Monday, October 08, 2012

Book review: Why Gender Matters

Over the last seven years several of our readers encouraged us to read Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax.   Janine quickly accepted the suggestion, but I was slow in taking the advice. Recently I finally got around to reading the book and I wish I had read it sooner. I liked the book so much I encouraged my older two daughters to read the book.

When Janine and I were first blessed to be parents we tried to encourage our daughters to play with boy toys. We got them Legos, trucks and so on. They used Legos to make beds for their dolls. The trucks were turned into families with the bigger trucks being the parents and the smaller trucks being the babies.

Why Gender Matters explains what happened with our daughters.  The books covers how the average boy and girl brains are different and what that means to both parenting and education. The author even goes so far as to say:

The failure to recognize and respect sex differences in child development has done substantial harm over the past thirty years – such will be my claim throughout the book.” (page 7)

The author reports on study after study that shows the brain wiring and tissue in females is intrinsically different than males. Here are some of the results of various studies:

The left side of the brain in men is specialized for language functions while it is more spread out for women.
New born girls hear better than new born boys.
Girls draw nouns, boys draw verbs.
Boys have a harder time talking about emotions because the part of the brain that talks is not closely connected with the part of the brain that feels.
Boys and girls access risk differently.
Boys and girls feel pain differently.

The author explains how discipline should be different for boys and girls. If a young girl takes another girls doll, you can sit them down and ask them to think about how the other girl felt. By slowly walking the young girl through the experience she’ll literally start to feel the emotions the other girl felt. Often she’ll feel bad enough that she won’t do it again. But it does no good with a young boy. With boys it is better to make sure the boy is supervised and assert your authority in a calm I’m in charge way.

Another interesting thing is with boys aggression often builds friendships. After a serious fight two boys may become best pals. But a fight between two girls normally destroys any chance of friendship. The friendship between girls is typically face-to-face. They’ll talk for hours. The friendship between boys is typically shoulder-to-shoulder. They’ll do things together.

In terms of education girls are more likely to want to do well to please the teacher. Boys are more likely to study if they find the material interesting. Girls are comfortable asking for help. Boys see asking for help as a last resort. The author explains that because the brains of boys and girls development in different sequences most boys really are NOT ready for academics in kindergarten. It is not developmentally appropriate.

The author constantly makes the point that one type of brain isn’t better or worse, just that they are different. We’ve seen a trend in the last couple decades to see boys who act like boys as being broken and needing medication to get them to behave like girls.

I think every parent and every teacher should read this book.  I found it insightful and convincing.  It has improved how I parent and interact with all children.


Katie said...

I'd say it's still important to know your own kids. Because those things are probably "the majority of..." things. Because I know they don't fit me... and that's why I hung out with the boys in middle school. ;)

Elizabeth said...

You should read his other two books, Boys Adrift and Girls on the Edge. They're good, too.

Luke said...

I also think every parent (and teacher and youth worker) should read "Why Gender Matters." We've just started re-reading it with a group of young parents at our church...


Henry Cate said...

Kathy - excellent point. It is impossible to be a good parent if you don't know your children.

Elizabeth - Thanks for the advice!

Luke - Good suggestion.