Men and Women and Cultural Transitions

Having just read Women in Cross-Cultural Transitions, a collection of stories edited by Jill M. Bystydzienski and Estelle P. Resnik, I began wondering about the different ways men and women handle cross-cultural interactions.

One of the questions raised by Birgit Brock-Utne in her essay was “is it easier for women to make cross-cultural transitions?”  Brock-Utne suggested that it may be possible because “women are usually brought up to be caring, to cater to the social needs of the family, and to build networks around the family” and “the fact that they often are tied to the networks they have established might make it more difficult for them to move, unless they can take most of the network with them.  But the ability they have developed for building networks, socializing, and making friends is transferable and can help them in the new culture.”

Several issues immediately came to mind:
1) Is it easier for one gender to adapt to cultural changes?  Is one gender better suited to adapting to new situations?
2) Do men and women handle cultural changes differently?  Do men and women have different approaches to cross-cultural interactions?
3) Should we gear training programs specifically toward men and women?

Although there are undoubtedly differences between men and women (cultural, physical, psychological, etc.) I can’t say that I know for sure how such differences influence them when they make cross-cultural transitions.  Every individual is unique so it can be difficult to generalize.  However, if there are such differences, then perhaps certain aspects are easy for men while others are easy for women.  It seems highly unlikely to say that all situations are easier for one gender than the other.  As Brock-Utne said, it may be easier for women to find support networks.  But it might also be easier for men to become integrated with their surroundings, for example.

As for handling cultural changes differently, I can say that I have seen differences between men and women, although not enough to generalize.  Many men I’ve encountered, when in a new environment, immediately begin to explore their physical surroundings through trial and error.  Women, on the other hand, tend to gather information before venturing out, or relying on their friends to recommend the best places to go.  Again, differences between men and women vary from culture to culture and person to person.  The examples I’ve given are of American expats or tourists.  Someone from a very different culture may behave in a completely different way.

So, having concluded that there are probably some differences between men and women, does that mean we should alter intercultural communication training programs to suit different needs?  Are programs now designed specifically for men and women?  Do men and women receive different training?  If they don’t, should they?  I can see how in some instances there is information about a particular culture that applies only to women, especially countries where women don’t have as many freedoms as American women, for example.  There are often many more things that women need to be aware of that men don’t even need to think twice about.  But would it be beneficial to go a step further and analyze these differences and apply them to training programs?  Would such individual instruction really benefit an expat during their time abroad more than general instruction?

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