Val Henson invited a group of women to listen to Dr. Louann Brizendine, the author of The Female Brain, at a Commonwealth Club presentation in San Jose. I'd never been to a Commonwealth Club talk live, nor to the San Jose State Martin Luther King Library, nor to a non-SHDH event with Val, nor a doctor's talk about anything remotely female, and all of these firsts sounded interesting so I rsvp'd positively. We went last night.
On the way down to the talk, Val and I chatted about the upcoming lecture, what we were hoping to learn from the lecture. I was interested in learning about how the female brain differs from the male brain in structural ways, and how (or if) that influences what are generally considered "female traits" of more socialable and able to multitask. I was also curious about how the differences may be attributed to social influences and early development, rather than the actual gender differences.
We should have read the book.
The talk wasn't about the brain in particular, but more of personality and trait differences between the genders. The best part of the talk was the description of the hormonal development of the human brain, but that particular part of the talk was much too short, and the seemingly only scientific part (I preferring the science part to the non-science parts).
Val was a little miffed, also. One of the studies the author quoted had results drawn from not only from a data set much too small to be conclusive, but with only a subset of the data set skewed to the result the author wanted. As Val said, "If you analyze the data the way he did, every data set will reach the same conclusion!"
Worse, that study had an entire book based on it, influencing other researchers in potenially culturally damaging ways.
The hormonal development of the human brain was the best part of the lecture. All human brains start out structurally neutral, which is to say female, for the first eight or so weeks. Around eight weeks, the male embryo starts pumping male hormones (most notably testosterone), which influences the brain development. Turns out, from birth until around age two, brains of both genders pump out the same amount (wasn't sure if the same amount means equivalent for body size, or same gross amount, Brizendine wasn't clear) of hormones as the (young) adult body (like twenties). From two until puberty, there's a lull in the estrogen and testosterone, during which the levels are low and steady. Everyone knows the surge in puberty.
That's about the extent of interestingness of the lecture. The rest seemed to be talks about how women tend to be more depressed, have more of this illness or that, blah blah blah. I guess Brizendine tailored the talk to the audience (there were a lot of mommy and children questions at the end of the talk), but I was still hoping for more of the juicy science facts and less of the, yeah, women are women, and what do you know, blah blah blah this research "supports" some culturally biased notions of women as second class citizens.
Someone should mention that "different" doesn't mean "inferior."
On the ride over to the lecture, Val commented that, in developing countries without any gender bias for science and technology professions, over half (not half, not close to half, but over half) of the students are female.
U.S. culture is way too heavily influenced by gender generalization and gender sterotypes.