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43 responses to “The science of The Female Brain”

  1. TimT

    Ha! I got in first! Proof positive that men *comment* faster than women!

  2. Zoe

    Yeah, sure TimT. Men just take credit faster.

    I posted about it hours ago.

  3. TimT

    Men just take credit faster.

    No, I’ll take cash or cheque as well …

  4. el

    “a classic in the field of gender studies’… that will have to happen outside the blinkered world of academe.â€?

    Like Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus?

  5. MH

    Grr… like feminisism hasn’t been talking about the incommensurability of difference for decades. Where does Albrectsen get her idea of “feminism” from?

    But that does remind of a study by the US Navy into whether women could be naval aviators. They found they while there were normative differences between men and women, the ranges of abilities between individuals are so great as to make selection based on sex meaningless. There are plenty of women who make better aviators than plenty of men, and vice versa.

  6. Katz

    Janet Albrechtsen reckons she’s onto something here.

    She’s caught wind of a vast leftie luvvie conspiracy to censor certain kinds of knowledge.

    Albrechtsen should be shown the evidence. These lazy, but spasmodically assiduous elites have even falsified books to expunge “inconvenient” citations, aiming to make brave rebels like Louann Brizendine look foolish.

    But I’ll bet that those leftie luvvies aren’t smart enough to beat Janet when she gets on to their case.

    Go Janet!

  7. Anna Winter

    Dammit, you got in first Rob. I’d only gotten as far as the title, which was “Janet Albrechtsen talks too much and is overly emotionalâ€?. Probably for the best…

    Feministe has a good post about it too.

    Mostly though, her column annoyed me from the first sentence:

    So, says Janet Albrechtsen, girls and boys are different after all. D’oh

    When will old people learn that “D’ohâ€? is not the same as “D’uhâ€?? If you can’t use pop culture references properly, don’t use them at all.

  8. ansteybranchopolous

    Women always seem to be more tolerant than men, more forgiving and less likely to kill one another. Any book that demonratises knowledge and breaks down the piffery of femo nazis and academics is a good thing

  9. Rebekka

    I am in a flurry of over-reacting frustration about this article, because blogger won’t publish my posts today, and being a woman I am desperate to get my 20,000 words out, even while stuck at my computer…

    Two things struck me about Albrechtsen’s piece (other than of course confirming my initial and ongoing impression that she is an idiot):
    1. she has no idea what feminism is, and things feminists are all one homogenous mass of women who all believe exactly the same things
    2. she says “Talking about genetic differences between men and women has long been taboo because, according to feminist orthodoxy, if women were different it necessarily meant they were inferior.” Now this is interesting, because she also does exactly what she claims feminists do – assumes that because women are different, we’re inferior, viz:
    “women are more emotional than men. Cutting to the chase, that means girls are more prone to over-reaction than boys.”

    If she wasn’t assuming women were inferior to men, she may have suggested boys are more prone to under-reaction that girls. Or boys are more prone to suppressing their feelings and acting like everything’s fine than girls. Perhaps explaining why boys get more stressed and have more heart attacks, etc, than girls.

    But no, we ladies are prone to over-reaction. Grrr.

    Albrechtsen is living on another planet if she thinks feminists (the homogenous mob that we are) don’t believe there are biological differences between men and women. But that doesn’t make men better – unless you’re a right-wing commentator who’s developed Stockholm syndrome for the patriarchy.

  10. Zoe

    Women always seem to be more tolerant than men, more forgiving and less likely to kill one another.

    Yes, it’s true. For instance, when I read your comments, I feel like stabbing myself in the eye with a fork. If I were more manly, I’d want to stab you.

  11. ansteybranchopolous

    …….sorry men are better at playing footy and holding their booze, relatively. agree with everything else dear.

  12. glen

    wow, what a load of bollocks… can I complicate things a little further and suggest that ‘speech acts’ or whatever you want to call them (combinations of ‘words’), need to be placed alongside other forms of communication. Forms of communication that a linguist would never even register. For example, you’d need a good ethnologist to study the comportment and faciality performed during communication. Differences would be more prevalent between sexes and across class and cultural relations of alterity, rather than across sex differences (wtf has happened to gender in all this???? A masculine woman has a different comportment to a feminine woman.)

