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Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences [Paperback]

Leonard Sax
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 14 2006
Are boys and girls really that different? Twenty years ago, doctors and researchers didn’t think so. Back then, most experts believed that differences in how girls and boys behave are mainly due to differences in how they were treated by their parents, teachers, and friends.

It's hard to cling to that belief today. An avalanche of research over the past twenty years has shown that sex differences are more significant and profound than anybody guessed. Sex differences are real, biologically programmed, and important to how children are raised, disciplined, and educated.

In Why Gender Matters, psychologist and family physician Dr. Leonard Sax leads parents through the mystifying world of gender differences by explaining the biologically different ways in which children think, feel, and act. He addresses a host of issues, including discipline, learning, risk taking, aggression, sex, and drugs, and shows how boys and girls react in predictable ways to different situations.

For example, girls are born with more sensitive hearing than boys, and those differences increase as kids grow up. So when a grown man speaks to a girl in what he thinks is a normal voice, she may hear it as yelling. Conversely, boys who appear to be inattentive in class may just be sitting too far away to hear the teacher—especially if the teacher is female.

Likewise, negative emotions are seated in an ancient structure of the brain called the amygdala. Girls develop an early connection between this area and the cerebral cortex, enabling them to talk about their feelings. In boys these links develop later. So if you ask a troubled adolescent boy to tell you what his feelings are, he often literally cannot say.

Dr. Sax offers fresh approaches to disciplining children, as well as gender-specific ways to help girls and boys avoid drugs and early sexual activity. He wants parents to understand and work with hardwired differences in children, but he also encourages them to push beyond gender-based stereotypes.

A leading proponent of single-sex education, Dr. Sax points out specific instances where keeping boys and girls separate in the classroom has yielded striking educational, social, and interpersonal benefits. Despite the view of many educators and experts on child-rearing that sex differences should be ignored or overcome, parents and teachers would do better to recognize, understand, and make use of the biological differences that make a girl a girl, and a boy a boy.

Frequently Bought Together

Why Gender Matters: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences + Boys Adrift: The Five Factors Driving the Growing Epidemic of Unmotivated Boys and Underachieving Young Men + Girls on the Edge: The Four Factors Driving the New Crisis for Girls - Sexual Identity, the Cyberbubble, Obsessions, Environmental Toxins
Price For All Three: CDN$ 40.20


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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

In the feminist conception of gender flexibility, no set rules apply: girls can play with trucks; boys can play with dolls. But pediatrician and psychologist Sax argues that our theories about gender's fluidity may be wrong and to apply them to children in their formative years is quite dangerous. Sax believes the brains of boys and girls are hardwired differently: boys are more aggressive; girls are more shy. And deliberately changing a child's gender—in cases of intersex (hermaphrodism) or accident (as in the case of David Reimer, who was raised as a girl after a hideous circumcision mishap)—can ruin a child's life. Sax also believes modern gender philosophy has resulted in more boys being given behavior-modifying drugs and more girls being given antidepressants. Much of his argument makes sense: we may have gone to the other extreme and tried too hard to feminize boys and masculinize girls. Sax makes a compelling argument for parents and teachers to tread lightly when it comes to gender and raises important questions regarding single-sex education, which he supports. His readable prose, which he juxtaposes with numerous interviews with school administrators, principals, scientists and others, makes this book accessible to a range of readers.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Review

"...a lucid guide to male and female brain differences." — David Brooks, The New York Times

Why Gender Matters is a fabulous resource for teachers and parents. Dr. Sax combines his extensive knowledge of the research on gender issues with practical advice in cogent, highly readable prose. I am eager to have my colleagues at school read this book and discuss it!” —Martha Cutts, Director of Upper School, National Cathedral School, Washington, D.C.

“In this reader-friendly book, Dr. Sax combines his comprehensive knowledge of the scientific literature with numerous interesting case studies to argue for his thesis that single-sex education is advantageous.” —Dr. Sandra Witelson, Albert Einstein/Irving Zucker Chair in Neuroscience, McMaster University

