Updates and Corrections to Why Gender Matters
Leonard Sax MD PhDThanks for visiting the Why Gender Matters web site. If you are interested in more information about me - what I believe; how to contact me; or what sort of workshops I lead for teachers, for social workers, for juvenile justice professionals, and for physicians - please visit my personal web site, leonardsax.com.
Why Gender Matters was my first book; my second book was Boys Adrift (Basic Books, 2007); my third book was Girls on the Edge (Basic Books, 2010).
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Chapter 2: female/male differences in VISION. The reality I was trying to understand in this section of chapter 2 is the fact that when you give young children a blank sheet of paper and a box of crayons, most girls draw people, pets, flowers and/or trees. Most boys try to draw a scene of action at a moment of dynamic change. That's a robust empirical finding, valid across race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status. That doesn't mean that ALL boys try to draw a scene of action; some boys draw exactly what the girls draw. But boys are more likely to draw a scene of action, such as a monster attacking an alien; girls are more likely to draw people, pets, flowers, or trees, with lots of colors. The people in the girls' pictures usually have faces, eyes, hair, and clothes; the people in the boys' pictures (if there are any people) often are lacking hair, clothes, often the boys draw mere stick figures in one color. How come? The usual answer "Because that's what we teach them to do" is unpersuasive, as I explain in Why Gender Matters. On the contrary, many of these boys insist on drawing these pictures not because teachers tell them to draw such pictures, but in spite of the teacher's repeated pleas, "Why do you have to draw such violent pictures? Why can't you draw something nice - like what Emily drew?"
But my discussion here falters when I try to link this research to female/male differences in the retina of the rat. For a much better discussion of this topic -- female/male differences in VISION -- please see chapter 5 of my third book, Girls on the Edge, especially the sections "All our girls love physics" beginning on p. 132, "Would you rather play with a truck or a doll?" on p. 134, and "Monkeys, girls, boys, and toys" on p. 136, where I share Professor Gerianne Alexander's hypothesis regarding female/male differences in the "P system" and the "M system" in the human visual system. You will also find much stronger scholarly support provided in chapter 5 of Girls on the Edge than I provided in chapter 2 of Why Gender Matters. In my defence, many of the key articles I cited in 2010 in Girls on the Edge- such as Kim Wallen's work on female/male differences in the toy preferences of monkeys, or Katrin Amunt's work on female/male differences in human visual cortex - had not been published when Why Gender Matters was published in 2005.
Chapter 2: female/male differences in HEARING. The reality I was trying to understand in this section of chapter 2 was my own repeated observation, over many years of clinical practice, that some young boys who had been diagnosed by other practitioners as having ADHD, suddenly did much better in the classroom, and no longer needed to be on medication, simply by moving them to a classroom with a teacher who spoke more loudly - about 8 decibels more loudly. It was much less common to find a same-age girl who did much better in a classroom where the teacher spoke more loudly. So far so good. I tried to explain this observation with reference to female/male differences in threshold auditory acuity. That was simply a mistake on my part. Female/male differences in threshold auditory acuity 1) are pretty much irrelevant to any observation regarding supra-threshold stimuli, and 2) are much too small to account for the observation that these boys benefited when teachers spoke about 8 to 10 dB more loudly. Female/male differences in threshold auditory acuity - comparing girls and boys the same age - are only on the order of 3 dB or less, usually less.
In my defence, two of the key papers which lead to the correct explanation of this phenomenon - by Professor Ken Norwich and his colleagues at the University of Toronto - were only published in 2007 and 2009, respectively. Why Gender Matters was published in February 2005. For an updated and far more accurate explanation of why SOME boys need teachers to speak more loudly in the classroom, please read my October 2010 article entitled Sex differences in hearing, which you can download in full as a PDF by clicking on this link, along with two scholarly supplements not found in the print edition. My October 2010 article greatly expands, updates, and corrects my discussion of this topic in chapter 2 of Why Gender Matters.
Chapter 5: female/male differences in mathematics instruction. The reality I was trying to understand in this section of chapter 5 is the fact that many middle-school boys seem to learn algebra better when you start with numbers, whereas many same-age girls seem to be more engaged if you start with a word problem. For example, if you are teaching equations in multiple variables, the typical 7th-grade boy will do better if you begin by asking "If x + 2y = 60, and 2x + y = 90, how do we solve for x and y?" But the typical 7th-grade girl will be more engaged if you begin by asking "If a sweater and two blouses cost $60, and two sweaters and a blouse cost $90, how much does each blouse and each sweater cost?" That again is a robust finding, confirmed by classroom observation in diverse settings. I have visited more than 300 schools in the past 11 years, not only in the United States but also in Australia, Bermuda, Canada (Alberta, British Columbia, Nova Scotia, and Ontario), England, Mexico, New Zealand, and Scotland. (You can review lists of my visits to schools from 2005 to the present at leonardsax.com.) This finding is valid whether you are in Pittsburgh PA or Perth WA (Western Australia); it is valid whether the students are affluent or low-income; it is valid whether the students are Black or White, etc. Again, I'm not suggesting that EVERY boy does better with equations than with word problems; that is certainly not true. But the TYPICAL boy does better with equations than with word problems, whereas many girls are more engaged if you begin with the word problem and then work your way back to the equation. So far so good. The problem is that I tried to 'explain' that finding by referring to a study of spatial navigation in German college students. That study isn't really relevant, 1) because spatial navigation is not the same task as algebraic problem-solving, and 2) because students at university are many years older than students in middle school. The problem is that we didn't have a functional MRI study of middle-school-age girls and boys doing algebra problems - and we still have no such study. We do now have one study, by Katherine Keller and Vinod Menon of Stanford University, published in the journal Neuroimage in 2009, showing quite striking female/male differences in brain regions activated during arithmetic computation - but the subjects are adults (mean age 24 years), not adolescents, and one of the major points I emphasize in Why Gender Matters and elsewhere is that what's true for adults may not be true for 13-year-olds. You may download the full text of the Keller/Menon study, at no charge, by clicking on "Gender Differences in the Functional and Structural Neuroanatomy of Mathematical Cognition".
