File Folders and Rubber Bands

Week-Enders have no doubt heard the arguable fact that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, as made popular by John Gray in his 1992 book by the same name. 

The book correlates relationships between genders to the theory that they are from different planets and that each planet has its own set of customs and norms and rarely the twain shall meet.

Well, my wife doesn’t have a Ph.D (which some people have told me stands for “Piling It High and Deep,” is that right?)--but she can be very insightful with her bachelor’s degree and her southern wisdom. In fact, the other day she stopped me in my tracks with her own analysis of gender relations, or at least the differences in how genders think.

Using the two of us as study subjects, she has developed the “File Folders and Rubber Bands” model of gender-specific brain function. I don’t believe she has done scientific research into this model, but she certainly has accumulated a wheelbarrow full of anecdotal proof.

So the premise for this model is this:

My brain (male gender) works like a file drawer. In the drawer are many different folders. Each folder has specific information and material therein. Material that does not relate to that material has no place in that folder. There is another folder for that.

Information in each folder cannot touch information in any of the other folders unless there is a specific reason to do so. If this occurs, then there will be a clearly-identified cross reference that specifically links the two. Links beyond two or three cross references will call for a new folder.

Folders will be labeled, alphabetized and categorized.  Under no circumstances will information not belonging in a labeled, alphabetized and categorized folder be placed in said folder.  If this occurs, it may call for an entire reorganization of the files.

If the file drawer begins to get tight, a new drawer may need to be considered, but not before a comprehensive review of the drawer purges all unnecessary files and confirms the need for a new drawer.

If a file needs to be retrieved, it is a fairly simple, straightforward process; a fingertip exercise - reach in, pinch, retrieve, done.  Simple.

This is the brain of the male gender.

My wife’s brain (by her model) is like one of those balls of rubber bands, the ones that are started with a few rubber bands and gradually expanded by wrapping new rubber bands around it. 

The rubber bands represent the colors of the rainbow--none are exactly the same.  Some are short, broad rubber bands; some are long and skinny.  Some are new and flexible; some are brittle with age. 

As the rubber band ball gets larger and larger, the crisscrossing of the rubber bands becomes more intricate.  What may have started as a patterned approach eventually becomes a tangled mass of interwoven bands, twisting and turning and overlapping; some may even overlap themselves, sort of meet themselves coming and going, so to speak.

Once the rubber band ball is mature and fully formed, it is difficult to separate one specific rubber band from the ball.  So if the perfect rubber band for the job can be glimpsed through the interwoven mass of elasticity, retrieving it is a monumental task.  Normally, getting to it means that several others will unravel in the process, leading to the need to sidetrack and recover and rewind. 

But overall, the integrity of the whole is kept intact because there is strength in the interwoven and overlapping mass; while chaos may ensue on the surface, deep down there is stability.

My lovely partner even suggests an illustrative image to depict her model.  I warn you, this is fairly graphic. 

If you were to figuratively split my head in half, file folders would come cascading out, but in an organized fashion, maintaining a fairly tight alphabetic order.  The folders would maintain cohesive formation as they poured out, landing on either side in an ordered array that could easily be reformed.

If you were to do the same to my wife’s head, stand back, because there will be an explosion of various-colored rubber bands splaying out in all directions at high velocity.  Each half of the rubberized gray matter may act differently; one may instantly detonate into a rainbow of swirling rubber, the other half may remain intact until it hits the ground.  Then it might bounce once before exploding, or gradually come undone as it dribbles away.

Now this is just a theoretical model; there is no book as yet.  However, I definitely think it deserves some attention, at least within my household.  At a minimum, I can say it kind of resembles the two of us.

I tend to segment my thinking in file drawers, always have I guess. 

I’m not sure where I got this from, this need to organize my environment.  It may be my Italian roots; Romans were great organizers.  I distinctly remember, in fact, being told by a school mate in grade school when we were studying Roman history that I would be a great organizer someday, like my Roman ancestors.

I grew up in a an environment where you learned to organize your time, on a dairy farm where work, school and home were carefully planned and balanced.  Two parents, two kids four years apart, an 11-year gap, then two more kids four years apart; talk about careful planning, my parents had it down.  That plan of growing their own farm hands enabled them to operate the farm for nearly 30 years.

Twenty years in the Marine Corps after that no doubt solidified my file drawer approach to life.  I am not as rigid as I once was.  I’ve learned that there are just some things not worth getting too worked up over.  But generally, I still live on the File Drawer Planet.

My wife grew up in the household of a hard-working dentist and his hard-working wife along with six kids –three girls, three boys - born within about a 9-year period; family planning of a different sort.

So life in her childhood was completely different, possibly chaotic at times, by comparison to my experience at any rate.  Imagine getting six kids that close in age ready to hit the door for school in the morning!  She tells the story of being forgotten at the house once for church and it wasn’t discovered until a head count was done halfway there. 

My wife, being the oldest girl, ended up being the main helper, the mini-mommy, the one who constantly helped with the others and tried to make order out of chaos.

All six children had different interests and activities and personalities and since there wasn’t the common enemy of farm work to keep them moving in the same direction – well, maybe you can see the rubber band theory beginning to form.

This is the brain of the female gender.

Granted, the model doesn’t hold up to empirical analysis.  There are plenty of examples of men who live on the rubber band planet and women who reside on the file drawer sphere. 

However, in the final analysis I think it is clear that there is a place and a need for both worlds; there is a different strength in each that perhaps supports the shortcomings of the other.

For example, the rubber band brain is conducive to raising young children, who rarely conform to life on the file drawer planet.  However, file drawer thinking is necessary to enable life on the rubber band planet to carry on.

So, rather than spend time dissecting the differences and driving a wedge between the two worlds, I propose that it is more productive to simply embrace them both, celebrate their strengths and learn to live in both worlds.

There is more study and work to be done to the FFRB (file folder rubber band) theory; this is just an exploratory analysis presented in order to obtain further input from the field.  Any thoughts from Weekenders on this model will be most appreciated and may be incorporated into the book.

Randy Gaddo, a retired Marine who also served for 15 years in municipal parks and recreation, is now a full-time photojournalist who lives in Beaufort, S.C.; he can be reached at (678) 350-8642 or email cwo4usmc@comcast.net.