Gender differences

Considerations of gender touch on something we cannot explore here in detail but should mention. If one experiences early childhood as one of rejection or bullying by parents and/or peers, what is it that determines whether defensive strategies will take the low-rank, anxious, and submissive route (where there is as least the hope of developing affiliative and caring relations), as opposed to aggressive strategies (becoming a self-reliant bully or exploiter)? These are sometimes linked to internalising and externalising disorders. There are many possibilities here, but one that may throw light on sex differences in depression is that, because females carry their young in their womb and care for them subsequently, they can less afford to fight because of risk of injury to themselves and their young. Taylor et al. (2000) discuss this theme in depth and conclude that women are more orientated to 'tend and befriend' as stress-controlling strategies, making them more susceptible to loss of affiliative relationships. Men (from abusive backgrounds) may have more to gain (as a reproductive strategy) by switching to aggressive strategies and forming loose bonds, with little commitment.

Women, then, may be more orientated to submissive defences (or, at least, less orientated to fight) and more competitive in domains of 'love and support seeking' than men. Interacting with these dispositions are the cultural rules that shape the identities of men and women (for example, men should be tough and fearless and women submissive and agreeable). Cohen (2001) offers a fascinating discussion of these themes. Gender differences in depression, then, require explanations that take account of differences in male and female reproductive strategies, hormonal-affect regulators, basic defensive strategies (submissive versus aggressive), cultural depictions of status and desirability (such as thin and beautiful versus tough and hard driving), peer styles of bullying, and cultural contexts that frustrate people's ability to achieve their goals (see McGuire & Troisi, 1998b, for a discussion of these issues).

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