Sugar and Spice and How We Learned to Act Nice
Paul Coughlin Paul Coughlin's Weblog
- 2010 Jul 26
Do you remember the New Coke fiasco? Coca-Cola executives believed that consumers would prefer a smoother, sweeter tasting soft drink because their market research had shown that in blind taste tests, people expressed a preference for sweeter sodas. So in April 1985, New Coke was launched. The Coke-drinking public was outraged, and within three months, the company reintroduced the original formula as Classic Coke. The lesson: If the original design is already sweet enough, then stick with that, or you're going to mess up a good thing.
In this chapter, you will learn how the typical woman, as God created her, is like Classic Coke—already sweet enough. Then, you will discover how our society, culture, and some churches pressure women to change into New Coke—a too sweet impersonation of the Real Thing. This Nice Girl pressure not only distorts women, but also brings out the worst in them. You may be shocked when you see how the Nice Girl Culture is a Petri dish for cattiness.
Before looking at how God created most women, a quick caveat: The research findings presented are for the majority of women. Some women's brains are wired more like the typical man's brain, and the reverse is true of men as well. Having "majority wiring" is not better or more pleasing to God than "minority wiring." Both types of wiring are valuable and useful to God, whether they are found in women or men.
Although Adam and Eve are not available as test subjects, current research on human brains can provide clues into God's original hardwiring for most men and women. Clues are also found in social science research on newborns since male and female babies' innate characteristics have not yet been strongly influenced and modified by their culture. And lastly, looking at how male/female hormonal differences affect brain functioning and behavior sheds light on how God hardwired each sex.
According to Psalm 139, you are wonderfully made and were knit together by the hand of God, whose knitting pattern included making the typical female brain slightly different from a male brain. Not superior or inferior—just different. Overall, the female brain is divinely designed for relationships. For example, MRI and PET scans of human brains reveal that, in comparison to the male brain, the typical woman's brain:
~Has language and emotional response control centers located on both sides of the brain, giving women an advantage in language and empathy skills.
~Has a much thicker corpus callosum (the connective tissue between the left and right cerebral hemispheres), allowing women to more quickly transfer data between the hemispheres, as well as have more access to both sides of the brain. More connections between hemispheres, plus language control centers located on both hemispheres, leads to better communication and expression, particularly of feelings.
~Has a larger deep limbic system. The limbic system sets the emotional tone of the mind, stores highly charged emotional memories (positive and negative), modulates motivation and sexual libido, controls appetite and sleep cycles, promotes bonding, and processes the sense of smell. Because of their larger deep limbic system, women in general are more in touch with and better able to express their feelings, better able to connect and bond with others, and more likely to ask "what's that awful smell?" This larger system also leaves women more vulnerable to depression and getting tuck in repetitive negative thinking.
Female brains are also divinely designed to function differently than male brains. The female brain is quicker to see, smell, and sense danger, and once alerted to danger, reacts with a verbal response—women call out, wanting to connect with others for help—while the male brain reacts to danger with physical action—men fight or flee. Women's brains process touch and sound as more intense, leaving females with more sensitive senses of touch and hearing. These heightened senses, combined with the greater and earlier interest female babies show in people, faces, and eye contact, help explain why girls become more adept than boys at picking up subtle social cues and nuances, and later develop what is called "women's intuition." Newborn girls also demonstrate the female brain's built-in empathetic response when they react more strongly than newborn boys to the sound of another baby crying (and their stronger reaction is not just due to their greater sensitivity to sound).
Yes, MRI and PET scans confirm what you probably already suspected: God hardwired the majority of female minds to want, to be good at, and to benefit from connection in relationships. In fact, research shows that good conversation with close friends energizes women, and helps them clarify complex feelings, raise their self-esteem, and feel empowered to take necessary actions. That's why you feel that urge to pick up the phone or email your girlfriends when happy and sad events happen. You may have a husband or male friend who is great to talk with, but there's just something that women can offer that is different, isn't there?
What women can offer is their uniquely created brain that wants to connect with you on an intimate level. If you haven't experienced this with other women, and instead have mainly experienced cattiness, coldness, and competition, you are not alone. Many women have been deeply hurt by their own gender. Later, you'll read an explanation for why females are sometimes catty, and perhaps this may ease your pain and give you the courage to try again with women friends.
