The Female Brain

The Female Brain—a controversy complicated by another female.

Every once in a while, the debate whether women are different from men emerges with much fanfare only to find it being shelved among the scores of other such assertions that rarely lead to any conclusion. This is because of the inevitable tendency to associate “different” with superior of inferior. However, the new book, The Female Brain by Brizendine clearly settles some scores that were long overdue but in the end leaves the field just as confusing as ever. Brizendine says that women are better than men are at remembering the details of emotional events because their brains are structurally and chemically different—the site is hippocampus, which is larger in women. Men, on the other hand, have larger brain centers for action and aggression—the site is amygdale. Not surprising to men however is a finding that we men have long been trying to explain that men also have 2 1/2 times the brain space devoted to the sexual drive. According to Brizendine, a woman may think about sex once in twenty-four hours, men think about it every 58 seconds. A better conclusion, if I were writing, would be that all other thoughts of men are only briefly interrupt the thought of anything but sex. The sense of a crude dichotomy arises here; if men are such slaves to their hormones; why then do women, especially the wives have to be so arrogant and non-compliant. A woman need not be a nymphomaniac, just considerate enough. All of this and many other differences begin in utero, during the eighth week of pregnancy, when the then-female brain will either receive a testosterone surge or not. Nature has made men by making the default form of fetus to be female; only a random chance makes them female. How cruel! It has long been difficult for the women to accept the demonstrated differences between sexes based on the theory of being “hard-wired." In the nature vs. nurture debate, most feminists prefer nurture asserting that you should be able to raise a son to be gentle and emotionally nuanced, just as you can raise a daughter to be a physically active, aggressive tomboy. Unfortunately, despite making some keen observations, Brizendine, who founded the Women's Mood and Hormone Clinic at UCSF in 1994, says, "the brain is nothing if not a talented learning machine. Nothing is completely fixed. Biology powerfully affects but does not lock in our reality." In other words, even though this book makes the argument that women's behavior—and to some extent, men's behavior is biologically determined, it is possible to override these behaviors. I have great difficulty accepting this thesis. The scholarly references quoted by Brizendine are faulty and poorly quoted—she is no scientist, it is abundantly clear to me, when it comes to condensing science. However, accepting her unequivocal qualification as women, and an attractive one, I am willing to analyze many of her observations at a more prudish stance. She says that men are more likely to fall in love “at first sight.” Agreed! Women are so seductive and voluptuous, why should we not fall prey to those tresses waiting in ambush? However, when she says that more women are attracted to “symmetrical” (translated handsome) men because they give women better and more frequent orgasms, I have great difficulty in accepting this thesis. Being handsome has nothing to do with being apt at exploring woman’s sexuality or being more faithful, the latter being the validated trait that women look for. This refutes her theory that women fall in love with men who are less attractive to other women. Years ago, that now feel like eons, I dated a great dame, the envy of every man and in my humbleness I asked her how she felt walking with someone of extremely ordinary appearance. A country dame, she said without a moment of hesitation, “actually very good; I want everyone to look at me, not you.” She did later make up for her unkindness. Decades later, I am still able to draw attention of women, if not for the remnants of my triceps but for the intellectual intercourse that is always satisfying to them. Women are attracted to men for a singular reason, to being a better progeny—that is what Nature has programmed; those with better genes, whether expressed in the physical or intellectual traits is equally attracting, age not being a barrier. Had this not been true, why would so many women marry so many man so many years older than them. It is more than security, which is the symptom of attraction and not the cause. Women are very apt at make this involuntary, yet bizarre to many, calculation what is good for her progeny—the survival instinct and the survival of species is counted much more than anything else is. Brizendine misses it all.

Brizendine’s assertion that most women look for hot sex and safety, comfort and child rearing all at the same is at best wishful; that breed does not exist among males. You just cannot have multiple orgasms and multiple children at the same time. However, where the author fails rather miserably is when she asserts that while the default gene in men is that for polygamy, women also carry this gene. She could only conclude this if she had experienced making love to someone she was angry at.

The book does a better job when describing the neurochemical underpinnings of passionate love. Falling in love shuts down sensibility and it is related to how the amygdala (the brain's fear-alert system) and the anterior cingulate cortex (the brain's system for worrying and critical thinking) tune out when the feeling of love inundates you brain with dopamine, estrogen and oxytocin, like a soup made up of crack, coke and dope. Like any other such concoction, one begins to get used to these chemicals and that explains the routine intense six- to eight-month period of most amorous relationships. They all end when the waves of these cruel chemicals no longer trigger the same response; then we begin to see the crooked tooth, the nagging finger, the guys night out and other such traits so obvious to others.

Despite claiming to be a scientist, Brizendine relies heavily on anecdotes to prove that there is nothing sexist about the brain. It is only a unisexual piece of meat, a conclusion based on using a few stereotype reversal patterns. Just because a man is able to remember his wife’s birthday should not implicate the male gender as being compliant in this regard—fact is most do not. Alternatively, if a man weeps he is labeled as more expressive but that should not be taken to represent the trait of his species—are not they species apart? Do women who lose temper have a larger amygdale or men who get emotional have a larger hippocampus? She does not answer adequately.

In what was as a perfect opportunity for her to set the record straight, Brizendine faltered miserably in making a firm conclusion (perhaps a trait of a woman) diluting her observations giving everyone a way out (another trait of a woman). She says that the brain of a woman is different but not so different that it cannot respond in the same way as a man’s brain does. She leaves the age-old argument just as open as she started with it, obviously with intent to resolve. Apparently, she could not. She is a woman. I still recommend reading the book.