Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax MD PhD

An examination of the science of sex differences.

Apart from some outdated and irresponsible advice about breastfeeding (says the LLL leader), I got a lot out of Why Gender Matters, which I listened to on audiobook.

Dr. Sax talks about how the neurological differences between men and women, and how that influences how we perceive the world and the choices we make. He applies it to teaching and to childrearing. In short, his argument is that gender blind education is harmful because it ignores biological hardwiring. Girls can excel in math and boys can excel in art, but they need to be taught these subjects differently. They can get to the same place, but by following different paths.

Interestingly, he says that sexuality has nothing to do with it. A gay man’s brain is still much more similar to a heterosexual man’s brain than it is to a woman’s brain.

Some examples:

The eyes of boys are dominated by the cells that perceive motion and direction. The eyes of girls are dominated by the cells that perceive color, shape, and texture. (Rods & cones, can’t remember which.) A girl will draw a picture with a wide array of colors, because she can see more color diversity than her boy classmate. She will draw faces, because they have lots of inherent variation. A boy will reach for black, silver, and gray crayons, and might just scribble a blur. When asked, he’ll say it’s a rocket or a car or something like that. The girl will be praised because her teacher has been trained to teach children to move towards using colors and detail. The boy will get the message that he is not good at art, and that art is for girls.

Boys and girls use different parts of the brain when thinking about abstract concepts. Girls use the cerebral cortex, meaning that these abstract concepts are unified with everything else they could be thinking about. Boys use the hippocampus, which is isolated from the rest of the brain. So when teaching about numbers, it’s useful to use different pedagogical methods. He uses a fascinating example using Fibonacci numbers that I can’t do justice to, but basically the boys get excited by pure numbers, and then are led to see their application in the wider world. Girls start with the wider world, and then are led back to number theory.

Girls have sharper hearing than boys, so a boy in the back of classroom may appear inattentive when really he just can’t hear his female teacher. A girl sitting in the front of the classroom may think her male teacher is yelling at her.

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