“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


Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book, as well as Leonard Sax's "Boys Adrift" and "Girls on the Edge", have completely changed my approach to teaching, begginning 6 years ago when I first read Boys Adrift. As a result, the boys in my class have soared and the girls with them. It has also changed my views on parenting, as the father of a 3 year old. I wouldn't recommended if it wasn't worth the time to read. I have read it 4 times thus far.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Never too late to learn Dec 7 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A friend at our parish recommended this book as a guide to help me understand my new grandson. I wish that I had had it when we were raising our two daughters 30-some years ago! In fact, it would have saved a lot of missed signals if I had been able to read it before I got married.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Incredibly Interesting Nov. 12 2008
Format:Paperback
This book was recommended to me by a friend, it is extremely interesting. Dr. Leonard Sax explains the differences between boys and girls, how they learn differently, communicate differently and how we need to communicate with them so they can learn more effectively. It's easy to read and understand. I have 2 boys and a 1 girl, glad to have this book to refer to. I have also heard him speak at a school in town, he's very good!
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
By Patrick
Format:Paperback
My cousin, who is a teacher, said this book was great. In the first few chapters, it seemed like that woudl be the case. His hypothesis was intriguing, at least. But is devolved very quickly into an overview of Sacks' weird or outdated opinions (with no scientific basis) on a variety of topics. Brutal. I wish I could get my money back.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.3 out of 5 stars  126 reviews
66 of 78 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Worth Reading Feb. 28 2005
By Philip Trubey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
We have a whole library shelf of pregnancy, baby, and now parenting books that my wife has bought over the past few years. I've had a hard time getting the enthusiasm to delve into many of these. However, as the father of a 4 year old daughter and now new twin boys, this particular book looked intriguing. Well, I couldn't put it down. Not only is it well written with engaging anecdotes, but it presents the latest scientific findings in gender research (with lots of footnotes so you can read the studies yourself if you are so inclined) and relates it to the job of parenting. It helps that the author is a family doctor who has seen his share of dysfunctional situations that in hindsight might easily have been prevented with a little knowledge.

The book is more than just informative about gender differences in children - he relates this information to such parenting topics as disciplining your child, gender specific education strategies, dealing with problem children, kids and drugs (both the legal and non-legal kind), and teenage sex.

Even if you don't agree with everything the author says, I think you'll learn a lot by reading this book.
14 of 15 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challenging some modern stereotypes Jan. 12 2006
By Gene Zafrin - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
The book's main premise is that on average boys and girls are significantly different. To support this thesis, Sax mentions a number of recent studies on the differences of male and female brains. Teenage girls, for example, handle negative emotions within prefrontal cortex: the same area of the brain that is responsible for the language. Teenage boys, on the other hand, use amygdala, a separate area of the brain. Sax concludes that for this reason a teenage girl finds it much easier to talk about how she feels than a teenage boy does. The same is true about math: girls process it in the prefrontal cortex and boys in a separate part, hippocampus. So, the book says, boys would find it easier to understand math if it were explained to them as pure science, and girls would learn the same material more quickly if it was presented in connection with real life.

The science is explained on a very basic level, no prior knowledge necessary. Although, sometimes the thoughts are not extended to a logical conclusion. For example, throughout the book Sax assumes that the closer parts of the brain are the better communication among them. Even though this seems reasonable, some supportive evidence would have been useful. And what if girls' math processing in prefrontal cortex simply means that talking about math comes easier to them than to boys?

Still, that male and female brains are different on average and react differently to the same stimuli seems fairly commonsensical. In this context, Sax's argument for single-sex education sounds convincing. Indeed, if language and fine motor skills mature on average 6 years later in boys, but spatial and targeting - 4 years earlier, then it would make sense to teach boys languages later than girls and geometry earlier (it would be interesting to see how it agrees with another widely shared perception that the earlier a child, girl or boy, is exposed to a language the better). In addition, peer pressure makes it more difficult for a boy to take a theater class, and for a girl to take physics, but in single-sex schools they are twice as likely to do that.

Beyond education, Sax argues that boys and girls differ in how aggressive and confident they are and that they react differently to corporal punishment and to stress. When they take drugs they seem to do that for different reasons: boys to get a high, girls to calm down.

Even though the book leaves some questions on the table, it does present a convincing case that boys and girls significantly differ and that gender is an important factor in their upbringing and education.
103 of 132 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Outstanding book, required reading for any parent Feb. 16 2005
By Timothy D. Lundeen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An outstanding book on the differences in how boys and girls learn and develop, appropriate parenting techniques, and how to help them live up to their potential and become happy/productive adults.

I had a few specific disagreements, despite my overall appreciation for this work.

First, his overall view of the differences in the sexes. Sax says "Here are some examples of false beliefs about gender differences:

* Boys are "naturally" better at math and science than girls are.

* Girls are "naturally" more emotional than boys are.

* Girls are "naturally" collaborative, while boys are competitive."

I don't like this phrasing of gender differences. These statements might in fact be literally false as claimed, but certainly give a misleading impression of the typical differerences between males and females. I like the argument made by Baron-Cohen in his book, The Essential Difference, that on average male brains are optimized for systems, and female brains are optimized for empathy. Baron-Cohen's explanation fits the observed facts and research better than anything else I've seen, and would be a better overview than putting up some straw men to knock down like this, while ignoring the overall reality.

With regard to competition, all of the studies I've seen show that competition is a significant incentive for boys but has no effect for girls. Ironically, both of the best-practives examples he cites from master classes for boys involve competition :-)

Second, Sax echoes the educationist's mantra that "Almost every child is a gifted child." This seems ludicrous to me. The definition of gifted is top 3-5% on some dimension of human ability. There just aren't enough independent dimensions here for almost everyone to be gifted in some way. I would argue that the main three dimension are athleticism, cognition, and empathy. Most other dimesions have a fair amount of correlation with one or more of these, with musically gifted people typically also cognitively gifted, etc. You might come up with a few more (memory ability doesn't seem to be correlated with cognitive ability, for example), but "almost everyone"? I wouldn't think that more that 20-25% of the population would be gifted regardless of the number of dimensions you chose to measure, and that most of these "gifts" would not be related to academic ability in any way.