  13. Liam

    There’s something really quite wholesome and inspiring about your bigotry, ansteybranchopoulos. It’s all-encompassing, egalitarian, unrestricted and sincerely felt. In fact, I’d go so far as to say you’ve got truly Christ-like intolerance.

  14. TimT

    I’d do anything for you, Marge. I’d die for you. I’d kill for you.

    Please ask me to kill for you … – Homer Simpson

  15. Another Kim

    This is the type of free for all debate I adore!

    I can hardly keep up with all the references.

    I don’t know whose side I can take!

  16. phil

    After 30 years of marriage, my wife still communicates with me in ways I don’t understand.

  17. advocatus diabolis

    I am not bothered who talks more, men or women,

    What I want to know is who listens.

  18. ansteybranchopolous

    well a quick reminder of our inantate differences always gets my missus hot and steamy and we aint married (because its a farcical ceremony built on platitudes and in many cases a sham – but hey the chicks do love to get married)

  19. Zoe

    *removes fork from ocular cavity*

  20. TimT

    Would it be sexist of me to offer you a band aid?

  21. Mark Richardson

    1) Science has now definitely established that male and female brains differ.

    2) It’s a more difficult thing to explain how these differences relate to patterns of male and female behaviour.

    For this reason, it doesn’t surprise me if early attempts to make these links are flawed.

    3) The mainstream of feminism and leftism has been hostile for a long time to the idea that there might be biological, rather than social, reasons for observable gender differences.

    Mary Wollstonecraft, for instance, got stuck into Rousseau for giving “sex to a mind”.

    Recently the Swedish equality minister asserted that,

    The government considers female and male as social constructions, that means gender patterns are created by upbringing, culture, economical conditions, power structures and political ideology.

    A regional government in Sweden also recently stopped publication of a book because it contained an interview with someone who believed that biology played some role (alongside culture) in determining gender difference.

    4) In time the science we are discussing will develop to the point at which the connection between biological difference and patterns of behaviour will be made in a more confident and sophisticated manner.

    Personally, I would be surprised if the verbal difference between men and women isn’t ultimately upheld in some way.

    Think of the way that women chat on the phone for lengthy periods of time, or the fast and furious conversational style of shows aimed at female audiences, such as The Gilmore Girls.

  22. Robert

    “Think of the … fast and furious conversational style of shows aimed at female audiences, such as The Gilmore Girls.”

    … or, you know, The West Wing.

    Shorter Mark Richardson: “Never mind what the science actually says, what it might say, one day, is more accurate and important. Also, Sweden.”

  23. Mark Richardson

    Robert, you’ve misread my comment.

    I think the science has only reached the point of establishing the major biological differences.

    I was just speculating about what it would eventually find regarding everyday patterns of behaviour.

    And why so touchy on the verbal issue? I don’t see why this should be controversial. Either way it doesn’t really matter.

  24. Anna Winter

    Well it is typically male to accuse someone of being touchy when they don’t agree with you.

  25. Gummo Trotsky

    “Think of the … fast and furious conversational style of shows aimed at female audiences, such as The Gilmore Girls.â€?

    … or, you know, The West Wing.

    Or 24. Classic Chick TV.

    Still, it presents an obvious explanation for the slow, leisurely drawl you usually hear in classic westerns, pitched very much at the male market.

    “Aw shuuuucks, piiiilgriiim, Aaaah doaan taaalk laaahk this in reeeahl laaahf – just in theeese hyaaaar mooovies so’s the dumbaaaassses in the aaaaudience kin keeeep up.”

  26. Gummo Trotsky

    Oh and …

    1) Science has now definitely established that male and female brains differ.

    I’m going to go out on a limb here and declare this the most fatuous statement we’ll see posted on this blog this week (now till Saturday). What differences are we talking about precisely? “Science” has identified quite a few, for example:

    1) The average weight of the female human brain is lower than the average weight of male brains – this used to be taken as evidence that women were, on average, dumber than men but these days it’s usually chalked up to women being, on average, shorter and lighter than men (I think).

