Friday, 9 September 2011

The Strength of a Woman

Now, I'm going to be upfront with you. I really haven't a clue what I'm talking about. "Nothing new there then", I hear some of you say. Listen, be kind, I'm trying my best.

My eldest Son posted a blog here, "Tails of the Unexpected", where he recounted a conversation he'd had with his Mother. This set my mind thinking about the differences between men and women, and in particular the strengths of a woman.

I acknowledge the generalisations of what I will be saying, and that perhaps it is more personal experiences that are being used to prove a case, but I think that there is strong evidence from around the world to back up my claims. You will soon find that this is not a deep piece of work, for I wish to simply contend that women are better with long term memories, collecting important family information and keeping things going. And I for one am very thankful for that.

Women are generally better with long-term memory. My short-term memory is not too bad. I don't generally forget things that are important now. However, my long-term memory is another thing.

In the conversation referred to at the beginning, my Son's Mother recounted minute details of my Son's reading habits over 35 years ago. This is one of many examples of her detailed memory. She is not alone in this.

I, on the other hand struggle to remember some of these events, not through lack of interest or love for my family, but through the working of the brain. In my pathetic defence, I blame the workings of my 'hippocampus'. I'll bet you haven't often heard that as an excuse before.

Let me explain. An Internet article on the working of the brain says, "Information is transferred from short-term memory to long-term memory through the hippocampus, so named because the shape resembles the curved tail of a seahorse (hippokampos in Greek). The hippocampus is a very old part of the cortex, evolutionarily, and is located in the inner fold of the temporal lobe. All of the pieces of information decoded in the various sensory areas of the cortex converge in the hippocampus, which then sends them back where they came from. The hippocampus is a bit like a sorting centre where these new sensations are compared with previously recorded ones".

To me, there is a difference between memory, "The mental faculty of retaining and recalling past experience", and memorisation, "Learning so as to be able to remember verbatim". I've generally had little problem with the latter, being able to memorise speeches, quotations, facts and figures etc. But recalling past experiences, names, events, dates etc is another thing. Thankfully, women that I have known have been so much better with memory. For many years I used to visit men and women in their homes, hospitals or institutions, and without doubt, the women could generally remember long-term events better than the men. In my family, it's the women who have kept the details of family history alive, and I'm so grateful to them for that.

Another area that I think that women are better at is in collecting things. I don't mean porcelain, pictures or pitchers. I mean collecting and retaining family documents, information and photographs. Left to me, I would have nothing, and so much important stuff would be lost. Again, this is not through lack of interest, but my brain just doesn't function in this way - I don't think. Collecting is linked with memory, for it can help us to remember and relive the past. Terry Shoptaugh of Minnesota State University, wrote an article entitled, "Why do we like old things? Some Ruminations on History and Memory". In the article he offers the idea that collecting is based on a need to inspire recollection, in that people collect in an effort to remember and relive the past. "We use keepsakes to stimulate memory, especially to trigger fond memories, but even if memory cannot be relied upon to faithfully reproduce a record of the past, it remains vital to our understanding of the past".

My Son says that his Mother keeps a file on all three boys, which is the continuing story of their lives, and goes back a number of years. What a fabulous record this will be. Important features of family life are recorded for posterity. Social historians long to find family treasures brought together like this, and no doubt at some time in the future, something like this may well find itself in a library archive. When I was clearing out my Mother's house a few years ago, it was amazing to find so much family stuff that she had collected over fifty years. There were newspaper cuttings, pictures of, and notes from, her grandchildren, and going back even further, things that I'd forgotten about, relating to me.

There was the newspaper report detailing the exam successes from my school in 1963, with my name and results highlighted. My 13 Denbighshire Certificates of Education (gardening was one of them) never have been of any use to me, but I was so pleased to see the cutting. There was also a collection of correspondence from the mid 1960's with the Football Association of Wales (thought I'd just drop that in), when I played for, and ran a youth football team in my home village. Most of this I'd forgotten about, but it was such a joy to see it. I'm so glad that my Mother was not like me, and that she was such a collector of family things.

I'm now trying to put together the story of my Mother and Father, and I've relied heavily on the memories of my Sister (there you are, women again). It's coming together nicely, with family lines, photographs, certificates, and anecdotal stories. Some of it wouldn't have been possible without the memories and collectibles of women. Haven't a clue what I'll do with it if it ever gets finished.

The final thing that I think women are better than men at is keeping things going. I think it boils down to resourcefulness, determination and patience.

As an example, let me take you back a lot of years. I was brought up in the Church, and it became my life. I started preaching at the age of 15 (I'm now 64 - nearly), and used to go around a number of village Churches in the Wrexham area. When I became a Minister, I would also visit mostly rural Churches in Suffolk, and later in Northern Ireland.

Many of these Churches were quite small and struggling - my smallest ever congregation was 3 (as an aside, my smallest funeral was in Belfast where there was the deceased, me and the undertaker - pointless to mention that of course, but there you are). In the three areas I've mentioned, there was a common theme, "Prayer meetings were started by men, but kept going by women". In my experience this was undoubtedly true, and more Churches would have disappeared sooner, if it had not been for the work of the women. This was actually quite funny when you think that theologically, most of these Churches would have been fundamentally opposed to the leadership role of women, but they would have been nowhere without them.

As usual, I seem to have meandered my way through the subject valley, but my contention remains, that women are generally better than men in the three areas mentioned. What do you think?

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