I distinctly remember the laughs ordinary people had decades ago when a Harvard study for the then ridiculously high sum of $50,000 established that mother’s milk is good for babies. I had the same “duh” feeling when I read that a San Francisco neuropsychiatrist has written a book, based on cutting edge brain research, showing that men and women are wired differently:
Male and female brains are different in architecture and chemical composition, asserts [Louann] Brizendine. The sooner women — and those who love them — accept and appreciate how those neurological differences shape female behavior, the better we can all get along.
Start with why women prefer to talk about their feelings, while men prefer to meditate on sex.
“Women have an eight-lane superhighway for processing emotion, while men have a small country road,” she writes. Men, however, “have O’Hare Airport as a hub for processing thoughts about sex, where women have the airfield nearby that lands small and private planes.”
Untangling the brain’s biological instincts from the influences of everyday life has been the driving passion of Brizendine’s life — and forms the core of her book. “The Female Brain” weaves together more than 1,000 scientific studies from the fields of genetics, molecular neuroscience, fetal and pediatric endocrinology, and neurohormonal development. It is also significantly based on her own clinical work at the Women’s and Teen Girls’ Mood and Hormone Clinic, which she founded at UCSF 12 years ago. It is the only psychiatric facility in the country with such a comprehensive focus.
A man’s brain may be bigger overall, she writes, but the main hub for emotion and memory formation is larger in a woman’s brain, as is the wiring for language and “observing emotion in others.” Also, a woman’s “neurological reality” is much more deeply affected by hormonal surges that fluctuate throughout her life.
The book sounds great, and I’ll definitely read it but, really, do people need that level of science to prove what we all intuitively know to be true about ourselves and our world? Certainly, as a parent, with my own children and their peers, I see these differences every day.
I’m the parent to two little sexual stereotypes. My daughter is the quintessential girl in so many ways. Social relations are the most important things in her life, whether it’s relating to her girlfriends or having crushes on the many nice little boys in our community. A day without social contact is, for her, a day that isn’t worth living. In dress, since she’s been a toddler, she’s gone for the most traditional feminine look, with a heavy emphasis on pink, pink, and more pink — and this despite my best efforts to steer her to a broader color palette and more workable jeans.
My son is her opposite in that, from the get-go, he’s been the most manly of men. Since his toddler years, his heros have been construction workers, firefighters, police officers and, for the past many years, soldiers. He spent his entire kindergarten year wearing camo to school every day, which is quite a feat in Marin. Social relationships are of little importance to him: he’s interested in objects (anything with buttons or switches) and activities that involve running, balls and competition. I was speaking with his teacher a few months ago, when he was nearby, and asked her who his lunchtime playmates were. She turned to him and asked, “Little Bookworm, who are you playing with at lunch?” His response was a classic: “I don’t really care. It just depends what game they’re playing.”
My kids’ approach to education reflects their essential femininity and masculinity. My daughter immerses herself in a sea of words. She loves reading (a bookworm after my own heart) and works well with others. My son has an intuitive grasp of numbers and logic, and wants to work on his own, with the spur being competition with others. I know my daughter will do well in school which is, currently, shaped to accommodate girls, their interests and their learning styles. I’m much more worried about my son, despite the fact that he’s bright and agreeable.
Only recently, Gerry Garibaldi, writing for City Journal, added one more to the increasing number of articles about how feminized classrooms shortchange boys. Garibaldi focuses on the fact that classrooms shut down boys’ intellectual demands for logic and reasons. Instead of appreciating the boys’ intellectual hunger, and their need to organize information, teachers see the boys as threatening to their control (and as we all know, most teachers are women):
One of the first observations I made as a teacher was that boys invariably ask this question, while girls seldom do. When a teacher assigns a paper or a project, girls will obediently flip their notebooks open and jot down the due date. Teachers love them. God loves them. Girls are calm and pleasant. They succeed through cooperation.
Boys will pin you to the wall like a moth. They want a rational explanation for everything. If unconvinced by your reasons—or if you don’t bother to offer any—they slouch contemptuously in their chairs, beat their pencils, or watch the squirrels outside the window. Two days before the paper is due, girls are handing in the finished product in neat vinyl folders with colorful clip-art title pages. It isn’t until the boys notice this that the alarm sounds. “Hey, you never told us ’bout a paper! What paper?! I want to see my fucking counselor!”
A female teacher, especially if she has no male children of her own, I’ve noticed, will tend to view boys’ penchant for challenging classroom assignments as disruptive, disrespectful—rude. In my experience, notes home and parent-teacher conferences almost always concern a boy’s behavior in class, usually centering on this kind of conflict. In today’s feminized classroom, with its “cooperative learning” and “inclusiveness,” a student’s demand for assurance of a worthwhile outcome for his effort isn’t met with a reasonable explanation but is considered inimical to the educational process. Yet it’s this very trait, innate to boys and men, that helps explain male success in the hard sciences, math, and business.
Another problem boys have with school is the reading material they’re given. Reading lists focus on feelings and relationships. Boys want action, adventure, grossness and hard facts. No wonder that, during reading time, the girls are engaged and the boys are tossing spitballs. And no wonder boys are being diagnosed in record numbers with ADHD, and that they’re tuning out and dropping out as fast as they can. At schools across America, they’re bored and under attack. Their basic boy-ness is being pathologized and their interests are marginalized. No person in his right mind would thrive in an environment like that.
Perhaps books like Brizendine’s, even though their focus is on women’s brains, will remind our educators that boys have brains too, and that these brains deserve to be respected and stimulated. After all, just as girls are half the population, so too are the boys, and an educational policy that ignores the boy half is just as bad as the education systems in prior years that ignored the girl half.