    2) The female pituitary gland produces two hormones – Luteinising Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) which are involven in the female pituitary cycle (the cycle involves a feedback loop where the pituitary hormone production stimulates ovarian hormone production and the ovarian hormones in turn act on the pituitary – I don’t think we need go into the precise details, which is convenient because I’ve forgot ’em). As far as I know, this doesn’t happen in men – but I may be projecting from my own experience.

    3) Female brains are wired up to a uterus and – er pink bits. Men’s brains are wired up to todgers, the family jewels and some fiddly internal plumbing I don’t propose to describe in detail.

    And no doubt, somewhere in the world, “Science” has been gathering evidence of even more differences as I write this comment. But point 2 in your list, Mark, is looking decidedly dodgy – anyone who doesn’t know how the menstrual cycle and the possession of a uterus might affect female behaviour – and so make it different from that of men with dangly bits – is seriously lacking in savoir vivre.

    Er, what was there to misread in that comment exactly?

  27. Helen

    Mostly though, her column annoyed me from the first sentence:

    So, says Janet Albrechtsen, girls and boys are different after all. D’oh

    When will old people learn that “D’ohâ€? is not the same as “D’uhâ€?? If you can’t use pop culture references properly, don’t use them at all.

    No, I disagree, and I’ve probably seen more episodes of The Simpsons than you have, even if I’m an Old Person™ . “D’oh!” is the slapping the forehead realisation of something stupid you’ve said or done, so the “D’Oh” is a reference to your opponents and their presumed realisation of the error of their feminist ways. I used to use it myself quite a lot. It’s funnier than “Duh” (evoking as it does your stupid Homeresque opponent) and I think as Australians, we should use “Derrr”, which is indigenous. “D’oh” passes because it’s a quotation.

    Anyway, that’s my 2c.

  28. tigtog

    The discussion on Feministe noted an interesting phenomenon:

    Claimed difference: women talk more than men
    Deduced corollary: thus women are timewasting chatterboxes, thus men deserve to hold superior positions in society.
    if the claim were instead that men talked more than women, the corollary would become that men were naturally better communicators, thus men deserve to hold superior positions in society.

    Rinse, lather, repeat for any other difference science demonstrates or self-help authors purport to demonstrate: sexists will hold them up as a valid reason for men to dominate public life, without any logical or scientific validation as to which traits actually are better for which pursuits.

  29. Megami

    What I find interesting is that the article has the typical anti-intellectualism dig : “the book is ‘destined to become a classic in the field of gender studies’… that will have to happen outside the blinkered world of academe.â€? Yet the book is so wonderful because it is (supposedly) based on academic studies? Can someone explain this to me?

  30. tigtog

    No, I can’t explain it, Megami.

    What I love most from the Language Log article, and Rob only touched on it in passing, is that the source of the original claim about female 20,000 words to male 7,000 words is bloody Allan Pease, of the Body Language books that were so popular in the 70s. He repeats a similiar claim over and over in his books without any cite whatsoever (his books of late have all been genderwar stuff instead of the more egalitarian books he wrote up until the 80s). Other authors have picked it up uncritically and passed it on, including Albrechtsen’s admired Brizendine.

    Actual studies show either that there is no gender difference between the number of words per day or speed of speech, or that in fact men speak more, both words and speed. My favourite of such studies was the one where researchers set up a class situation where male and female students were rigorously timed (without their knowledge) to ensure that they spoke for equal lengths of time, and at the end of the class were asked who had spoken more. Everyone, student and teacher, male and female, perceived that the women had had much more thatn their fair share of class time, even though it wasn’t true.

  31. Mark Richardson

    Gummo, it’s not “fatuous” to point out that science has established differences between the male and female brain when there have been leftists in denial over this for (literally) centuries (look up Francois Poullain de la Barre, who in 1673 declared that “the mind has no sex”.) Michael Moore in his list of top mistakes made by his own side included the leftist tendency to deny gender difference.

    And yes, science has been gathering more differences in the structure of the male and female brain than the ones you list. There are many such differences now being researched (here’s an article in Scientific American which gives an overview.)

    Gummo, people are of course going to try to connect these biological differences to the patterns of male and female behaviour we all observe in everyday life. My point was not to claim that the connection doesn’t exist (I’m confident it does), but simply to exercise some caution when we are in the early stages of this branch of science (most of the findings have occurred within the last decade).

