Emotions are in vogue in philosophy these days. I’ve been piling through some of the literature and I keep seeing references to the “fight or flight” response that supposedly all humans feel when they are stressed and angry. Unfortunately, that idea has been seriously challenged. Rather, as many of you may know, and as a number of researchers have suggested, there’s also a “tend and befriend” response that is more often a female response.
The idea that there’s a “tend and befriend” response draws on the idea that human beings have an instinct for tending infants and a need for friends. I think the idea originates most explicitly in Sarah Blaffer Hrdy’s 1999 book, Mother Nature. According to her, the length of the period of helplessness human infants display means that they need a lot of tending, more than one person alone can do. So the care-taking needs a group of friends.
Another often quote source is: Taylor, S. E., Klein, L. C., Lewis, B. P., Gruenewald, T. L., Gurung, R. A. R., & Updegraff, J. A. (2000). Biobehavioral responses to stress in females: Tend-and-befriend, not fight-or-flight. Psychological Review, 107, 411 – 429.
I suspect that the non-feminist philosophical literature** on emotion may lack the idea that there can be gender differences in emotions. If anyone has evidence to the contrary, please let me know. As it is, I think that at the conference where I’m supposed to comment on a paper on theories of emotion, I may remark that it is no surprise that the literature is innocent of the idea that there could be such gender differences!
There are very serious implications, of course, to being ignorant of how extensive gender differences can be. One surprising difference that is suggested by some of the literature is that put-downs from a dominant member of the society can affect men and women quite differently. In particular, men’s performances improve with such put-downs, while women’s degrade.
Now just suppose what might happen if you were in a field where dominant people sometimes engaged in putting down the “lower” students and early profs. Such practices would favor the men, perhaps considerably.
**Perhaps particularly the sort that gets into the really important journals. :)