or weakness which are a primary motivators, as their masculinity is believed to be at stake.

Women do not feel they have to be brave. Being fearful and cowardly has little or no effect on their sense of femininity or self worth. This even extends to female soldiers. For example, during training when placed in a tear gas filled room while wearing a gas mask, females tend to quickly run outside the moment they begin to smell the fumes. Males will sit for as long as possible, until their eyes begin to burn before they run out as their male ego is on the line (ref). Male humans and primates in general, however, are better prepared to control these particular types of emotions whereas females tend to run away or seek male protection when faced with adversity or a threat to their survival (Fedigan; Devore, Jolly; Elia; Kummer).

Females also do not fear failure or the possibility of behaving in a cowardly manner as much as males nor does it have the same devastating effects. If such traits existed among women, they were long ago weeded out by natural selection for it is not to the smaller framed, slower, and less coordinated and weaker females advantage to engage in highly dangerous activities or to challenge males who could easily kill them with their bare hands. In contrast, ingratiation, appeasement, accommodation, attempts to smooth things over, guile, manipulation and deceptiveness were functions which served them much better. Besides, women have to bear the pain of childbirth, an experience not envied by the majority of males.

In contrast, over the course of evolution, the male as hunter had to control his emotions for if he ran away in fear, he would become the laughing stock of his fellows and might be injured in the process as well (Joseph, 1992b, 1993). Such males tended not to breed so their non-aggressive or cowardly traits were not passed on.


Males must often fight in order to maintain their dominant position, or in order to escape a position of inferiority. Females are not subject to these same competitive pressures, particularly in that males fight not only for status but for access to females. In fact, even at an early age male humans and primates struggle and compete not just to improve their status, but to impress any potential female audience. (Goodal; Farr, 1988; Gaylin).

For example, when an estrus female chimp is present, a young male may run and dash about and swing through the trees, and call and make as much noise as possible to gain her attention. If he is successful he may then jump down and rapidly approach her for sex (Goodall). Human males may ride their bikes with "no hands," roar the engine of their car, honk their horns, or engage in other show off behaviors for similar reasons.

Although young males may not consciously understand what they are doing, and females may not understand why they are reacting, females nevertheless tend to be attracted to males who are "show offs" and who garner the public spot light, as well as to those who are athletic and who hold a more dominant status than they themselves (ref). It is not uncommon for females to throw themselves at these high status and popular males (ref).

Similarly, because females tend to acquiesce and since males struggle against males and females alike in order to gain recognition and dominance, males tend to establish relations with females who are subordinate (ref). Hence, the female tendency to cooperate or acquiesce and the male tendency to dominate and compete makes for a good mating strategy, even for juveniles and adolescents.

Indeed, dominance and status relationships are very important to young females, insofar as male desirability is concerned. In rating attractiveness female adolescents tend to be almost solely concerned with a boys physical features, athletic abilities and traits, even in their senior year of school (Franzoi & Herzog, 1987). Concern regarding intelligence is minimal. In fact, the greater a young woman senses a male's physical attractiveness and athletic ability, the greater they rate them in regard to desirability as a date (Coombs & Kenkel, 1966; Byrne et al. 1970; Brehm, 1985). These features, including physical attractiveness and even erectness of posture are highly correlated.

Of course, stereotypically, men supposedly rate physical attractiveness as more important than do women who in turn claim that personal qualities such as warmth and emotional expressiveness are more important (Nevid, 1984; Laner, 1977.) However, in studies of actual dating situations, it has been found that although women claim that physical attractiveness is not highly significant they will generally refuse to date the man again unless his appearance suits their fancy (Brehm, 1985; Coombs & Kenkel, 1966). These tendencies are present in older women as well as very young girls.

For example, a girls perception of a boy's athletic ability and "toughness" in grade school is correlated with how highly they rate them as desirable and attractive in high school (Savin-Williams, 1979). Hence, physical dominance struggles which occur at an early age between males effect how desirable the female views the male at a later age. Women prefer physically attractive and athletic appearing men. It is only during early adulthood and the late teens that intelligence and mental traits begin to be a factor in perceived dominance and desirability (Savin-Williams, 1979).

