By Sarah Herrin
Thursday Review Contributing Writer
The Female Brain; Louann Brizendine; Doubleday/Random House, New York.
This book is shelved under psychology, but it takes a scientific approach, examining each part of the brain and the hormones it processes. Brizendine’s study is backed up by her extensive research as a medical student at Yale and as a resident and faculty member of Harvard.
She begins by explaining the physical differences in the areas of male and female brains—which are indeed different—and continues breaking down the functions of each section. A woman’s brain and biological impulses are constantly changing depending on the stage of her life and this affects not only how we act towards others and the goals we make, but how we perceive reality. From before birth, the brain is creating hormones that will guide us for the rest of our lives and the same is true for males.
One of the most enjoyable aspects of Brizendine’s book is how she takes the time to defend the male’s perspective so that we may better understand their impulses as well (see the companion book The Male Brain, also written by Brizendine). The most interesting and important piece of information I gleaned from this is that while these hormones are guiding our impulses, we do not have to respond to them and, in this case, knowledge is definitely power. In the prenatal stage, a baby girl’s brain is pumped with estrogen. From the beginning, she has urges to cuddles toys—even if that toy is a truck—and to create social interaction between dolls. For girls, communication and social relationships are key priorities—a gender preference which harkens back to the survival tactics of the Stone Age brain. Brizendine examines the play tactics of little girls as opposed to boys and continues this comparison on up through the stages of life in reference to the hormones and electrical impulses of the brain.
The author rationalizes why teenage girls can see life and death in every social situation and why they lash out at their mothers when something gets in the way of their telephone time. The ever-fluctuating hormone levels create an emotional rollercoaster; however, this book teaches that we are not entirely helpless to its drastic ups and devastating downs. Once the Teenage Brain becomes a Young Adult Brain, her priorities shift again and finding a mate to create a family with takes precedent over building social relationships. To the Stone Age brain, this is survival and procreation. Brizendine explains the Pregnant Brain and the Mommy Brain. It is not just that the Mommy Brain is doomed to be forgetful and scattered; her hormones are programming her to only pay attention to the wellbeing of her offspring. To the brain, nothing else matters. Brizendine explores the Menopausal Brain as well as the effects that an empty nest or divorce have on the female brain’s outlook.
This is not a one-sided feminist book, nor a relationship guide, nor a self-help manual. It is scientifically explained information that could benefit both sexes. I have never learned so much from a book as this one, and while it does get a tiny bit biased against males as some points, Neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine has a lot of beneficial information to impart.