Writers often make men and women characters interchangeable, using only physical attributes to tell them apart, forgetting that there are differences between the two species. (I know, men and women aren’t two different species, but you have to admit it feels that way sometimes.)
Brain scans show that women have between fourteen and sixteen areas that evaluate others’ behavior, while men have only four to six. Because of this, women are better at juggling several unrelated topics in a single conversation. They also use five vocal tones to make their points. Since men can only identify three of those tones, they often miss what women are trying to say. So men accuse women of not being direct and women accuse men of not listening.
It’s amazing we manage to communicate as well as we do, considering that men and women have different reasons for conversing. Women ask questions to show interest in the person; men ask questions to gain information. Women find that talking about a problem provides relief; men feel that talking about a problem is dwelling on the negative. Women think that continuing to discuss the problem demonstrates support; men want to make a decision and forget it. Women provide peripheral details because they want to be understood; men just want them to make their point. Women think that talking about a relationship brings people closer; men generally think it’s useless.
Women are better at interpreting body language than men. Because of men’s inability to read body language, a crying baby often confuses them, though women know exactly what the infant wants. Women’s subconscious ability to interpret body language makes them seem more intuitive than men, but men (and women) can consciously learn to interpret body language, which evens things out.
There are differences in the way our eyes work, too. A study of nonnudists at a nudist colony showed that men had difficulty resisting the urge to look, and their gazes were obvious. Women, on the other hand, were not caught gazing, though they had just as hard a time resisting the urge. Does this prove that women have more self-control than men? No. It only means that men and women are hardwired differently. Women have better peripheral vision than men, so they can appear to be looking at a man’s face when in fact they are checking him out.
Men generally have poor close range vision, which keeps them from seeing what’s directly in front of them, but they are better than women at spotting targets over long distances.
I’m not sure how to use this information to make male and female characters non-interchangeable, but knowing some of the differences should help.