Everything 'The Female Brain' Gets Wrong About the Female Brain
Read the full article at Newsweek.
Friday saw the U.S. release of The Female Brain—a movie based on Louann Brizendine’s best-selling but widely criticized 2006 book of the same name. Documenting the “science” behind heterosexual relationship woes, both the movie and book tread some pretty familiar gender-stereotyping ground. Think Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus—but with brain scans.
The Female Brain movie follows the fictionalized “Julia” Brizendine: a neuroscientist who explains the relationship dynamics of her friends through her research. But how accurate is the science in the film?
Newsweek spoke to five experts from the fields of neuroscience, psychology and even social neuroendocrinology to get to the bottom of the question: are female and male brains really that different?
Do hormones make women obsessive?
Hormones are presented—in the film and throughout pop culture—as key drivers of human behavior. According to the movie depiction of Brizendine, women can limit the secretion of “flight or fight” cortisol by “getting obsessed with details.”
Sari van Anders, a social neuroendocrinologist from the University of Michigan, told Newsweek: “There is literally no evidence for this effect, much less its explanation. Any scientist who made a claim like this without attending to the huge volume of science and scholarship about gender and work is not doing science.”
Using hormones as an explanation for sex-based behavior differences relies on a link that is vastly overstated.
Van Anders said: “Indeed, one of the most important recent understandings within hormones and behavior is that scientists can find much stronger evidence of social behaviors changing hormones in humans, than hormones changing behavior.”
It’s not that hormones have nothing to do with sex and gender, van Anders said, but rather that our social and cultural experiences of gender can actually affect our hormonal make-up.
While The Female Brain claims to promote the cause of women—that women and men are different, but neither is better—the comparisons made in the movie frequently position women as a problem to be solved because they differ from men, van Anders added.
“What some see as a minor linguistic issue is actually quite telling in painting men as the reference or norm,” she said.