  32. Paul Norton

    Perhaps Albrechtsen likes Brizendine because she can now blame biology for the irrationality of her weekly columns.

  33. Laura

    Is The Ponds Institute inside or outside the “blinkered world of academe”?

  34. tigtog

    Michael Moore in his list of top mistakes made by his own side included the leftist tendency to deny gender difference.

    Can you actually quote this leftist tendency from credible sources? I see lots of claiming that gender shouldn’t make a difference in assumptions about ability, not that there is no gender difference in behaviours. Even those who argue that gender is mostly a social construct have never argued that the differences thereby constructed aren’t real and pervasive.

    Also, your argument on the de la Barre quote rests on the conflation of “brain” with “mind”, which is a whole ‘nother argument.

  35. Gummo Trotsky


    That opening sentence of your response certainly broke the limb under me and here I am sitting in the mud with a sore wet arse. Just been to the Concise Oxford to check that I was somewhere in the correct usage ballpark on “fatuous” – the definition given there is “Vacantly silly, purposeless, idiotic”. Then you go and put the word in scare quotes, suggesting you think I have some private notion of the word “fatuous” in mind, which doesn’t correspond with your more mainstream understanding of its meaning and the result is, frankly, fatuous.

    I won’t bore you with the fascinating history of various lapsed medical terms like hysteria, lunacy and dementia praecox – suffice it to say that there are plenty of anatomical, physiological and neurological differences between men and women. Gross – i.e. obvious differences – and more subtle ones. And some of these affect social behaviour – it’s been a long time since I’ve had to see a gynaecologist, for example. Come to think of it, I’ve never had to see a gynaecologist. Funny about that. Your claim (in your first fatuous comment) that science will actually nail down the subtle differences amounts to nothing more that “Sure, ‘Science’ got it wrong in the past, but it’s gunna get it right one day.”

    The liberal position on that – not the straw liberal position you deride on your fatuous blog – is that politically, it’s a big “So what?” You want to talk about the biological differences between men and women – fine, let’s talk about the biological differences between men and women but let’s get it clear from the start that, when it comes to politics, those differences are largely irrelevant – you start using them as an excuse for disenfranchising women and sending them back to the kitchen where they belong or slagging them off for failing to fulfil their proper biological role of being attractive enough to men to eventually marry and squeeze out a few rug-rats and you’re looking for a serious rhetorical kicking. And let’s talk about real differences not folkloric “science” that turns out to be urban myth – the original point of Rob’s post.

    The differences between men and women matter politically to the extent that they might result in different political interests – hence women’s refuges, the interminable pro-choice/pro-life stoush and all the rest of it.

    Must check out Francois Poullain de la Barre, though – he sounds like a bloke who was a bit ahead of his times instead of well behind them.

    I suppose I’d better add that the reason those scare quotes are around ‘Science’ is because science is what scientists do – it’s not “science” that learns things about the world, but the people who practice it. But you don’t have to take my word for that – apparently I’m pretty weak on philosophy of science.

  36. The Historian

    The truly horrifying thing about the gender feminists is that they invariably have absolutely no training in the sciences whatsoever. I recently took a “Gender Studies” course and was stunned that the entire faculty were either sociologists, media studies or cultural studies types.

    It was quite a shock to hear their arrogant dismissal of “biological essentialism” especially when they clearly had no science education.

  37. Katz

    It is quite clear that one can observe manifold gross and subtle differences, to use Gummo’s terms, between male and female anatomy, including brain anatomy.

    It is also quite clear that men and women behave differently enough from each other to have generated millennia of folkloric, cultural, artistic, philosophical, sociological, economic, political observation of this fact.

    What is less clear is how those anatomical differences pattern those behavioural differences. And it may also be true that the influences flow the other way as well, from nurture to nature.

    As discussed by Matt Ridley, genes, i.e., anatomy are all-important. However, not only are the chemical effects of genes influenced by the environment, but development is chanelled in various ways by experience. Organisms modify, select, and construct their own niches, according to the priorities set largely by their genes. Reproductive fitness, the crucial relationship between male and female, lies at the intersection of evolving nature and patterning nurture.


  38. Paul Norton

    Historian, as a B.Sc. (Hons.) I happen to agree with the gender feminists on “biological essentialism”.

