Book Reviews

Why Gender Matters Part 2: Brains

*This is the continuation of my previous post on the book Why Gender Matters by Dr. Leonard Sax

Some days it feels like I’ve spent my entire life working with children. I started babysitting at twelve years old. At thirteen or fourteen I had my first nanny job. At eighteen I started working in a before and after care program, and so on. Along with my many years of face to face time with these marvelous creatures known as children, I also took many, many, many classes about child development and everything child related.  With all my classes and real world experience, it was strange to me when I would hear people claim that gender was based on social influence only. It didn’t make sense, I mean, I saw tomboy moms with little princesses lost and confused at how to handle hair braiding and sparkly dresses; I saw the most feminine of women with broods of boisterous boys looking exhausted surrounded in a world of sticks and bugs.  I’ve seen the most tough guy dads with sensitive and emotional boys; Gentle and tender men with tomboy rough and tumble girls. If gender attitudes were all based on socialization, then why is there mismatch in families? I, myself, am more equipped to raise the brood of boys and yet I have a princess who loves dolls, pink, and shopping. There must be more.

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Cue my first initial research into this. I watched this documentary that stated that yes, we do react gender specifically to babies, however, in the womb, brains are developed in different ways due to sex hormones. In my childhood socialization class, the teacher lectured that children tend to exhibit natural tendencies towards gender specific toys and activities, despite encouragement to do the opposite. She also went on to state that most children fell into their gender roles, with few exceptions: androgynous children who feel comfortable with both boy and girl toys and activities, but still gravitate more to their own gender. She said research found that children were happiest when they could act according to their gender rather than pushed neutrality.

I still had a lot of questions about this information, but Dr. Sax used the perfect balance of research and story to hit it home for me. The gender difference goes far beyond just testosterone, androgen, progesterone, and estrogen pushing prenatal gender development. New research found that male and female brains are organized completely different. The well-known separate brain hemisphere model of right brain is responsible for creativity, left brain is responsible for logic is more true for men. On the other hand (or in the other head), the female brain is more cross organized, everything is so intertwined and mixed together. I love this video that is comedic, but very accurate in how men and women brains differ. In short, men compartmentalize, women don’t.

If organization isn’t enough for you, well here’s more. Our chromosomes alter the material that makes up the brain. The protein base that makes up grey matter is completely different in men than women (or boys than girls) because of the Y chromosome. The Y chromosome changes the protein base from that of two X’s. This means that when Superman and I have a difference of understanding of something, it’s totally true, I perceive and process information differently than him because our brains are different, down to the chemicals.

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How does this apply to children? Well it goes even further: beyond brains, our eye cells are different, boys have more M cells, girls have more P cells. M cells are used for tracking motion and movement, P cells focus on colors and close up items. What does this mean? Well, boys are drawn to trucks and balls; girls tend to be drawn to babies dolls and faces.

Beyond toy preference, boys will draw completely different than girls. Girls use as many colors as possible (P cells) and draw “nouns”: people, flowers, animals, rainbows, etc. Their pictures focus on people, places, or things. Boys on the other hand draw with no more than 6 colors. They tend to use cold colors: blacks, gray, silver, blue. They draw “verbs”: rockets blasting into space, cars crashing into each other, guys fighting. They draw from a third person perspective, rather from the perspective of someone in the action.

So what? Well think of any kindergarten classroom? Think of the last time you saw a boy drawing or a girl? If you are the same gender, chances are you encouraged the child’s drawing style just the way it was. If you are not, then you probably said something that could have shut the child down. Many kindergarten teachers are women, they may make comments to boys drawing these actions in black or silver crayon that they need to use more color, they need to draw more people, etc. This kind of action could turn boys off of art.

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This is a key reason why we should seek to understand gender differences, SCIENCE based gender differences.  How can we nurture our children if we don’t understand why they do what they do? How can we keep our boys safe from crazy risks (another significant gender difference) or encourage our girls to take good risks? How can we ensure that educators are teaching in the best interest of our children if we ourselves do not know the science of gender?

I feel like I could write a million posts about this book, about research, and so on, but I feel like you, dear readers, should just read the book and glean the information that is most important to you rather than what I think you should know.

What gender differences do you think are over looked?

Katie

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2 thoughts on “Why Gender Matters Part 2: Brains

  1. I have no doubt there are many gender differences. Where I have trouble is when someone tells me women do this or that and lump all of us in one basket. It took me many years to realize this,after my dad passed away, but my personality is much more like my dad’s than it is my mom’s. That doesn’t mean I don’t like feminine things, but it also means I don’t fit every trait of what some might perceive a woman’s personality/strengths should be.
    For example with art, I’m sure there are creative men who have a greater grasp of color than some of their male peers, whether they design gardens, evening gowns or are interior decorators.
    I feel like much of the general population will fall into having a given strength/ability but there within each of us there may be traits where we don’t conform to what is expected for our gender.

    Liked by 1 person

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