male and female brain

This Truth About Males and Females Will Change Your View of Sex, Love, and Life Forever

In my latest book, 12 Rules for Good Men, that will come out later this year, I explore what I’ve learned in the last fifty years doing men’s work. In it, I report on a new study that offers startling new evidence to support the reality that there are significant, brain-based differences between males and females.

My colleague, Michael Gurian, has been reporting on male/female differences in brain function for decades. In a recent a video blog, posted on April 11, 2019, he updates the research that has been going on for more than 40 years and shares evidence from a new study that shows brain differences, in utero, long before the effects of gender socialization.

Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D., is a family physician, PhD psychologist, and author of Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge. In a recent Psychology Today article describing the study, “A New Study Blows Up Old Ideas About Girls and Boys,” he asks, “Is gender a mere tool of the patriarchy or is it hardwired prior to birth?

Dr. Sax discusses the work of Berkeley professor Judith Butler, author of Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity, who is best known for the idea that “male” and “female” are merely social constructs. He notes that Butler is a professor of comparative literature, not a neuroscientist, but her ideas about gender have become widely accepted worldwide in the nearly 30 years since the publication of Gender Trouble.

Cordelia Fine, professor of historical and philosophical studies at the University of Melbourne, has a similar perspective to Butler’s. In her 2017 book Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society, she asserted that any claims that women and men differ significantly in brain or behavior are simply myths perpetuated by our sexist culture.

While accepting that there certainly are social and cultural aspects to gender differences, Sax is concerned that ignoring the research on brain differences limits our understanding of who we are as males and females.

“The worldview promulgated by Butler, Fine, and their followers now constrain what neuroscientists are allowed to say in public,” says Dr. Sax. “A professor of neurophysiology at Lund University in Sweden recently told undergraduates that the categories of female and male are, to some degree, biological realities rather than social constructs and that some differences in behavior between women and men might, therefore, have a biological basis. He was promptly denounced by students who claimed that his remarks were ‘anti-feminist.’ The dean of the medical school duly launched an investigation.”

It’s difficult to separate the effects of “nature vs nurture” because they are intimately related. Once the doctor announces “It’s a boy” or “you have a beautiful baby daughter,” we begin the process of socializing our children to behave in certain ways.

That’s why the recent study using fetal MRI scans to show significant female/male brain difference, is so significant. In reviewing the study, Dr. Sax notes that the researchers were able to do MRI scans on pregnant mothers in the second and third trimesters, with sufficient resolution to image the brains of the babies inside the uterus and they found dramatic differences between female and male brains.

Take a look at this scan from the study:

It shows differences in female connections between the left cerebellum (CB) and the left superior frontal gyrus (SFG), and between the left temporal pole and the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC) compared with males. Remember these are scans of babies in utero, long before sex and gender socialization could occur.

A great deal of research has demonstrated that there are significant brain differences between males and female adults, that female brains show greater connections from one side to the other. But this is the first research that shows clearly there are differences between males and females that occur prenatally.

So, who is right? Are sex differences biologically based or the result of gender socialization? Some want to choose one side or the other. In a world where sex differences are still used to justify keeping men and women in their separate boxes and constraining who they can become, some would side with “nurture over nature.” For those who support the status quo, they side with “nature over nurture.”

The good news is that we don’t have to choose sides. Both are true. There are, in fact, important biologically based differences between males and females. But just because something is biologically based, or even part of our genetic heritage, doesn’t mean it can’t be changed. The new science of epigenetics has proven that. Further, biologically based differences don’t need to be used to restrict what we can do or who we can become.

There are also many aspects of what we’ve come to see as “inherently male” or “inherently female,” differences that are social constructs and can, and must, be changed.

Let’s stop trying to win the battle of the sexes and recognize that males and females are different and alike, that nature and nurture can’t be separated, and the truth can set us all free, if we’re willing to let the truth change our hearts and minds.

I look forward to your comments, thoughts, feelings, and ideas.  My popular ebook, Mr. Mean: Saving Your Relationship from the Irritable Male Syndrome, is still available. Check it out here and learn what nature and nurture have to do with male anger.

Image by ElisaRiva from Pixabay

This article first appeared on Jed’s blog.

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