Do Women Fight-or-Flee?

Women's respond to stress differently than men.

This morning your boss informed you all of an upcoming “restructure” (a.k.a. downsizing). What did your peers do right after the meeting?

Joe followed your boss back to his office, talking to him, and building a case for why the company should keep him (fight).

Todd rushed to his office, closed the door, and called one of his clients to see if his company was hiring (flee).

Lisa and Shawna got together to discuss the "restructure," to share with each other what they knew, and to see how they could help each other.


When we perceive an attack or any threat to our survival, our body releases hormones that prepare us to either stay and deal with the threat (fight) or to run away to safety (flee).

Picture this: a caveman (think Geico®) sees a saber-toothed cat rapidly approaching. If he’s with his buddies and has a few spears (or has liquid courage) he may decide to face the beast. If not, he’ll run as fast as he can.

Now picture a female version of that Geico® caveman. The cavewoman, when first spotting the approaching saber-toothed cat, instead of fighting it or fleeing, goes to find her girlfriend, tells her about the huge animal, and starts trying to calm her down so the friend won't feel too stressed.

How does that make sense? Well, hear me out, because this actually makes absolute sense: what's best for the species is not that the woman fights (leaving her babies as potential orphans) or that she flees (leaving her kids unprotected). What makes sense is that she, instead, looks for the security of group protection for her and for her kids.

That's why when facing a threat, women’s bodies activate certain hormones that dampen the effects of the fight-or-flight system. This strategy is designed to protect the offspring, and is called "tend-and-befriend."


How does knowing this benefit you? Well, now you know that it's not that women want to complain or just chit-chat instead of solving problems . . . When they tend-and-befriend, they're dealing with stress the way their biology has hardwired them to. This doesn't mean they're less rational or less equipped to deal with challenges. (You may need to explain this to some men, because few people know about this.)

(As always, keep in mind that cultural generalizations are just tendencies, not written-in-stone rules that apply to everyone. There are always exceptions.)

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