Sex, Gender and the Sacred

The road to the sacred runs through the carnal. Not only the Bible but Life itself reveals that sexuality is more spiritual than biological. The erotic is God's poetry of love calling us out of ourselves to awareness of beauty and to an expansive creativity and giving of ourselves. We go to God through one another, via loving, not apart from one another. --Paschal.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Fascinating new stuff on the female brain and gender differences.

Questions for Dr. Louann Brizendine
He Thought, She Thought
By DEBORAH SOLOMON
New York Times Sunday Magazine, Dec 10

Q: As a professor of neuropsychiatry at the University of California, San Francisco, you’ve drawn some strange conclusions about “The Female Brain,� to borrow the title of your debut book, which argues that a woman’s brain structure explains a good deal of her behavior, including a penchant for gossiping and talking on the phone.

The hormone of intimacy is oxytocin, and when women talk to each other, they get a rush of it. For teen girls especially, when they’re talking about who’s hooking up with whom, who’s not talking to whom, who you like and don’t like — that’s bedrock, that excites the girl’s brain.

You make it sound as if female friendship and affection is just a search for oxytocin.

Sixth-grade teachers will tell you that girls get up and go to the bathroom together; girls say they have to go at the same time. They need to go off and intimately exchange the important currency of their day, which increases their oxytocin and dopamine levels.

Your book cites a study claiming that women use about 20,000 words a day, while men use about 7,000.

The real phraseology of that should have been that a woman has many more communication events a day — gestures, words, raising of your eyebrows.

Are you concerned that you are rehabilitating outdated gender stereotypes that portray women as chatterboxes ruled by female hormones?

A stereotype always has an aspect of truth to it, or it wouldn’t be a stereotype. I am talking about the biological basis behind behaviors that we all know about.

Were there any research findings you were reluctant to include in your book because they could be used to bolster sexist thinking?

Any of this could be taken badly. I worried, for instance, that stuff about pregnancy and the mommy brain could be taken to mean that mothers shouldn’t go to work. The brain shrinks 8 percent during pregnancy and does not return to its former size until six months postpartum.

How big is the average male brain?

It’s about the size of a cantaloupe. It’s 9 to 10 percent larger than the female brain.

But the size of one’s brain is unrelated to one’s level of intelligence, right?

Yes. Remember, the female brain has more connections between the two hemispheres, and we have 11 percent more brain cells in the area of the brain called the planum temporale, which has to do with perceiving and processing language.

If women have superior verbal skills, why have they been subservient to men in almost all societies?

Because of pregnancy. Before birth control, in the 1700s and 1800s, middle-class women were pregnant between 17 and 22 times in their lifetimes. All these eons upon eons, while Socrates and all these guys were sitting around thinking up solutions to problems, women were feeding hungry mouths and wiping smelly behinds.

And yet all human brains begin as female. Or so you claim in your book.

All brains start out with female-type brain circuits until eight weeks of fetal life, when the tiny testicles start to pump out adult-male levels of testosterone that travel in the bloodstream up to the brain. You have to grow all of the basic sex-specific circuitry in the male brain before birth, because that’s when the entire road map is laid down.

Although your book draws heavily on other scientists’ research, you don’t do any clinical research yourself. Isn’t that a drawback?

No. I don’t like doing clinical research because of placebos. In a “double-blind placebo-controlled study,� as they are called, neither the doctor nor the patient knows what the patient is taking. I don’t want to give patients a placebo. It’s cruel.

Not in the long term. How are scientists supposed to find a cure for cancer and more generally advance medicine if no one does controlled tests?

I am glad someone does it, but I’d rather help each female brain that walks into my clinic walk out in better shape.

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