There is No Gender Equality with COVID
A recent study by Oxford, Cambridge and Zurich Universities found that women’s sense of mental well being took a more significant drop then men due to COVID. The researchers speculated on a number of reasons for this, but were unable to narrow it down to any identifiable factor. Perhaps, they reasoned, it had something to do with women losing jobs at a greater rate than men, taking on a greater share of the burden of home schooling — or the fact that even when both men and women were home all the time, women still did more than their fair share of domestic chores. But no, even when controlling for these factors, it didn’t explain why women were becoming more distressed then men.
Maybe it was something else.
Warriors and Worriers: Two Approaches to Survival
In 2014, psychologist Joyce Benenson published her book “Warriors and Worries: The Survival of the Sexes.” As an evolutionary biologist, she has spent years studying children and primates, looking for innate rather than socialized differences between the sexes.
Her findings turned conventional wisdom on its head. Women may not be more sociable than men, and men may not be more competitive than women. It’s just that they define those things differently.
Men are quite comfortable forming packs of convenience to solve a particular problem, whether it is defending against an enemy or winning a pick-up basketball game. This could explain why team sports entertainment always seems to have a male bias.
Women, on the other hand, have fewer but much more complex relationships that they deem essential to their survival as the primary caregiver for their family. The following is from the abstract of a 1990 study by Berenson: “Although males and females did not differ in the number of best friends they reported, males were found to have larger social networks than females. Further, for males, position in a social network was more highly linked with acceptance by the peer group. Finally, males were concerned with attributes that could be construed as important for status in the peer group, and females were concerned with attributes that appeared essential to relationships with a few friends.”
If we apply this to the current COVID situation, we begin to see why women might be struggling more with lockdown then men. A male’s idea of socializing might be more easily met with a Zoom call or another type of digital connection, such as online gaming. But connecting in these way lacks the bandwidth necessary to properly convey the complexity of a female relationship.
Introverts and Extroverts Revisited
Of course, gender isn’t the only variable at play here. I’ve written before about what happens when an extrovert and introvert are locked down in the same house together (those being my wife and myself). One of the things I’ve noticed is a different level of comfort we have at being left alone with our thoughts.
Because I have always been a writer of one kind or another, I require time to ruminate on a fairly frequent basis. I am a little (lot?) dictatorial in my requirements for this: my environment needs to be silent and free from interruption. When the weather is good outside, this is fairly easy. I can grab my laptop and go outside. But in the winter, it’s a different story. My wife is subjected to forced silence so I can have my quiet time.
My wife functions best when there is some type of sensory stimuli, especially the sound of voices. She doesn’t have the same need to sit in silence and be alone with her thoughts.
And she’s not unique in that. A 2014 study found that most of us fall into the same category. In fact, the researchers found that, “many of the people studied, particularly the men, chose to give themselves a mild electric shock rather than be deprived of external sensory stimuli.”
A Difference in Distraction
When we do look for distraction, we can also have different needs and approaches. Another area I’ve touched on in a past post is how our entertainment delivery platforms have now become entangled with multitasking.
I like an immersive, interruption-free entertainment experience. The bigger the screen and the louder the sound, the better. I suspect this may be another “male” thing. Again, this preference tends to cast a dictatorial tone on our household, so I generally retreat to my media cave in the basement. I also tuck my phone away while I’m watching.
My wife prefers to multiscreen when watching TV and to do so in the highest traffic area of our house. For her, staying connected is more important than being immersed in whatever she might be watching.
These differences in our entertainment preferences often means we’re not together when we seek distraction.
I don’t think this is a bad thing. In a normal world filled with normal activities, this balancing of personal preference is probably accommodated by our normal routines. But in a decidedly abnormal world where we spend every minute together in the same house, these differences become more noticeable.
Try a Little Friluftsliv
In the end, winter is going to be long, lonely and cold for many of us. So we may just want to borrow a strategy from Norwegians: friluftsliv. Basically, it means “open-air living.” Most winters, my main activity is complaining. But this year, I’m going to get away from the screens and social media, strap on a pair of snowshoes and embrace winter.