Ah, hormones. Whether you consider them friend or foe, hormones affect brain functioning and behavior. One particularly handy hormone, oxytocin (also known as the "love hormone") does the following in men and women:
~Releases during hugging, touching, and after orgasm.
~Increases the desire to be near and connected with other people.
~Makes people feel better about the people around them.
~Helps people feel calmer and more relaxed.
In women specifically, oxytocin:
~Is in greater quantities than in men.
~Causes the uterus to contract during childbirth.
~Triggers milk to let down when breastfeeding.
~Plays an important role in mother-infant bonding.
~Plays a central role in responding to stress.
Take note of the final effect listed for oxytocin. God knew that humans would experience stressful, sometimes dangerous, situations that require immediate responses. Men's bodies release oxytocin under stress, but its calming effect is dampened when their bodies also release testosterone and vasopressin. That's why most men when stressed or in danger will experience the "fight or flight" response—they are primed to get aggressive or run away. Similarly, women's bodies release oxytocin when stressed or in danger, but because of their higher baseline levels of oxytocin and estrogen (which regulates oxytocin instead of dampening it like male hormones do), most women experience the "tend and befriend" response—oxytocin primes them to care for and connect with others when stressed. That's why if both husband and wife experience th same stressful event, he is more likely to escape to the garage while she is more likely to call a girlfriend to vent. Women's hormones prompt them to turn to others for support and safety, demonstrating again that god divinely designed the typical woman for relationships.
Biology class is now over, and we hope you can see that God created the typical female brain and hormonal responses to support empathetic, intuitive connections with others. That's God's original design for the majority of women—his Classic Coke—and it leads to most women highly valuing relationships. Connections then become like currency for women. They will go to great lengths to have and keep relationships with others because connections are so intrinsically valuable to them.
Not a problem—until society and culture manipulate the original design, "improve" it, and produce mass quantities of too-sweet New Coke, also known as Nice Girls. How does this happen? Through a process called socialization that everyone participates in.
For example, have you ever found yourself in this tricky situation? You pass your neighbor pushing her newborn baby in a stroller. You want to compliment the baby, but you can't remember whether your neighbor had a boy or a girl, and let's face it, most newborns don't look male or female. They just look like…babies. What do you do next to figure out whether to gush over his beefy arms or her delicate fingers? That's right, you look for clues, like what the baby is wearing or what kind of toys it has, because in American culture, a male baby does not wear pink, and a female baby does not have a tiny football tucked in her stroller by a hopeful father. You check quickly: no football, but the baby is wearing "could-be-either-one" yellow. Fortunately for you, your neighbor's baby is sporting the ultimate gender identifier: a bow. Rest easy, you figured it out—it's a girl.
The bow, the absence of a toy football—these are all signs that a baby girl is being socialized to fit into society's idea of what it means to be a girl. And since she's a girl, guess what her culture says she is supposedly made of? Snips and snails and puppy dog tails? No, according to the nursery rhyme, little girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. That doesn't sound so bad, does it? Certainly sounds better than snips and snails, especially since no one knows exactly what a snip is.
However, at the heart of that nursery rhyme is a deeply ingrained set of behavior expectations for males and females. "Boys will be boys"—mischievous, adventurous, rambunctious—and girls…well, girls are expected to be sweet, quiet, helpful, tidy, cooperative, and above all, nice. You, along with all women, experienced and continue to experience those cultural expectations. These expectations may be rooted in the typical woman's innate tendencies toward empathy and connection, but society and culture have taken God's physiological design for the majority of women, and distorted it into something that limits and even endangers women.
Yes, society has become more accepting of women in the workforce, academia, sports, and leadership positions, but don't think that the "sugar and spice" expectation has melted away like ice cream on a summer day. It's still there, molding and shaping women into Nice Girls, from the pink cradle to the grave.
Paul Coughlin is the author of numerous books, including Unleashing Courageous Faith, No More Christian Nice Guy and No More Jellyfish, Chickens or Wimps. He also co-authored a book for married couples with his wife Sandy, titled Married But Not Engaged. Paul is founder of The Protectors, the values-based and faith-based answer to adolescent bullying, which provides curriculum for public schools, private schools, retreats, and individuals who want to diminish child-based bullying.