It is also only near the end of adolescence that males are able to transcend these rigid biological roots so that concerns other than physical strength or athletic ability, such as intelligence and creativity become important to them as well. This is fortunate for it is in this manner that the clumsy, the physically inept and the cowards are able to achieve manhood and an identity. Once they become men they thus have brand new arenas in which they may compete. They begin to worship money more than muscle and to increasingly seek status through sexual, monetary and intellectual conquest and to use money to attract willing females (Koestner & Wheeler, 1988; Harrison & Saeed, 1977).

It has been said that a young woman is concerned with a man's looks and the kind of car he drives, and an older women is concerned with his job and the kind of health insurance he carries, and in particular his earning potential (Woll, 1986; buss & Barnes, 1986; Howard et al. 1987). Indeed, in personal advertisements women are highly likely to request assurances of financial security, whereas conversely men tend to promise it (Koestner & Wheeler, 1988; Harrison & Saeed, 1977). Money and gifts (as we shall see in chapter 5) are very dear to the female heart.


Many males tend to employ speech and language as a means of imparting not only information, but as a manner of establishing status and superiority. Among men in white collar and professional positions this may involve considerable posturing as to intellectual and financial superiority (Joseph, 1992b, 1993). However, jockeying for status sometimes entails derogating other men through teasing, sexual jokes, or direct insults. Indeed, sexual remarks and teasing are frequent among adolescents and some, but by no means most, men in blue collar and construction jobs (Joseph, 1992b, 1993).

Between men, sexual comments about one another can be quite graphic and often go well beyond innuendo and include remarks as to sexual inadequacy or potency. This may include friendly challenges for other males to suck their "dicks" or to be sodomized or "fucked." Insults and sexual comments are in fact often seemingly made in fun, and although ostensibly and overtly accepted as such, they often belie attempts to achieve or maintain dominance over other men 7.

When a man teases, comments, or interacts with a woman on a similar level, even when it is extremely and considerably toned down, she is likely to be offended and to view his behavior as inappropriate or even as sexual harassment, much to the bewilderment of the man. Many men view hostile humor (O'Connell, 1958) and sexual derogatory actions and behaviors as a normal means of maintaining a friendly relationship even when it is demeaning and directed at them. Indeed, having worked in a variety of "blue collar" and construction jobs as a youth, I frequently overhead male employers and fellow employees jokingly as well as angrily make extremely derogatory remarks and graphic sexual suggestions to males who were late, screwed up part of a job, or who asked for a raise. In general, the recipients of these comments shrugged them off or sometimes retaliated in kind.

Unfortunately, the majority of women do not realize that teasing, hostile humor, or sexual innuendo are common forms of male interaction. Hence, even when subject to jokes which are considerably toned down, because they are more sensitive and are unaware of how males treat one another, these women are often understandably outraged.

Females are much less likely to insult one another in fun, deride each other's supposed sexual shortcomings (at least while face to face) or demand in a jocular tone that other women serve them as sexual objects. It is not seen as as a means of establishing rapport or social status. Moreover, when women engage in the status seeking, or when they seek to put one another down, at least while face to face, it tends to be less confrontational, more subtle and indirect: "Oh your hair looks so much nicer now that you colored that terrible gray. It made you look so old, you know."

Their speech is thus less aggressive as ostensibly they appear more concerned with the social harmony and the establishment of mutual, friendly understanding and rapport, at least while among females and friends 8. They are more likely to try to smooth things over and are more artful and subtle rather than overtly or physically aggressive, even when jockeying for positions of dominance. Hence, it is little wonder that women become easily offended by what is in fact normal male behavior.


When dealing with men with whom they are not intimately involved, women in general tend to be more tentative as well as more interpersonal when asking questions and making statements such as "That movie really was just so delightful, wasn't it?" or "I know! Why don't we all go out tonight, OK?" Whereas a man might say, "That movie sure was good." "Lets go have a couple of drinks." 9

Females are also more likely to employ qualifiers such as "a little," "kind of," "maybe," whereas a male is more likely to say, "Yes," "No," "Always," "Never." Of course the use of these qualifiers also makes the speech of females sound friendlier and, when coupled with their tonal control and melodic range, more enthusiastic.

These characteristics are also expressed via their more frequent use of intensifiers such as "really," "so," "quite," "very," as well as their tendency to invite others to respond to or feel included in their questions or stated intentions. Moreover, many of these sex differences are apparent in children as young as 3-4 years of age 10.

