SHELLEY TAYLOR’S FIGHT-OR-FLIGHT research [Observer, January 2004] was very insightful, and I can draw an analogy of her work with that of Carol Gilligan, in teasing apart the subtleties of sex-based differences between females and males. It is clear that fear can trigger any number of flight responses, but we see from the evolutionary biological perspective that the role of parenting itself, and the biological function of becoming a child bearer and care giver, is quite naturally synergistic to what child developmental and mother-child bonding theory has long suggested. For instance, when a child gets hurt or is in danger, he or she comes to mommy for love, tenderness, and warmth; in plain truth, the child comes for social connection.
As decent, educated people, we do not want to “engage in fight or flight responses,” in stressful responses and reactions that “may be endangering [to the] species.”
In the latter part of Taylor’s research, which focused on marital stress, there are clear differences in the way women take it upon themselves to be the care providers. Generally, women are self-aware and take responsibility by internalizing their inherent instinct of caring.
Men may or may not be able to do that. I cannot say for sure, but women, as research supports, are much more absorbent, more resilient, and are mentally tough enough to withstand not only their own obligations and increasing work roles, but their familial, nurturing roles as well. This is not to say that women are claiming greater beneficence than males.
Taylor’s “tend and befriend” is a great slant on “fight-or-flight.” It is good for men to respect women in their roles as child bearers on biological and social bases, and also to establish transactional relationships, in which the “tend and befriend” model can perhaps help reverse the unfortunate trend of divorces and infidelity in our country.
The need for this type of work is great in America, where the whole idea of “social support” from an intimate perspective falls apart due to unawareness, interpersonal distances, and complexities in marital relations.
Exceptional work like Taylor’s should be disseminated widely, so that inclined researchers can expand on the psychological research done on this important topic, in an effort to improve the human condition.
– Saira I. Qureshi
New York University