Fundamentally Different

After reading Bringing Up Boys, a mother shared a humorous story with me about taking her four-year-old daughter, Marla, to meet her three male cousins for the first time. It must have been quite a shock for this little girl to see how aggressive, tough, and unruly they were, compared to her female friends. On the way home that night, Marla shook her head and said, "Mom, those boys are wusser [worser] than I thought."

It hadn't taken Marla very long to figure out that boys are not at all like girls. I wish all adults were as observant, although between 1965 and 1995, many grown-ups failed to notice. During those three decades, some of the most highly educated and sophisticated people drew the conclusion that males and females were different only with regard to reproductive anatomy and physiology. The prevailing view was that every other distinguishing feature between the sexes had resulted from patriarchal upbringing. Boys, it was said, were coerced into being traditionally masculine, which was a serious problem for society.

That belief, promoted with great passion by what was then called the Women's Liberation Movement, served to blind most psychiatrists, psychologists, neurologists, pediatricians, educators, politicians, writers, social activists, television personalities such as Phil Donahue and Barbara Walters, and millions of mothers and fathers throughout the Western world. Or maybe it just seemed that way.

I was a graduate student in child development at that time, and it was perplexing for me to watch this notion called "unisex" gain acceptance among professors and others who should have known better. They seemed to be ignoring the overwhelming evidence to the contrary, including the fact that females, unlike males, have a menstrual cycle, which affects emotions and behavior dramatically. Males and females also carry a different chromosome pattern in every cell of their bodies. How could boys and girls be identical if their DNA is different?

Finally, working with kids as I did every day convinced me that boys and girls are breeds apart. Even Marla could see that. Nevertheless, the unisex idea caught fire under a barrage of disinformation from the media. People began nodding in agreement like little plastic poodles bobbing their heads in the rear windows of cars.

This popular view of masculinity and femininity stood in stark contradiction to what parents had known intuitively for thousands of years. Up to this point, the issue had not even been up for debate. Moms and dads had simply smiled knowingly and said, "Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, but boys are made out of snakes and snails and puppy dog tails."1 It was a joke, of course, but everyone knew there was some truth to it.

Activists clearly didn't agree. They began a pervasive campaign to change the way boys and girls were raised in an effort to homogenize their behavior. Parents were told that boys were far too aggressive, flamboyant, rowdy, and, well, defective in many ways. They needed to be put through a reorientation program that would teach them to play with dolls and tea sets instead of trucks and balls. They also needed to learn how to cry often and to be more sensitive. In short, these advisers said there was an urgent need for boys to be "fixed" while they were young by making them more feminine.

Girls, conversely, were considered far too passive, frilly, compliant, and "motherly." That had to change too. They needed to be taught to be aggressive, tough, tomboyish, unemotional, and, yes, much more masculine. The net effect was a concerted effort to redesign child rearing from the nursery up. Somehow that was expected to work to the political advantage of women. For a time, parents tried valiantly to comply, but without much success. They were working against irresistible genetic forces.

As we now know, the notion of sexual universality is completely false and never had any basis in scientific fact. It would still be dominant in the culture if it were not for the development of marvelous imaging technologies, including MRIs, CAT scans, and PET scans. These devices permitted neurologists and other professionals to examine the human brain without opening the skull. What they saw on their screens was shocking. Male and female brains were not only different structurally, they also "lit up" in different places when subjected to similar stimulation.2

Then a dazzling array of unique hormonal factors began to be better understood. The prevailing beliefs had been dead wrong. The professional community had to acknowledge that behavioral differences between the sexes are not produced by paternalistic biases in child rearing. They are the result of compelling influences that are set in motion at conception.

1.Adapted from Robert Southey's (1774–1843) poem entitled "What Folks Are Made Of," circa 1820.

2."Brainstorm: Neuroscientist Sandra Witelson Says Men's and Women's Brains Are Different," Chatelaine (December 1995): 72–74. 274 Notes

Book: Bringing Up Girls

By Dr. James Dobson

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