Feminists should celebrate: Finally someone is taking women’s health seriously and has done a thorough study of the female brain.
In “The Female Brain,” Louann Brizendine, a San Francisco-based neuropsychiatrist who founded the Women’s and Teen Girls’ Mood and Hormone Clinic, details the powerful influence that a woman’s brain structure and chemistry have on her behavior and outlook from birth to old age.
Dr. Brizendine begins by describing the historical failure of scientists to consider women’s unique make up, instead assuming that “women were essentially small men, neurologically and in every other sense except for their reproductive functions.” The truth is quite different: 99 percent of male and female genetic coding is the same, but the differences that exist have profound effects:
“What we’ve found is that the female brain is so deeply affected by hormones that their influence can be said to create a woman’s reality. They can shape a woman’s values and desires, and tell her, day to day, what’s important. Their presence is felt at every stage of life, right from birth.”
The book examines each stage of a woman’s life, from infancy and childhood to pregnancy and menopause, and explores how the hormones present in her body and her brain affect her life. While Dr. Brizendine provides rich scientific details about brain structure and neuro-hormones, the book unfolds like a drama. A lay reader is invited to consider phenomenon she has witnessed in her own life and those around her and consider potential root causes.
There is power in this knowledge. As Dr. Brizendine writes: “if we can understand how our lives are shaped by our brain chemistry, then maybe we can better see the road ahead.” It’s easy to see how this information can help women better approach the relationships or personal trials they face.
Women experiencing menopause should have a thorough understanding of the massive changes taking place physiologically. Understanding that men simply do not process and store emotions with the same efficiency as women can help frustrated wives adjust their expectations for their husbands. Women who are aware of how birthing and nurturing a child transforms the brain can more fully appreciate motherhood’s wonder and prepare for the inevitable stresses and fears.
Dr. Brizendine’s book is a major contribution to women’s health and to building an appreciation among women of their unique strengths. Yet undoubtedly this book will make feminists vested in denying sex differences uncomfortable. While Dr. Brizendine emphasizes women’s particular strengths, she also identifies potential weaknesses.
Hormone changes that accompany the menstrual cycle can make women more emotional and less rational. The powerful changes that accompany motherhood make women more adapt at some tasks, but less adapt at others.
Dr. Brizendine acknowledges the political sensitivity of these issues:
“There are still those who believe that for women to become equal, unisex must be the norm. The biological reality, however, is that there is no unisex brain. The fear of discrimination based on difference runs deep, and for many years assumptions about sex differences went scientifically unexamined for fear that women wouldn’t be able to claim equality with men. But pretending that women and men are the same, while doing a disservice to both men and women, ultimately hurts women.”
There are clear implications of her findings to the world of public policy, although they are not discussed in the book. Admitting that men and women have different outlooks and preferences is a first step toward recognizing the futility of policies designed to make women act more like men.
It’s important, of course, to give women the opportunities to participate in all facets of life, but policies like Title IX — which have been taken to mean that colleges and universities must have the same number of female athletes as male athletes — ignore differences between men and women. Social engineers across Europe who seek to make child-rearing a responsibility equally shared by men and women are fighting human nature.
Men and women don’t have to be the same to be equal. Women’s unique attributes and strengths deserve to be celebrated, which is exactly what Dr. Brizendine’s book does.
Carrie Lukas is vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum and the author of “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism.”