The harm from this belief that "all children are gifted" comes when you then say that because everyone is gifted, everyone can be treated the same way. To his credit, Sax doesn't draw this conclusion, but is all too common -- my son went to Stuart Hall, one of the schools used by Sax as an example of best-practices teaching for boys, and I heard both of these statements from them (e.g. "everyone is gifted" and "we have the same program for everyone" and "even though your son has an IQ in the top 1% that doesn't mean he is more gifted intellectually than anyone else or could use any special help academically"). Particularly for children who are cognitively gifted, not having an appreciation for their learning differences in a classroom setting can often have long-term detrimental effects. (I see cognitively gifted chilren in a typical classroom as an unfortunate minority. They are not getting what they need to thrive.)

Sax also echoes the desire to have more scientific career paths open to women, that there might still be social/teaching/peer pressures that contribute to the career choices made by women when more of them might actually prefer traditionally male professions. Could be, but there is no scientific evidence that supports this in any way, and there is a fair body of evidence that refutes it. There is also the fact of the difference in the tails of the male/female cognitive distributions: men have a higher standard deviation than women, so there are many more very bright men that women at the extreme high end of the tail, just as there are many more dull men at the low end of the scale.

I also am not so convinced that single-sex schools are a good thing. My son went to Stuart Hall, an all-boys school in San Francisco, and the kids do band together against the teachers. This opposition can be quite intense. On the one hand, I suppose this is good for socialization, and my son is quite capable socially. On the other hand, it is not a good atmosphere for academics, learning appropriate behavior, or in terms of learning to relate with adults. I'm sure a lot of our issues had to do with the quality of the school overall and their standard of discipline, and I've never had a son go through the early years in a coed school, but I'm still concerned based on my experience.

The rest of the book is all good, and highly recommended!

(I looked at the one previous review before I wrote this, which had a number of complaints about Sax's parenting technique recommendations, and I don't agree with these criticisms. A careful reading of what Sax actually says refutes all of these concerns, as far as I can see.)
64 of 81 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars There is some strange advice in this book. April 1 2006
By Margaret Whitworth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This book has some interesting data on sex differences in the brain and some good practical advice for dealing with these differences in the context of schooling and raising children. But toward the end of the book, the evidence supporting Sax's advice shifts to the anecdotal and the advice gets weird. For example, regarding discipline, Sax advocates limiting the amount a 4-month-old may nurse in order to teach it the valuable lesson of "who's boss." This advice shows a lack of understading the importance of nursing on demand to insure adequate milk supply for an infant. Also, Sax advocates spanking boys, but not girls -- try explaining that one to your kids.
67 of 86 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Why Gender Matters May 20 2006
By Catherine G. Roda - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I really liked this book when I started reading it. The author made a bold statement that he would back up his statements with evidence, and the early chapters are full of information with footnotes if one is inclined to research more about any facts (such as: the highschool dropout rate in the US is now close to 30%. That figure was startling to me, but he lists several places where I could do further reading on that topic.)

The problems start later in the book. Once the facts are presented, I found myself disagreeing with the conclusions he drew from those facts quite often. He believes that parents who "consult" with their children, "inform" them about available choices, and "make suggestions" are equivalent to "overly permissive" parenting. He cites an example of parents who allow their children to "choose" soda and chips to eat every day. No doubt, that's no way to allow your child to grow up, but he makes no mention of allowing your child a choice of acceptable options. What about allowing him to choose between broccoli or a spinach salad with dinner? There's lots of evidence to support that listening to your child and allowing him freedom within limits that you set is beneficial to self esteem.

There's a lot of grey area between the authoritarian style of parenting he advocates and being a pushover to your child due to fear of not being liked by him. He's dismissed the idea of working out a plan with a child due to some very poor compromises some parents have made. (A heavy 8 year-old girl is allowed to spend a month with grandparents who let her eat nonstop junk food. Then she's hard to deal with when she returns home. Girl doesn't want to go to a no-junk-food camp instead of Gramma's, so mom doesn't do anything different.) Because of examples like this where the mom didn't push the issue, he concludes that any consulting with a child is inadvisable. This is very unfortunate. Teaching a child the art of compromise and working to reach a solution that both parties can agree on is a great gift.

The fact that this book was written in 2005 means that it's full of recent information, and it may be worth reading just to see the compilation of the latest studies. He makes an interesting case about the benefits of singe-sex education, and for the benefits of single-gender, cross-generational activities for young people. It is his personal opinions on discipline which primarily tained this book in a negative way for me, and dragged the whole work down to two stars.
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