A Bay Area scientist, a female scientist we might add, has just released a book called "The Female Brain," which lays out some of the scientific differences in brain development between boys and girls and how those differences affect communication skills, learning, etc. Newsweek has a story on the book's launch in this week's issue and a Today Show segment this morning teased viewers with the "controversial" findings. Upon reading the Newsweek article and accompanying blog posts, we have to say, what's the controversy? Granted, we've yet to read the book (copy is on it's way) but why is the very suggestion that men and women might be different automatically interpreted to mean that women are inferior? In researching other news stories on the book I came across an article written a year and a half ago in the San Francisco Chronicle by Joan Ryan, shortly after Harvard President Lawrence Summers suggested that brain differences might be the reason why there were so many more men in tenured positions in science and engineering at the country's top schools. Stemming more from opinion than science, Summers was blasted for his comments and has since apologized repeatedly. In developing her column on the topic Ryan interviewed Louann Brizendine, who was in the midst of working on "The Female Brain," to get her perspective. What followed was an illuminating discussion on how understanding brain differences between boys and girls might lead to more effective education techniques in high school to help girls do better in math and sciences and boys increase their language skills. Other scientific work in areas like heart disease have recently uncovered dramatic differences between the ways men and women experience chest pain and heart attacks, which has helped increase early detection and saved lives. No similar public outcry erupted about women's hearts being judged different and therefore inferior, but the brain seems to be hitting a whole different nerve, particularly among women. As quoted in Newsweek
Books like this "are bad for my blood pressure," she says. Dr. Nancy C. Andreasen, a psychiatrist and neuroimaging expert at the University of Iowa's medical school, says nurture plays such a huge role in human behavior that focusing on biology is next to meaningless. "Whatever measurable differences exist in the brain," says Andreasen, "are used to oppress and suppress women."
Imagine if heart specialists would have had the same reaction? Ms. Ryan's closing paragraph to her article in the Chronicle stated it best:
The differences of the male and female brains are what they are: biological facts devoid of social or political judgment. But what we do about those differences is completely about social and political judgment. We can ignore the research and cling to our ideology that gender equality means gender sameness. Or we can use the information to bring us closer to real equality, the kind that doesn't mistake difference for inferiority, and one that values all those striving toward the mountain top, no matter their route or the speed by which they travel.