"Until recently, there have been two groups of people: those who argue sex differences are innate and should be embraced and those who insist that they are learned and should be eliminated by changing the environment. Sax is one of the few in the middle -- convinced that boys and girls are innately different and that we must change the environment so differences don't become limitations."
-- TIME Magazine, cover story; click here to read the original story
Praise for Why Gender Matters:
". . . a lucid guide to male and female brain differences. . ."
The New York Times
"When I was a college freshman, a male teaching assistant I sought help from told me matter-of-factly that women were not good at inorganic chemistry. Had I been armed with Why Gender Matters, about how biological differences between the sexes can influence learning and behavior, I could have managed an informed rejoinder to go along with my shocked expression. . . . Using studies as well as anecdotes from his practice and visits to classrooms, [Sax] offers advice on such topics as preventing drug abuse and motivating students. . . . The book is thought-provoking, and Sax explains well the science behind his assertions. . . [Why Gender Matters] is a worthy read for those who care about how best to prepare children for the challenges they face on the path to adulthood."
Scientific American Mind
"Convincing. . . Psychologist and family physician Leonard Sax, using 20 years of published research, offers a guide to the growing mountain of evidence that girls and boys really are different. . . This extremely readable book also includes shrewd advice on discipline, and on helping youngsters avoid drugs and early sexual activity. Sax's findings, insights and provocative point-of-view should be of interest and help to many parents."
-New York Post
"As the principal of an elementary school, I am constantly on the lookout for outstanding articles and books about gender-specific learning differences. Why Gender Matters is the best I've read."
-John Webster, Head of School, the San Antonio Academy
"Why Gender Matters is an outstanding work of scholarship. I am going to make it our 'faculty read' this summer."
-Paul Krieger, Headmaster, Christ School (North Carolina)
"Extremely interesting . . . Challenged many of my basic assumptions and helped me to think about gender in a new way."
Joan Ogilvy Holden, Head of School, St. Stephen's School, Alexandria, Virginia
"I simply will never be able to express how eye-opening this book has been for me. Yes me -- even though I thought I was a boy-raising specialist. After all, I have produced four healthy and smart athletes. I must know what I'm doing. But many of my boy-raising days I thought I was going mad. I'd come home from some sports event trembling because of the way the coach yelled at my kid. I'd ask my husband and whichever son it happened to be that day how they could stand being yelled at like that. Almost every time husband and son would look at me and not have any recollection of being yelled at during the game. Now I understand!!!!!!!!!"
-Janet Phillips, mother of four boys, Seneca, Maryland
"Why Gender Matters is an instructive handbook for parents and teachers . . . to create ways to cope with the differences between boys and girls."
-The Boston Globe
"Outstanding book, required reading for any parent."
Timothy Lundeen, father, San Francisco, California
"Fascinating . . . This book is interesting because it takes an 'outside the box' position on gender. Paradoxically, Sax says, gender-neutral education favors the learning style of one sex or the other, and so only drives men and women into the usual stereotyped fields. The best way to raise your son to be a man who is caring and nurturing, says Sax, is to first of all let him be a boy. The best way to produce a female mathematician is to first of all let her be a girl. . . I think Sax is on to something. Mature men and women do draw on qualities that stereotypically belong to the opposite sex. But the easiest way to get them to that point is to first make them confident about being a man or a woman. . . Sax adds that children are less happy and confident nowadays because no one is teaching them how to be men and women. This is a powerful, even obvious insight, once you dare think it. . . In quick succession, with Mary Eberstadt's Home Alone America and Leonard Sax's Why Gender Matters, we've seen two important, creative, and politically incorrect takes on family life and childhood."
-Stanley Kurtz, National Review Online.
After graduating Phi Beta Kappa from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1980 with a bachelor's degree in biology, Dr. Sax began the combined M.D.-Ph.D. program at the University of Pennsylvania. He graduated from Penn in 1986 with a Ph.D. in psychology and the M.D. degree. He went on to do a 3-year residency in family practice at Lancaster General Hospital in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Since completing that residency in 1989, he has been in clinical practice as a family physician. In 1990, he launched private medical practice in suburban Montgomery County, Maryland, about 30 minutes northwest of the District of Columbia. He practiced in the same location, serving families in the same small town, for 18 years (1990 - 2008). In June 2008, Dr. Sax began an extended sabbatical from medical practice in order to spend more time working with schools to test and implement gender-aware strategies in the classroom and schoolwide.
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