How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps – and What We Can Do About It
In the past decade, we’ve heard a lot about the innate differences between males and females. So we’ve come to accept that boys can’t focus in a classroom and girls are obsessed with relationships: “That’s just the way they’re built.”
In Pink Brain Blue Brain, neuroscientist Lise Eliot turns that thinking on its head. Calling on years of exhaustive research and her own work in the field of neuroplasticity, Eliot argues that infant brains are so malleable that small differences at birth become amplified over time, as parents, teachers, peers—and the culture at large—unwittingly reinforce gender stereotypes. Children themselves exacerbate the differences by playing to their modest strengths. They constantly exercise those “ball-throwing” or “doll-cuddling” circuits, rarely straying from their comfort zones.
But this, says Eliot, is just what they need to do. And she offers parents and teachers concrete ways to help. Presenting the latest science from conception to puberty, she zeroes in on the precise differences between boys and girls, reining in harmful stereotypes. Boys are not, in fact, “better at math” but at certain kinds of spatial reasoning. Girls are not naturally more empathetic than boys; just allowed to express their feelings more.
Of course, genes and hormones play a role in creating boy-girl differences, but they are only the beginning. Social factors, such as how we speak to our sons and daughters and whether we encourage their physical adventurousness, are proving to be far more powerful than we previously realized. As a parent, Eliot understands the difficulty of bucking gender expectations, but also the value of doing so.
In an increasingly complex and competitive world, we need our boys to be emotionally intelligent and our girls to be technologically savvy. By appreciating how sex differences emerge—rather than assuming them to be fixed biological facts—we can help all children reach their fullest potential, close the troubling gaps between boys and girls, and ultimately end the gender wars that currently divide us.