November 02, 2007
A Look at The Female Brain
I just finished Louann Brizendine's book The Female Brain, who I heard speak at PopTech in Maine last week and blogged about briefly here. It's an intense book and while incredibly informative, particularly about what happens to the female brain later in life, I was thrilled to know that I have a decade or more before dealing with tomorrow's reality.
With great flow and ease, she takes the reader through every stage of a woman's life, citing examples of how female babies respond to people and emotion versus male babies, how even at this very early phase in our lives, we are more likely to study faces, mirror other people and watch for feedback. This feedback gives us a sense that things are okay or not okay, that we are loved or not loved, that the person we're with is happy or not happy and so on.
While there were many humorous examples of the differences between sexes and no doubt, any couple who has been married for awhile will relate to all of them, my favorite example was where one mother gave her daughter a red fire truck instead of a doll to play with to see if this would affect her female brain impulses.
The impulses of children are so innate she suggests, that they 'kick off' even we nudge them in another direction. After giving her child the red truck, she walked into her room one day to find this three year old cuddling the truck in a baby blanket and saying, "Don't worry, little truckie, everything will be all right."
It has always been clear to me that not only are we more wired to connect with others but require it. I think we are also 'hard-wired' to emphathize and nurture. I have seen this across continents and where it was most evident was throughout a "Women Across Cultures" class I took at university in London. With 40 or so students in the class, all women except for two that spanned 35 different countries, it was obvious that we all longed for the same basic things -- inside of a relationship and out. There, in a very international setting, we read novel after novel from country after country, all depicting women's joys and struggles through nearly every phase of her life.
The Female Brain takes it a step further since it not only focuses on many of the things you may have picked up from John Gray's Mars & Venus legendary book or Deborah Tannen's work, but brings in clinical evidence of why the female brain is different and what we can do about it.
Brizendine, also an MD, combines her decades of experience working with women and advanced research to come to her conclusions, all warmly presented through examples of patients she has dealt with over the years, i.e., 35 year old Jane, 42 year old Helen, 28 year old Karen and so on.
She also talks about conflict, something I've never been good at nor have most of my female counterparts. This can become an issue in business situations, where men, who are wired to argue, debate and compete, are more at ease negotiating contracts or handling a dispute between team members. Yet, a woman's intuition, her ability to connect more quickly and see people's problems before they open their mouth, is a huge advantage when things move from bad to ugly.
The anger - fight or flight - scenario comes up a few times in the book. She writes, "Anger at one's partner is one of the most common problems for sexual problems." And then another funny reference: 'many sex therapists say that, for women, foreplay is everything that happens twenty four hours before sex and for men, it's everything that happens three minutes before.'
Later in the book, she returns to anger as she references couples who come to see her and do not communicate well. She says, 'the man's brain circuits push him frequently and quickly to an angry, aggressive reaction, and the woman feels frightened and shuts down.' I think this is even more true for women who have ever been emotionally or physically abused or 'confused' as children or in their early twenties during formative romantic relationships.
"Ancient wiring is telling her its dangerous, but she anticipates that if she flees, she'll be losing her provider and may have to fend for herself."
She also dives into deeper more disturbing aspects of the female brain and how shifts in hormones through various stages of our lives affect it, i.e., postpartum depression, perimenopause, menopause and post menopause.
It's a wonderful wonderful read but also a bit frightening at times. That said, the more we know, the better chance for a smooth sail for both sexes as we move through our lives.
She reminds us that the age of Aristotle, Socrates and Plato was the first time in Western history that men gained enough resources to have the leisure for intellectual and scientific pursuits. The twenty-first century is the first time in history that women are in a similar position. Read the book.
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Interesting article in the Boston Globe on Sunday that shot down much of the popular mythology on brain differences between the sexes. In fact, it totally dismissed Grey's work and put into question other pop culture books that suggest any major differences cited were not based on real science. Check it out:
Posted by: Ron Miller | Nov 2, 2007 9:23:58 AM
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