Little attention has been paid to the influence gender has on the outcome of mediation in divorce. This, despite the fact that most divorcing couples are of opposite genders, has rarely been discussed and should be addressed.
Men and women have different negotiation styles and this contrast is relevant to the mediation process. Mediators need to be aware of these differences and the implications to the outcome of the process. It need be noted that the mediator is also gendered; often playing a role in influencing the outcome in less obvious ways.
How we behave, who we are, how we feel, think, speak and act are all behaviors driven by the brain. Our hormones play a key role in influencing the way our brain behaves. Moir and Jessel, in their book, Brain Sex, examine these differences when men and women are developing in utero. It appears the most critical hormone is testosterone and the more exposed to it a brain is, the more masculine it becomes, with less leading to a Feminization of the brain. In the developing brain, the hormones control the way the neural pathways are laid out. As puberty approaches, these systems are turned on. How they are reflects the mixtures of the hormones present during fetal development, and thus create behavioral differences. One of the most critical aspects of this is in the part of the brain which is responsible for language. The more testosterone present, the more suppressed the development of the neural systems that support language development. Language functions are differently represented in the separate hemispheres of the brain. Women tend to store this function in both hemispheres; men predominately do so in the left hemisphere only.
The importance of language in a female’s life cannot be overstated. It is an important means of establishment and maintenance of intimate and reciprocal relationships that are critical to girls and women. Women have advantages for a number of basic language-related skills including the length and quality of the words they speak, the ease and speed with which they communicate and the ability to express themselves by recalling words form their long term memory stores.
Generally speaking, women use their language skills to develop relationships and create intimacy. Men tend to use their skills to negotiate and compete. One needs only to reflect on their childhood playgroup experiences to recall these differences. Boys negotiated rules for their competitive games, and girls utilized their words to play house or jump rope. Boys games had winners and losers thus achieving status, whereas girls games focused on being liked and being intimate.
Given these observations, it is not difficult to see the differences in the style of negotiation between the genders. Since men are competitive and women cooperative, as a generalization, women tend to have the emotional edge in a marriage and men the financial edge. These ‘power’ differences lead to significant conflict in the marriage, let alone in the divorce. A mediator is charged with being gender conscious during the process to begin to understand how to balance the differences and aid in the interpretation of styles and communication to bring a successful conclusion to the process.