I am interested in learning about women and dreaming. Specifically, what
differences exist between the way men dream and the way women dream.
Collections of dreams of men and women seem to show there is a difference.
As to whether this is nature or nurture, hormones or the way we raise
children of different sexes differently is still and open question.
Some studies indicate that gender differences begin to show up pretty early,
between 3 and 5 years old (Van de Castle, 1994). When dreams are collected by
having children stay at a sleep research lab, these differences seem to
disappear in the children (Foulkes,1982).
Girl's dreams have more people they know in them and more concern with
personal appearance. The interactions are more friendly have more references
to food and have more female characters in them. Girls are more likely to
report longer dreams and recount them with more feeling, using colors to
The adult studies seem to follow a similar pattern, with emphasis on indoor
settings, family and home. Women more often dream of enclosed bodies of
water, such as pools, lakes, ponds.
Men tend to have more men in their dreams and be in conflict or competition
with them. Outdoor and unfamiliar settings are prevalent. Weapons, tools, cars
and roads are common. Men report more sexual dreams, usually with unknown
and attractive partners.
Up to about 12 years old, aggression in dreams is about equal. Afterwards,
aggression decreases for females and continues on with males. One study
(Hall, 1963) calculates about one out of four characters the dreaming male
encounters involves aggression. This drops off a bit after men are in their
thirties, but woman, by comparison have only one in twenty five encounters
that have aggressiveness. Also, the aggressive encounters men have involve
physical threats, and with women, they are more likely to be verbal assaults.
Calvin Hall and Bill Domhoff investigated if these differences were
cross-cultural or just specific to the United States. They compared dreams
from such diverse cultures as Nigeria and Scotland, from Australian
aborigines and Native American Hopi, and many other groups. It seems that it
is the same story around the world.
However, many factors can alter these statistics. For example, a woman who
is raised in a family where there is a dominant older brother will have many
more dreams of men than a woman without this influence. Woman who work
outside the home report more vocational dreams and less family oriented
dreams, and interestingly enough, less threatening dreams. Van De Castle
speculates that women in dual-roles have high degrees of self confidence.
Studies that look at sexual identification rather than real gender find that
the gender differences begin to break down. Those who live and value
traditional masculine qualities will have dreams that match male dream
content whether they are male or female. For example, studies of transsexuals
(Krippner, 1974) who have crossed from male to female sexual identification
tend to have dream content similar to women.
As you might expect, there are gender related factors that influence dreams.
Women's dreams during the menstrual cycle are more violent and filled with
images of blood and wounds (Van De Castle 1968). Women during pregnancy have
dream that reflect the anxieties surrounding child bearing, from concern
about the baby, to issues of self image (Stukane, 1985).
Men and women dream differently, but age, vocation, family structure, sex
role orientation and other factors seem as important as anatomy in many
cases. A simple explanation is to say that we simply dream about those
things we have concerns about in waking life. To the degree that these
concerns are gender specific, then so will our dreams be gender specific. But
this isn't quite so. We don't often dream about work, for example, compared
to the number of hours we actually spend on these tasks. There seems to be
room for a great deal more study before any conclusions can be made.
Richard Wilkerson is general editor for The
Internet Dream E-zine, Electric Dreams, and director of DreamGate, the Internet
Communications and Dream Education Center. He writes the Cyberphile column for
the Association for the Study of Dreams Newsletter.