Again, this is a function of sex differences in cooperation and competition and dominance as well as the structure of the male vs female brain and limbic system. A woman, being more socially adept and inclined tends to use speech that is less off putting and more inclusive of others, whereas males are more direct and commanding.

Of course, like men, many women have no difficulty with verbally cutting up a competitor. An angry woman can cuss and swear as well as any man and can make threats that would make even a hardened soldier's hair stand on end.

Unfortunately, when men and women speak together, since the female is more sensitive and more socially inclined, she expects the male to respond likewise and is often disappointed and may take it personally when he fails to do so. She may feel he is being rude, dogmatic, unfriendly, rigid, aggressive, sarcastic and mean because if a woman were to speak to her in that manner, this is exactly what would be indicated. Again, however, because males are not as sensitive or linguistically endowed, and as this is how men normally interact, males are often mystified, or even angered by her assumptions and accusations. Hence, whereas a woman may feel completely justified when she complains as to the manner in which her boss or male coworkers have spoken to her, many men (other than male politicians and the U.S. Supreme Court) feel little sympathy and not uncommonly feel that their rights to behave as men are under attack.


As we shall see in later chapters, be it human or primate, these biological and neurologically based sex differences in language, emotion, pair bonding and attachment, competitiveness, cooperation, dependence, fear, activity, and aggressiveness serve as important adaptive functions in regard to the male and female ability to successfully interact with one's same sex peers and social group. For example, it is through these aggressive interactions, speech patterns and forms of play that a male learns how to fight, bluff, form alliances, and to defend his rights as well as increase his own status and opportunities for finding a willing mate. Indeed, the more competitive the man,the more likely he is to succeed (Lenney, 1977).

Females utilize and are more perceptive of emotional nuances as conveyed via speech and body language, and are less physically aggressive and more socially inclined which in turn contributes to their being good mothers. Hence, they tend to form more intense social and emotional attachments.

These female superiorities over the course of evolution have in turn provided the foundation for the development of social relationships and thus society, culture, and civilization. If it were not for the superior capability of females to perceive and express social-emotional nuances, to use appeasement strategies to reduce male belligerence, her inclination to maintain kinship and mother daughter relations and social cohesiveness, and to engage in prolonged child care, society would soon disintegrate and become consumed by war and male savagery.

On the other hand, it could be argued that if not for male aggressiveness and his competitive desire to exert mastery over his environment, human beings might still be living in the forests and savannas, exposed to predators and the elements, and eating insects and vegetable matter without benefit of cave or shelter.


These male vs female tendencies are innate and are largely a function of the sexual differentiation of the body and the brain and appear across cultures and among mammals and primates. Since the brain and limbic system are sexually differentiated basic emotional needs and desires are expressed and experienced some what differently depending on if the person is male, female lesbian, or homosexual. Similarly, in response to basic desires men and women tend to have different expectations and perceptions regarding the need for physical contact and physical intimacy, as well as sexual and emotional expression. This is mandated by the manner in which their brains and limbic systems are sexually organized.

Hence, males, possessing a male limbic system as well as ample amounts of testosterone tend to be more contentious, belligerent, domineering, and more restricted in their range of emotional expression. Females tend to be less adventuresome, exploratory and combative and are more cooperative as well as much more capable than males in regard to expressing and perceiving emotional nuances. Indeed, even non-emotional aspects of our behavior are greatly influences by these sex differences in the limbic core of our being, and many of these distinctions are apparent during infancy, early childhood and even across cultures as well as among mammals and primates.


It is important to emphasize, however, that there are numerous exceptions and individual differences and that not all girls and boys are alike or even similar. For example, many girls are quite physically competitive and aggressive, and many boys seek close social and emotional intimacy with their best friends. Most members of both sexes, in fact, fluctuate between these various different modes of interacting with some males being extremely cooperative and nurturing, and some females behaving in a bossy, domineering, and physically antagonistic manner. Moreover, although most sex differences are in fact innate, parental influences and cultural expectations can modify or even extinguish certain traits and capabilities, or conversely selectively reinforce certain characteristics so that they come to dominate the child's personality. Indeed, in some cases, the parental environment is so perverse that nature can come to be strangled by nurture.

Copyright: 1996, 2000, 2010, 2018 - Rhawn Joseph, Ph.D.