    I also agree with the feminist scientist who, in a review for New Scientist on an earlier book asserting the existence of biologically determined differences in intellectual capacities and dispositions between the sexes, pointed out that the stereotypically feminine activity of dressmaking requires high-order spatial skills which the book claimed were lacking amongst women.

  39. FDB

    Well it’s pretty daft to assert that either nature or nurture is the whole story. Just plain ol’ counterintuitive.

    Science is only as good as what you do with it. If some misogynist reads a MSM piece on scientific findings to the effect that ‘women have statistically lower levels of spatial awareness’ and says ‘so that’s why my wife can’t parallel park’ that really shouldn’t devalue the science. But of course it does, because the whole thing devolves into a shitfight about specific value judgements rather than generalities.

    Men are statistically more violent. This is (possibly) (partially) the result of hard-wired brain chemistry. Does that make me violent? No. Do I have to answer for violent men? No.

    Women are statistically more given to empathy and emotional engagement. This is (possibly) (partially) the result of hard-wired brain chemistry. Does this make Anne Coulter a nice person to have around when the chips are down?

  40. Paul Norton

    Just thought I’d add that I have done a t-test comparison of the exam and assignment results for my female and male first year business students at the Gold Coast in Semester One this year. For both assessment items the average mark for the female students was about 6.5% higher than for the malke students. This difference was statistically significant at the 0.05 confidence level for both items.

  41. Brian

    Actually MH said it right up near the top of the thread:

    But that does remind of a study by the US Navy into whether women could be naval aviators. They found they while there were normative differences between men and women, the ranges of abilities between individuals are so great as to make selection based on sex meaningless. There are plenty of women who make better aviators than plenty of men, and vice versa.

    Mark R I read that Scientific American article you linked to when it appeared last year. It had a couple of boxes attached, one saying that the differences are statistical rather than essential if memory serves. If so you can’t infer from the general to the particular, so treating a person according to gender may be highly inappropriate.

    The article does seem to say that in the case of the amygdala, PTSD, propranolol, emotional processing of stressful events etc that all men react one way and all women react another. If so you might be onto something. That is provided that you can rule out the environment entirely.

    I find that psychologists often think that thoughts and feelings are separate from, although connected with, the physical brain. They often talk in terms of “correlates”. They should know better. They should understand that thoughts and emotions are physical events. The notion that they are some kind of abtract, floating ghost is also a physical event in the brain.

    Psychologists were astonished recently to find that brain scans in dyslexic people became normal after teaching them to process language normally. What did they expect?

    So you have to be careful about statements that say that males produce 52% more serotonin than females, hence women are more prone to depression. It could be that women are more prone to depression because they are treated differently, as they grow up and in adult life, and hence their brains produce less serotonin.

    Katz was also onto something, I think. Fair enough, differences at one day old are probably biological. But then these differences can be accentuated through a kind of training effect. For similar reasons tennis players usually have one big arm.

  42. Brian

    I’ve just changed “can’t” to “can” in the last sentence of the third paragraph above.

    Now I’d like to tell you about an experiment undertaken some 45 years ago.

    I was at UQ and we had an unusual lecturer trying to teach us an introductory course on linguistics. I say “trying” because I think he failed. I say “unusual” because he was. He had the habit of tucking his shirt into his underpants. That was OK until his trousers settled down on his hips revealing to all this anomalous manner of dressing. Also you never sat in the front row unless you had a raincoat on as his saliva control wasn’t too good.

    That’s by the way.

    He asked us to do an analysis of sex differences in language. The experiment involved three or four fellas and chicks having seperate recorded conversations in groups divided according to gender. We then transcribed them and put our analytic powers to work.

    I remember the chicks using more adjectives than we did, but wait for it, we used more unique adjectives. The chicks had a habit of repeating what each other said which was not evident in the fellas.

    Yes, the samples were small and the situation a bit phony, but we immediately leapt on the important insight that men were really more imaginative and inclined to stike out boldly in intellectual matters, whereas women spent time massaging each other verbally and were really a bit boring. I don’t recall how the chicks interpreted the experiment, but it was bound to be different!

  43. Bernie

    Talking baby chickens eh? No wonder you did not find them interesting..