Men Are from Mars, Blah, Blah, Blah…

Oh, isn’t it fun to talk about how men are from Mars and women are from Venus? It’s like we’re practically two different species! And once almighty “Science” comes down from on high and explains these differences as natural, well then you better suit up because the inter-galactic, inter-species war of the sexes is going to be fought for a loooong time. And so it is with neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine’s new book “The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think,” her follow-up to her 2006 “The Female Brain.” It’s already on its way to best seller status (it’s number #150 on Amazon) — for this is the stuff talk shows are made of! Why, men are practically born to cheat!

Fortunately, there are a few mainstream news sources that aren’t simply gobbling it up. This New York Times review skewered it:

Many scientists are cautious to a fault when it comes to telling us what they’re unsure of, playing down any novel finding that hasn’t been verified by another scientist. Not so Louann Brizendine. She is a neuro psychiatrist (the prefix makes any title sound smarter) who has put her professional training behind a breezy, incautious account of how the brain, urged on by hormones, makes men and women act completely differently. You’d never know from reading Brizendine that beneath the sea she blithely sails are depths that researchers have only just begun to chart.

Even Newsweek’s depressingly named “We Read It So You Don’t Have To” column says:

With The Female Brain, Brizendine was attacked for shoddy science—and her follow-up should receive no less criticism. The author makes vast claims about male biology without really delving into the science, which leaves you with a manual for excusing every crappy thing your man has ever done.

Check out Salon’s Broadsheet and True/Slant’s Brainspin for more on Brizendine’s shaky science. And for an antidote to Nature supremacists, may we suggest neuroscientist Lise Eliot’s “Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps — and What We Can Do About It,” which Nobel Prize-winning neuroscientist, and founder of the Center for Neurobiology and Behavior at Columbia University, Eric R. Kandel had this to say about:

In taking the challenge of addressing the difference between little boys and little girls, Eliot explains how modest differences at birth between the brains of boys and girls are amplified by social factors that in turn produce anatomical changes in the brain to give rise to the greater differences evident in the actions of brains of mature men and women. Eliot explains, in language that is clear to all of us, that these sex differences are plastic and can be modified by experience. Eliot indicates points of intervention where these social pressures could be minimized, interventions that would assure our achieving a fair and equitable maturation of both sexes…This is a brilliant book and I could not recommend it more highly.

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  1. I so dislike this desire to say men are one way and women are another. When I read Men Are From Mars… I was struck with how much of the supposedly female traits I had in myself, and how many of the supposedly male traits my wife had.

    It’s appealing to many people to be able to read a book and define “normality” to be a certain way. But at the end of the day, that’s not what makes you happy.

  2. I actually liked “men are from Mars and women are from Venus”, even if I never really finished it. I liked it because I came to the conclusion that he doesn’t really matter if you’re a man or a woman, we are all different, we are all the products of our education, culture, etc, and we all have different reactions. I don’t react exactly as my girlfriends would react, and I don’t react exactly as my boyfriends would react. So, I can accept my female friends to be different but not my partner without having to justify our differences with scienfic studies? Stupid. More than that men are from Mars and women from Venus, I understood that we all stand in our own little planet. Understanding, open-mindedness and efficient communication are the key to build bridges between us.

  3. Lovely post, you two! Lise Eliot’s book, at least as reviewed by you and Eric Kandel, sounds like it does a better job of balancing what we understand about a) how the brain structure and development affects behavior but also how behavior affects brain structure and development.

    Mark Lieberman over at Language Log blog was so, um, inspired by Brizendine’s “The Female Brain” (not!) that he pointed out some forms of scientific “research” have taken the place of Sunday School stories — not popular so much because they’re true (they’re often not) but because they reinforce how the authors, and their readers, think we ought to live.

    The upshot, unfortunately, is that Brizendine’s reassurances that “it’s just that way” are going to make her a lot more welcome on, say, Oprah or Dr. Phil than Eliot.



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