Some people say that gender stereotypes are learned; others are convinced they are ingrained in our DNA. One of the defenders of this theory is Louann Brizendine, the author of the New York Times Bestseller, The Female Brain, and later on, The Male Brain, first published in hardcover in 2010 and later released in paperback.
When The Male Brain was first published, Brizendine received harsh criticism including from a New York Times book reviewer. She was accused by several media outlets of being superficial and commercial in her approach, and for making her books a business (as a writer, I need to ask, well, why the heck not.) While she is often accused of not basing her statements on scientific research, notes and bibliography account for nearly half the pages of each of her books.
Keeping it simple
I am not offended as other reviewers are by the fact that Brizendine simplifies scientific research and makes it accessible to laypeople. I will take the stance of defending her books and backing up her findings with my own experience.
After all, not only do I author self-help books, but I find that often it is easier to relate to and understand observations based on real life, than on today’s study findings, only to be contradicted tomorrow by a different study. We all know this by now: men and women are different. But how? Perhaps if we made the effort to understand the reasons behind some of these differences we would be more tolerant of the opposite sex.
Ok, but, why are we different?
Brizendine explains that the male of our species has twice the brain space in the hypothalamus devoted to sexual drive. The brain centers responsible for muscular action and aggression are also larger, such as the amygdala. So, ladies, that is why your man may jump into problem-solving mode when all you wanted was to vent about your mean co-workers or needy girlfriend. By knowing where this comes from, maybe it will be easier to listen to him the next time around, or simply warn him: “Honey, I just need you to hear me out.”
Also read: Why women have mood swings and how to cope
Are boys and girls wired differently?
As the mother of two girls and the step-mom of a boy, I can tell you there is a huge difference between the way boys and girls behave. Call it stereotypical, but I have yet to catch either of my daughters hammering away at a new toy. My stepson on the other hand, is known to destroy his toys – out of curiosity or simply because of the extra testosterone in his body – almost as soon as he unwraps them. On one occasion I was about to reprimand him for this destructive behavior only to find that it had been initiated by my eldest daughter’s best friend – another boy. When, appalled, I told his dad about the incident, he just said, “That´s what we did as kids, we´d pull apart our toys to see what’s inside.”
Brizendine also explains that by the age of twenty-seven months, boys are more likely to take risks and break rules behind their parent’s backs, over and over. I can attest to that.
Different toys for girls and boys?
The choice of gender-specific toys, the author says, is not necessarily the product of ingrained social roles, but rooted in fetal brain development. By age four, girls exposed to high testosterone levels in utero prefer toys that are typically considered for boys (maybe my daredevil eldest daughter suffered from that.) On the other hand, give a girlie-girl a truck to play, and she will swaddle it in a blankie and lull it to sleep. Heck, I´ve seen my youngest do that!
My sister and I were always given toys for boys by our grandfather (who wanted a grandson), and guess what, we made our GI Joe´s kiss Barbie! And if we played with our fencing swords, we argued about which one of us would be the princess that was being saved! We both grew up as strong, independent and feminine.
When boys become men
For all the mothers of boys out there, there is an interesting finding in The Male Brain which you may not like: teen boys are wired to be repulsed and turned off by the mother´s smell. So, if your son balks at hugging and kissing you at around 12 or 13, don´t be offended. He´ll come around once he´s older and over that phase, during which he is discovering girls.
Does your mate fall asleep after you make love? Before you chuck it up to his insensitivity, it turns out that postcoital narcolepsy is caused by a chemical reaction in the brain. The oxytocin released during orgasm floods the hypothalamus in both sexes, but whereas in women it awakens feelings of coziness and nurturing, it hits the male sleep center like an off switch.
Male and female parenting
Men and women also have different parenting styles, and while women may feel that dads are too harsh, men believe their spouse is too soft or lenient. In the end the combination of both parenting styles are what shape our children into well-rounded adults. Women show their love to their offspring by cuddling and soothing them, and men do it by helping them solve their problems.
Why you can´t make a gay man straight
There is also a chapter about the gay male brain. In gay men, a part of the hypothalamus, called the suprachiasmatic nucleus is twice as large than in straight men. The book concludes by explaining how similar the homosexual male´s brain is to a woman´s brain. That may also explain why some of my best male friends happen to be homosexual and why they are such good listeners!
Well, armed with this new understanding, I will be less upset with my stepson when he sneaks candy behind my back despite my repeated warnings not to, I will take advantage to catch up on work when my significant other rolls over in bed, and call my gay or female friends when I need to chat it up.