Building Bridges

Issue # 21 of 43 

David LeClaire
By: David LeClaire

The Gatherers

Even empowered modern women, embodied by people like Hillary Clinton, Marcia Clark, or Barbara Streisand, are descendants of primitive "gatherers." The humble beginnings of women are also still relevant to some of their traits and characteristics today. Women have no doubt changed dramatically and in many ways from the days of their early ancestors. Yet, as with men, women also have inherited some genetic imprinting.

While the men were out hunting, the women stayed close to their shelters with their young ones. They kept busy by gathering berries and other foods. As civilization developed, they began making and wearing clothes. Most of early woman's activities were done in groups, and they spent an enormous amount of time together. As language developed, they had the time and environment for plenty of verbal practice.

The natural instinct women have to care and nurture hasn't changed, and they do it well. The majority of women are genuinely affectionate and warm. Just like the mothers of many in the animal kingdom, they naturally care for their young, which is genetically imprinted for survival of the species. Even though today's women often choose to have no children or can use day care and nannies, women will continue to be born with the nurturing instinct.

Huddled around a stream together cleaning clothes, weaving baskets, or playing with their children, modern women's ancestors learned that "community" and "family" and "togetherness" were good. This way of life came quite naturally to them, and still does today. The women enjoyed being together and found it to be useful. The gatherers teamed together to accomplish tasks, and found comfort and safety in being among others.

Just because many women today work in offices doesn't mean they have changed entirely. Comparisons can be made in regards to the importance women still place on the family being together and doing things as a group. Many women can't understand how some men just don't share their need for as much togetherness or relating to each other by sharing what they are thinking and feeling.

Mary works in a small office of three women. Although they are all very productive, they still find the time to share what is happening in their lives. The women know each other well, including what is happening in their marriages, with their children, and their health. Mary's husband Tom also works with two other men, and has for ten years. Yet other than occasional personal stories, most of what these men talk about is work,sports, and what they did over their weekend.

I remember hearing about a study that had been conducted with small children around the age of five. Little boys and girls were put into separate rooms without any directions and were watched through two-way mirrors. Dolls were put in both rooms, which the girls promptly picked up, dressed, rocked, played with, and talked to. The little boys proceeded to take the dolls apart. Later, both rooms of the children were asked to find a chair and sit and talk to the others in the room. The little girls faced their chairs towards each other and found it easy to talk, where as the little boys put their chairs side by side and said very little to each other.

This simple study, as well as many others, suggest there is more than just a conditioned difference between the genders. Even if some of our differences are the result of long-term conditioning, is it reasonable to expect an adult to completely erase or override thirty or forty years of conditioning (much less a couple hundred thousand years of the species) in order to reinvent their way of interacting with the world?

It is perfectly normal and healthy for men to be nurturers, just as it is for a woman today to not feel obligated to be "the nurturer." There is much room for overlap in which men can be more like women have been traditionally, and women can be more like men. While we have advanced as a society to accept these changes, some men and women are firmly entrenched in what they know and have been for all of their lives.

Remember, it's easier to change your expectations and your relationship than it is to change your partner. Trying to completely overhaul your partner is a recipe for years of frustration. Complete change is not necessary for happiness, but a little here and there is possible and can be helpful. Many people experience conflicts when they try to change a partner who doesn't want to change. Much of this could be avoided by more acceptance of who your partner wants to be as well as adjusting your approach as you try to bring about change, which we'll talk about in greater depth in upcoming columns.

Because of the differences between the genders, we need to use our minds to keep our attitude in alignment with the spirit of understanding and compromise. Since our society has advanced and our expectations for each other have increased, both genders need to stretch a little now and then. Men and women need to acknowledge their partner's needs as being valid and important. For example, a woman can be more supportive regarding her partner's need for space, and a man can make more efforts to communicate and spend more quality time with the woman in his life.

David LeClaire has spent much of his time teaching at community college and private school, and lead communications training for Fortune 500 companies. Now a popular and active Seattle area sommelier, this graduate of Central Michigan University led seminars for a wide variety of organizations. LeClaire is the author of "Bridges To A Passionate Partnership." He can be reached at

Building Bridges Table of Contents

Text © 1998, David LeClaire. Part of the original Sideroad.
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