Why Gender Matters, Part 1

Why Gender Matters, Part 1

So far I’ve read about half of Dr. Leonard Sax’ important book, Why Gender Matters, and thought I’d share some of his ideas and theories. It’s an immensely valuable work; gender is taken for granted and even purposely ignored in our silly, secular culture. I have a friend who is offended when people call her baby boy a boy, asking that people refer to him as a “child” or as a “human.” Apparently labeling a child as a boy or a girl is discriminatory and enforces “gender stereotypes.” If you’re shaking your head at this right now, you’re in good company.

Dr. Sax’s book is built on the premise that gender stereotypes (girls being given dolls and boys baseballs) actually have very little to do with the way a child (boy or girl) develops and learns. He provides solid, scientific evidence that boys and girls brains are organized completely differently and therefore what a child happens to play with is largely irrelevant to the entire debate. Additionally, calling one of the sexes  “better” or “worse” or “smarter” or “dumber” than another is like trying to apply value to a spoon versus a knife. They’re utilized and function in different ways, but they’re equally useful. The book is written for teachers and parents looking at the best ways to educate their children. For instance, Dr. Sax dispels the myth that it’s harder to get boys to like reading and denies it as patently false, pointing out that boys like books with strong male characters who do unpredictable things (Huckleberry Finn, Treasure Island etc.) (page 111). Girls generally enjoy books that focus on emotions and relationships. If children are given books that they’re interested in, the chances of them enjoying a lifetime of reading skyrockets!

He also points out that girl friendships are about “being together, spending time together, talking together and going places together. Friendships between boys usually develops out of a shared interest in a game or activity” (page 83). Boys and girls also fight differently with their friends. Dr. Sax points out that physical wrestling between boys can actually strengthen their relationship, whereas with girls a fight will include a lot of not speaking to each other and will generally last much longer than any dispute between boys. Children, like adults, face conflict at home and at school. When teaching children how to respond to and understand conflict, gender differences are extremely important to understand.

Another underlying point that the author makes throughout the book is that we really cannot and should not think that teaching by itself can overcome the way the brain develops, relevant both in debates about gender and about the development of children’s brains. He elaborates:

The unspoken assumption behind the push to teach reading and writing in kindergarten is that earlier exposure will guarantee improved performance. But that assumption is valid only if what you’re teaching is developmentally appropriate for your students. If you try to teach your seven-year-old kid to drive a car, you won’t end up with a better driver. Starting kids reading before they’re ready to read can actually boomerang and turn them off to reading (page 95).

God made our brains to develop at certain paces and, as is true with many adults, we have to work charitably with the way God made them. Rushing doesn’t usually help things, but patience and the acceptance of God’s timing can do wonders.

Understanding that boys and girls are fundamentally different is so important for the future of our culture. Dr. Sax points out that “sex differences in childhood are larger and more important than sex differences in adulthood” (page 93). The conclusion one can draw from this is that in order to move forward as a society, it is imperative for us to understand, nurture and even cater to the different way God made boys and girls.  As Catholics, we believe that gender not only matters, it informs who we are; male and female He created them.  Dr. Sax makes it clear that he is not looking to push social or political agendas, but he is looking to dispel the myth that men and women are the same or that gender doesn’t matter. The differences lie in the very way God made our brains! In other words, dress your baby boy up in pink all you like, he’ll still be more likely to draw verbs more than nouns and have more trouble expressing his emotion. That’s not society talking, it’s God’s design!