Brizendine Brain

Posted by – March 24, 2010

It’s part of my job to read stuff about genders and brains. Sadly, however, I have to slog through articles where the author, while talking about sex drives and teenagers, says this about teenage boys:

“This fuels their sexual engines and makes it impossible for them to stop thinking about female body parts and sex.”


As soon as I see a line like that, what any of my Gender Studies 100 students would call heterocentric bullshit, I know that I”m dealing with someone who is a gender essentialist – someone who believes in binary gender, that women are always female and always feminine, too.

But then I see something like this:

All that testosterone drives the “Man Trance”– that glazed-eye look a man gets when he sees breasts. As a woman who was among the ranks of the early feminists, I wish I could say that men can stop themselves from entering this trance. But the truth is, they can’t. Their visual brain circuits are always on the lookout for fertile mates. Whether or not they intend to pursue a visual enticement, they have to check out the goods.

I don’t doubt that plenty of men love breasts a lot, or that some of them get kind of stupid around them. But the assumption that women don’t do the same thing around breasts, if they like breasts, or in response to – let’s say big hands or broad shoulders – seems ridiculous, too.

What bothers me most is how insulting this idea is to the men I know. I love men with high libidos, and I love people with high sex drives. They’re my people. But the idea that any kind of lust is somehow uncontainable because of a person’s gender – please. Men are not apes; they can be subtle, use discretion, and get in a sidelong glance in when a woman isn’t looking. Actually drooling near cleavage is not required. That’s not asking a man to be less of a man – that’s just asking him to have some manners.

As I often like to say at the beginning of Trans 101, most of my job is undoing what people think they know about trans identities. Gender Studies 100 is all that x2, because sadly, these kinds of articles are everywhere, all the time.

Anyway, forget what Louann Brizendine has to say about “male” brains and “female” brains. The important thing here is that Brizendine brains come to whopping, unfounded conclusions about male and female behavior based on very little evidence. So be thankful you haven’t got one of those.

1 Comment on Brizendine Brain

  1. kiri says:

    Brizendine’s cartoonish assertions are the sort of thing that make it impossible to have an intelligent discussion about behavior and evolution. Brizendine has a degree and an academic position, but she’s apparently chosen to throw away whatever credibility she might have had, to sell paperbacks with shiny covers at airport bookstores and Walmarts.

    In the first five minutes of a genetics class, you learn that the phenotype (observable characteristics of the organism, including behaviors) are produced through the interaction of genetics and the environment. “Nature vs nurture” is a false dichotomy — it’s always nature *and* nurture.

    Because evolution occurs over many generations, small differences can be important. Differences between males and females, though sometimes statistically significant, are very small compared to the variation within each sex, and compared to the overlap of the two groups. But such differences among groups tell us **absolutely nothing of any use whatsoever** concerning individuals. From a scientific perspective, it’s complete rubbish to think you know something about an individual’s behavior based on their sex.

    I wish that cartoonists such as Brizendine would stop misrepresenting science and scientists.

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