I’m sure you’ve had it happen to you, but if not, you’ve seen it happen with someone else. You and a member of the opposite sex get into an argument; the male in the argument gets angry, blows up and storms out. He comes back a short time later, calmer and maybe ready to come up with a rational solution to the problem at hand. However the female is just getting started. She has stewed on this while he was gone and she is now full blown angry. She remembers every argument you ever had and is ready to point it out right now. (…and another thing! The last time…) This goes on for what may seem like an eternity. Well, did you know that this happens because of our body chemistry? Yes, there is actual science about these behaviors. This can get technical and there is a lot more to it, but the simplified version is this: men have naturally lower levels of serotonin than women. Serotonin is a vasoconstrictor that can prevent the production and dispersal of adrenaline (a/k/a epinephrine). Adrenaline is what leads to the physical reaction of the fight or flight response. More estrogen means more serotonin which leads to a slower secretion and release of adrenaline. More testosterone means less chemical control of the emotional hot button which leads to a quick release of adrenaline and also faster processing of that adrenaline. This means that a man’s temper, in general, is quicker to rise and also quicker to dissipate. He hits his adrenaline high about 30 seconds after the trigger and comes back to near normal in about 10 minutes. However the female reaction to the trigger takes longer. She will not reach her adrenaline high for about 10 minutes and it will take around an hour for her adrenaline levels to come back to normal. (She also has a larger hippocampus with more neural pathways from the hippocampus to the emotive centers in the brain, which is why she remembers everything! )
It is my opinion that this information is extremely important when it comes to altercations and self-defense. Let’s look at a few possible scenarios…
Male on male fight: There is generally a lot of posturing and these fights can be more about social dominance in nature. They are generally very quick to start and quick to end. They can end at any time depending on the nature of the men involved.
Female on male fight: The male may already have blown up and his adrenaline levels returned to normal by the time she becomes abusive. Her abuse may drag on for what seems an eternity. If the male fights back, he risks being charged and labeled an abuser. If he doesn’t defend himself, he risks being ridiculed for being beaten on by a woman.
Female on female fight: Take cover! Both probably have a full head of steam, will blow at close to the same time and it will not end soon. These fights can be vicious and are less about social dominance and more about feeling threatened. Since the females have more memory storage due to the larger hippocampus, it’s unlikely that either will forget about it and it’s likely to go on and on and on…
Male on female fight: This attack may be over before the female reaches her full adrenaline high. Combine what you just read about the workings of the body’s chemical cocktail with the knowledge that females are generally taught from early on not to fight, and especially not to fight dirty. Also unless a female has participated in contact sports, she has most likely only been hit in terms of discipline, so she has also been conditioned to think she has done something wrong. Think about that for a minute. She has been attacked and thinks she did something wrong, she has been taught not to hit or bite or scratch and her adrenaline is not full strength for her when she needs it the most.
While all of our scenarios are of concern when we are talking about self-protection, it is the last one which draws my attention the most. You can’t change the human body’s chemistry, so we must learn to adapt. Women should train to protect themselves. They need to learn to fight smarter, faster and dirtier. They must learn to look past the stereotyping and the years of hearing that they’ve done something wrong or that they should not hit, kick, bite, etc. As instructors, whether we are teaching men or women, we should be addressing the chemical differences as well as size and strength disparity, and behaviors. Men and women attack differently, fight differently and react differently. It is not one size fits all and we have to stop acting like it is, whether we are just the average person on the street, a teacher, a coach, a threat or a victim.
Sources: Why Men Don’t Iron, The Fascination and Unalterable differences between men & women by Anne Moir, What Could He Be Thinking? How a Man’s Mind Really Works by Michael Durian, The Armored Rose by Tobi Beck, PhD