If you haven't read it, check out Maureen Dowd's column from March 13th in the NY Times .
Then, if you can, read Deborah Tannen's column from March 15th in the LA Times .
I'll summarize them here for those of you who don't subscribe to every newspaper on the planet:
Maureen Dowd says that women want to be liked, not attacked. She says this is why women feel less comfortable writing opinion columns for newspapers, and in fields like science where the main methods of communication involve a lot of debate, sometimes very angry debate.
Deborah Tannen goes on to expound about how boys show affection, and learn well, by fighting with each other, starting from a very early age. I like a particular example she uses of boys and girls building towers with blocks. The boys get almost as much enjoyment out of destroying each others' towers as they did building them, while the girls have a hard time understanding how that could possibly be fun.
Apparently there was a cartoon in the New Yorker recently showing a girl and boy looking at each other. The girl is thinking, "does he like me?" and the boy is thinking "should I kick her?"
Anyway, I can definitely understand this because Deborah Tannen goes on to say that women are not used to being attacked, and generally don't respond well or perform their best when asked questions in an attacking way, vs. when they are having a calm discussion about the same topics. Men, on the other hand, tend to rise (ahem) to the occasion when a battle is afoot.
In general, I can hold my own, but I have to admit I hate being the minority woman giving a seminar to a group of men who are attacking me during the 'question' period at the end. I noticed in grad school that having more than one other woman in the room made all the difference in my thesis committee. If the committee had 5 people and one was a woman, that was not good enough. I had to have 2 women, 6 people total, to get enough of a balance that the men would behave themselves.
I'm rarely someone to make generalizations about men vs. women in terms of 'inherent' vs. cultural differences, but this may be one of those rare instances where I have to agree. I think most women, even those who are most battle-ready, would inherently prefer not to have everything always be a fight. As Deborah Tannen puts it, there is a better way.