The Female Brain focuses on the female brain and biology and the differences with the male counterpart.
It has some imperfection and it received much criticism, but overall it’s a good text to gain an overview on female psychology.
- Bullet Summary
- Full Summary
- The Female Brain Criticism
- Real Life Applications
- More than 99% of male and female genetic code is the same, but that 1% impacts everything and makes a big difference
- Men are more about rank and open aggression, women more about building relationships and putting themselves at the center of that web of relationships
- Women’s neurological reality changes much more than men both with age and menstrual cycle
Dr. Brizendine starts The Female Brain saying that at the time of her studies all subjects of research and studies were males.
When she inquired the professor about it, the answer was that “women are too fickle because of their menstrual cycle and would pollute the data”.
She set out to change that.
This summary focuses on the most relevant differences:
Differences Between Women and Men
- Women have 11% more neurons in brain areas for language and hearing
- Emotions and memory formation areas are bigger in women
- Women are better at expressing emotions and remembering details of emotional events
- Men remember as well only when the amygdala is activated (if fear and danger are present)
- Women are better at reading emotions
- Men have larger cores of the most primitive part of the brain: the amygdala which register fears and triggers aggression
- Men will go quicker from 0 to a fight while women tend to defuse conflict
- Men are on average 20 times more aggressive than women (just look at prison’s population)
- Women have better social skills and emotional intelligence than boys
- Women have more up and downs than men
- Men have more activity in visual processing areas (and that’s why they fall in love at first sight more than women)
- Women are more sensitive to touch in the release of oxytocin, which causes bonding
- Men need to be touched 2 to 3 times more to maintain the same level of oxytocin
- Men and women feel anger in the same amount, but:
- Men have bigger amygdala where anger is processed
- Men have more testosterone to stimulate and heighten response to anger
- Women have relatively bigger pre-frontal cortex to control that anger
- Women override their anger response with fear of retaliation and conflict aversion to keep the relationship
- However, when a woman acts on her anger, her faster verbal circuits unleash a barrage of words that a man can’t match (scientists speculate)
- Men are not as good in verbal production and that might cause frustration and escalation of fights (which might lead to physical reaction)
It’s Not True Women Are Less Good At Math
The author mentions the famous speech of Harvard’s president Lawrence Summer, whom in 2005 said that the differences in performances between men in women in the sciences are biological.
Louann Brizendine instead says that women are under-represented in math and sciences not because they are less capable, but because their interests lie elsewhere.
Sciences are more solitary professions, and women are more drawn to professions that allow them to connect.
Women Are All About Social Harmony
The author says that women are programmed to keep social harmony.
And keeping social harmony is a matter of life and death for women even in the 21st century.
The author brings examples from children as well as adults, explaining that girls play as a mean to connect, while men make the game the center stage (and in turn the game becomes a mean for social rank, power and defense of territory).
Men also have verbal production which is more about aggression and status. They brag, command, override others time to speak etc. They do not avoid conflict and aggression and competition is part of their genetic makeup.
Women’s Way to Power
Don’t be fooled by the lack of aggression and conflict.
It doesn’t mean that female brains are not wired to use everything in their power to get what they want.
They simply use a different weapon and defend a different territory: relationships.
Her goal is to organize her world in a web of connections so that she is at the center of it. And she walks a fine line between making sure she’s at the center of her world of relationships without souring those same relationships.
The aggression in women is just different and, in many ways, more subtle.
Women Are Obsessed With Males’ Attention
Women during puberty start shifting their focus and attention to becoming sexually desirable. And they become obsessed with being attractive to boys.
Girls Compete for Male Attention
The teenagers years also bring about heightened competition among women, especially for male’s attention.
They use subtle tools such as spreading rumors to undermine a rival. That way they can cover their tracks and hide their real intention -ie.: “I wasn’t trying to be mean, I’m sorry”-.
The author mentions Mean Girls, and I couldn’t not remember of thinking so lowly of some female classmate of mine during middle school when I saw their games of shunning and exclusion among each other.
Self Esteem Is Based on Relationship
Women’s self esteem is based on maintaining positive and intimate relationship with others. Men self-esteem, on the other hand, is based on being independent from everyone else.
One of the biggest stressors for women is losing their intimate relationships.
Women Better at Spotting Lies to Catch Men
The author mention a speculative evolutionary biology theory postulating that women got better at emotional intelligence to catch men’s lie.
The argument goes that men who were good at telling lies had an advantage in reproducing, and women who were better at emotional intelligence and spotting those lie had an advantage by not falling for those lies.
Cheating & Genes’ Shopping
The author mentions a theory which is well known to people who have been reading on evolutionary psychology: cheating for genes’ shopping.
Brizendine says that women want to settle down with a nurturing men. But once the house is secure they have a “biological urge” to seek around men who have the best genes.
My Note: however, the author than cites “female birds” to back her claim. And well, birds are not really humans, are they.
We have already reviewed this theory on Sperm Wars. The conclusions is that “gene shopping” does indeed exist, but it’s far more limited in humans than some sensation-seeking publications suggest.
Women who are in an adulterous relationships orgasms less with their partner. And since orgasm can help insemination, women seem to unconsciously want to “help”.
That’s why, the author say, men seem to care so much about whether or not their woman reaches an orgasm: it can be a signal that she is being faithful.
My Note: this theory provides no real evidence. If a woman is having an adulterous relationship it can easily be because she likes the other man more, right?
And liking him more could be the explanation of the orgasm instead of “helping” him fertilize her.
The Female Brain Criticism
As it might be expected for a book with strong conclusions and written by a scientist in a popular prose, The Female Brain has received quite some criticism.
A Nature review tears it apart it for being highly unscientific and moves three major criticism against its content:
- It overstates the differences
- It’s unscientific and of overall poor quality
- It focuses too much on hormones without considering the system that secrets and “reads” those hormones
The New York Times review doesn’t go as far as stating that The Female Brain is not a correct account, but makes the point that the lacking bibliography simply doesn’t allow the reader to judge for themselves.
And my personal point of view is that there are brain differences, which in turn are can also be encouraged -as it most often happens- or discouraged by culture.
The book might exaggerate a bit the differences and never mentions that we are talking about average, which means that high variance in the individuals can easily “buck the trend”.
That kind of attitude, coupled with a lacking bibliography, normally invites lots of criticism since the the current political climate prefers to hear that boys and girls are, after all, almost the same.
Real Life Applications
Love & Exclusivity Lead to Orgasm
The author says that exclusivity in a relationship can help women reach orgasm because it removes a worry from their lives and allow them to relax.
Not 100% Scientific
There are several studies and researched quoted, but also several anecdotes, evolutionary biology speculations and her own experience in the clinic. That’s always a rather bad sign for me because personal experience, especially when non systematically tracked, is prone to all kinds of biases.
I found that some information repeat, like for example women and social skills or women and their interest in developing and keeping positive relationships.
I would have preferred a structure more based on clearly defined topics instead of a more free-wheeling one.
Great Overview of Differences
The book provides the reader with an accessible format to understand some basic differences between men and women.
There are several imperfections in The Female Brain -some of them outline above- and, overall, it’s not a scientific text.
However, in spite of much criticism and some flaws most major assertions are, on average, accurate to anyone who’s been reading and observing human nature.
Thus, this book can give the readers a very good overview on the psychological differences between men and women.
Overall, I can recommend The Female Brain.