"He Said, She Said." How Men's and Women's Brains Differ

BlogHer Original Post

The tagline for the 4th Annual Invent Your Future Conference for Women is: "Inspire, Revive and Empower Your Career." The opening keynote session provided an interesting suggested perspective by which to empower both your career and your home life through understanding the differences between how male and female brains work.

Model of human brain

The keynote session kicked off with a presentation from Louann Brizendine, M.D., a neuroscientist and professor of psychiatry and author of the books: The Female Brain and The Male Brain. Dr. Brizendine's books harness research in psychology and neurology to explain how men and women think about, perceive and analyze the world around them and to help demystify each sex to the other. Being able to take a look through the other's eyes can potentially facilitate working and personal relationships by helping us understand that often it isn't us, it's just they way their brains work.

Dr. Brizendine shared some of her findings with the female crowd about male development. She told us that the brain of a fetus is essentially female until 8 weeks at which point testosterone floods in, marinates the brain and testicles start to grow. Testosterone also increases 200-250% in boys around the ages of 9-15. One result is that the what she calls the area of the brain for sexual pursuit in men is 2.5 times larger than in those of women. Unsurprisingly, she argues that men tend to think about body parts (theirs and ours) more frequently than do women.

Those were just a few of the fun brain and body facts that Dr. Brizendine shared with us. What it all adds up to is the clear need for all of us to understand broadly how men and women tend to operate differently while respecting individual differences that make us like snowflakes despite our biological drives.

After her presentation, Dr. Brizendine was joined by two panelists: Eunice Azzani, Partner, Azzani Search Consultants and Shaunti Feldhan, author of The Male Factor.

The panelists shared quite a few suggestions for how women can successfully navigate a workplace full of men. One point was that if we were going to a business meeting in another country we would anticipate and prepare for understanding the cultural differences and make an effort to adjust and proceed accordingly. Even though working with the opposite sex can pose similar challenges we don't take advantage of the same opportunities to understand differences and look for informative moments.

Another idea raised is that women should use our "natural" talents and instincts rather than subdue them in an effort to be like men. The panelists noted that often those traits which are seen as male and rewarded that women try to adopt can be obnoxious and ones that even men dislike. Women are better served by learning to approach conversations strategically and keeping in mind that humor can be an effective tool in many situations.

There are a number of critics of Dr. Brizendine's work and in general critiques of and challenges to efforts to reduce human behavior to biological determinism, especially when perceived as a way of absolving people of responsibility for their behavior. However, the session ended with solid advice: take the opportunity to honor and understand individual as well as gender differences in both the workplace and at home as spouses and parents. We are all better off and empowered by doing so.

Additional Reading:

Diana Kapp in Elle magazine: The Male Brain: Neuropsyciatrist Louann Brizendine on her inevitably best-selling new book

Tal Yarkoni at [citation needed]: the male brain hurts, or how not to write about science

Elisha Goldstein, Ph.D. at Psych Central: Love, Sex, and the Male Brain: A Controversy

Poornima Vijayashanker at Femgineer: Careers of the Future: Which One is Right for You?

BlogHer CE Her Bad Mother: From The Shocking! News! Files: New Moms Get Brain Farts

BlogHer member Michele Coppola: Defending The Cavewoman

BlogHer CE Devra Renner: Which Head Is a Man Using When He Cheats? According to a New Book, It's Not the Little One

BlogHer Contributing Editor Maria Niles blogs marketing at Fizz from ConsumerPop. You can also read her Marketing 101 series here at BlogHer.

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