Monday, June 14, 2010

Why Gender Matters

I recently made a trip to the library for books about child development to give to my husband (including but not limited to the information that you don't feed a one month old baby rice. Errr...) And I ran across "Why Gender Matters" by Leonard Sax and it looked so interesting that I checked it out and stayed up all night reading it even though it wasn't really applicable to what I actually had planned. I tend to dogear books and I started doing that with the intention of sharing the info here. By the end I realized I had pretty much dogeared every single page. So, really, you just need to go check out the book and read it. It really was incredibly fascinating.

Basically the premise of the book is that since the 1960's, popular and scientific parenting theories have prescribed a "gender neutral" child rearing, (give girls trucks, give boys dolls--that sort of a thing) and that a lot of boy/girl differences are created by society. The author refutes that, backs up his assertions with research, and basically says we're destroying society by proporting such theories.

Here's an example of what our society has accepted (at least in pc terms.) "Nature really offers us more than two sexes...Our current notions of masculinity and femininity are cultural conceits. The decision to label a child as a girl or a boy is a social decision. We should not label any child as being either a girl or a boy, there is no either/or. Rather, there are shades of differences." This from a tenured professor from Brown Univ. who's book received mention in the New York Times, Washington Post, and praise from the New England Journal of Medicine for her "careful and insightful approach to gender." I'm really just astounded at that. Really.

The author then cited various research reports to describe just how different biologically males and females truly are. Here's my summary:
  1. The brain actually could be considered a sex organ, like ovaries or testicles, because in 2004 it was clearly established that male and female brain tissue is "intrinsically different." Not only the hormones in it, not only the way we use it, but the actual tissue itself.
  2. Girl babies' brains' are 80% more responsive to acoustics than boys and the difference only gets bigger as they get older. So basically, those boys that say they didn't hear their soft-spoken female teacher, probably really didn't hear her.
  3. Male and female eyes have different percentage of M and P cells; M cells (which males have in larger abundance) track movement and spatial location, while P cells (which females retinas are mostly composed of) track what things are, like color and texture. Not only that, but the actual information from the eye is sent to different parts of the brain depending on gender through entirely different pathways. So translate this to a school setting: Jill draws people, pets, flowers and trees with lots of warm colors-usually ten or more-(what her eyes are more capable at focusing on), while Matthew draws frantic scribbles of a rocket hitting the earth all in one black crayon (black, blue, grey, silver are what M cells are most capable of seeing.) In summary, boys draw verbs, girls draw nouns, and a lot of that is what is visually wired in them.
  4. Males and females use different areas of their brain when navigating resulting in girls using landmarks and males using absolute direction like north or south.
  5. Already at nine months of age baby boys prefer trucks and baby girls will select dolls. He explains the study that was trying to see if that was really caused by "social constructs," and discovered that most toddlers up till 18 months generally have no clue what gender they are, so it really can't be social pressure. Boys prefer trucks more strongly than girls prefer dolls by the way. And in monkeys the same behavior can be observed.
  6. Males and females process their feelings in different locations of their brains. In girls, by teenage years it's in their cerebral cortex right along with their language skills. In boys it stays in their amygdala which has almost no connections to their language center. Translate that to a classroom: Asking a boy how he thinks this character felt in a book is going to get you nowhere.
  7. Male and female brains are organized different. Women have higher blood flow per gram of tissue than males. Women have larger brain cells in certain areas with more inputs than than corresponding male brains. Women tend to use mostly the more advanced areas of the brain such as the cerebral cortex, while men doing the same tasks use more primitive areas such as the globus pallidus, the amygdala and the hippocampus. Studies show that men with higher IQ really do have larger brains, but in women there's no difference in size.
  8. 8 yr. old girls have more in common with 25 yr. old women than they do with 8 yr. old boys. The reverse is true as well.
  9. Boys and male monkeys take far more risks than girls and female monkeys. This is universally true. Girls think extra risks are stupid, for boys it increases their social standing, and plus they like the rush. Girl adolescent monkeys babysit (seriously)--boy adolescent monkeys get squashed on highways taking stupid risks.
  10. Males (human and primates) are far more aggressive than females. Boys who fight actually end up better friends afterward. Girls who fight don't speak to each other for a year. Boys preferring violent stories is not an indicator of an underlying psychiatric problem, for girls who prefer violent stories it is. Rough and tumble play is crucial for boys to learn to control their aggression and the irony is that men who didn't experience rough play as children are more likely to commit violent crimes as an adult. He suggests if you have an overly aggressive son you should sign them up for contact sports so they have a supervised release.
  11. Men and women respond differently to pain. Women are more sensitive in general. And then when males are under stress it tends to dull the pain, in women under stress it increases it. Also, a pain killer produced by a pregnancy hormone is 4x's more effective in women than men.
  12. Males respond to stress and confrontation with the sympathetic nervous system (flight or fight adrenaline rush). Women respond with the parasympathetic nervous system (sick to their stomach, dizzy, have to go to the bathroom, etc.)
  13. Girl friendships and boy friendships are completely different, as is bullying.
  14. Girls and boys brains mature at different rates, different times, and also in different sequences. Also sex differences are larger in children than in adults (because by then the brain is fully matured.)
  15. Girls read fiction, generally about experiences. Boys read nonfiction, generally about struggles with male protagonists. Translate to school setting: 95% of elementary teachers are female, who often pick books which appeal to them, hence boys get message that they don't like to read. He suggests reading the newspaper with boys, or Treasure Island. Not Flowers for Algernon or Of Mice and Men.
  16. Boys consistently overrate their abilities, girls consistently underrate their abilities.
  17. Dating no longer exists as a practice to find a long-term life partner. Most dating now is based entirely on the hierarchy of their peer group and nothing to do with individual characteristics.
  18. Girls generally engage in risky behaviors because of low self esteem. Boys engage in risky behaviors because they are boys and like to take risks.
  19. According to Dr. Sax, parents have relinquished control to their children, which supposedly helps them become more responsible. He believes it results in: more fat kids, more teenage sex, and more teenage criminals. And that the mantra has become, "spare the rod, sedate the child."
  20. He believes there should be a 7:1 ratio when dealing with your kids, 7 parts fun time, 1 part discipline. And eat dinner together.

And if you want more details and strategies for discipline (positive and negative), you'll have to check out the book.

To sum up he compares males and females to spoons and knifes. You can't argue which is better, only which is better for what. Spoons for broth, knifes for chicken. The difference between what girls and boys can do is small, but the difference in how they do it can be large. But both are equally capable of getting the same nutrients--so say if your child has a spoon you give them beef stew but if your child has a knife you give them meat loaf.

1 comment:

Me said...

I told Brett all the stuff you told me last night when we were in bed. Then, I had a dream that I was telling someone else about it. Must have made a deep impression on me. :)