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

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

Sax, Leonard

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Publisher's Description:

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.

336 Pages
Published February 2006

About the Author(s):

LEONARD SAX, M.D., Ph.D., is a physician and a psychologist and the founder of the National Association for Single-Sex Public Education. His scholarly work has been published in a wide variety of prestigious journals including "American Psychologist," "Behavioral Neuroscience," "Journal of the American Medical Association," "Journal of the American College of Nutrition," "Journal of Family Practice," "Annals of Family Medicine," "Journal of Sex Research," and others. He has been a featured guest on CNN, PBS, Fox News, Voice of America, NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and many other news programs, discussing the importance of sex differences in how children learn.

Book Details

336 Pages
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Publication Date: February 2006
ISBN 10: 0767916255
ISBN 13: 9780767916257

“Despite many serious reservations, I recommend this book to some discerning readers…

Are boys and girls different at the nature level? The Bible indicates that they are, and so does medical doctor and secular psychologist Leonard Sax. Why Gender Matters is a fascinating and fun book. On many occasions, you will find yourself laughing out loud and wanting to read a section to your spouse. If you grew up in the public school system in the 70s, 80s or 90s, then you were raised at the height of the gender-neutral paradigm that continues to dominate our American culture. You, your parents, and your teachers were told that differences between girls and boys were a result of how you were raised, not how you were born.
Armed with a comprehensive survey of scientific and psychological gender studies from the past twenty years, Sax bravely argues against the gender-neutral status quo in favor of innate differences between the sexes. There is some great information here for Christian teachers, pastors, and parents, but there are also some serious shortcomings.

Sax is a secular author. He has no moral misgivings with homosexuality, evolution, or secular philosophy (including Nietzsche). As a result, Sax’s interpretation is far from Christian. Though this is a book without an awareness of the main thing, the gospel, it is still helpful on some peripheral things. By God’s common grace, Sax’s work stands against the dominant social norms in our country and he unknowingly supports many of the Bible’s traditional teachings on gender. For all that Why Gender Matters is in a negative sense: a secular book by a secular author with a secular agenda; it was, in a positive sense, very helpful to me as a father of three girls and two boys. Any Christian reader of this book should keep these cautions in mind and realize that reading Sax is like reading an incomplete and sometimes misleading work. Christian filtering and interpretation of Sax’s data is vital.

Despite its weaknesses, pastors, teachers, parents, and mature Christians should be helped by the content of this book. I was particularly struck by the number of studies that run counter to or refine conventional wisdom or cultural bias on gender issues. For example, have you ever wondered why your daughter draws colorful pictures, but your son at the same age is quite content with scribbling in black. How did you handle the difference. Did you praise your daughter and discipline your son because you didn’t feel he was taking coloring seriously? Maybe you decided that boys develop more slowly than girls, so you just allowed your son more time to develop. The reality is significantly more complicated. Sax illustrates this complexity by pointing to recent studies on the eye in young boys and girls. It turns out that there are larger concentrations of P cells in the eyes of girls and M cells in boys. These differences correspond to proportional differences in cones (wired to detect color and texture) and rods (wired to detect location, direction, and speed) in the eyes of boys and girls. As a result, girls are drawn to differences in color and texture and boys are fascinated by the rapid movement of the crayon across the paper. So how do you handle the difference? There are many ways. Christian wisdom is essential, but the answer is not boy and girls are the same, nor boys develop slower than girls. Your son is developing just as quickly as your daughter, just along a different trajectory. They are wired differently all the way down to the chemistry in their eyes. This is just a small example, but it points to a much more sophisticated understanding of the different developmental patterns in our children. The data still needs Christian truth to be situated and applied appropriately, but I have found it so helpful that I have made it a point to ask my wife, our children’s primary educator, to read it before she starts teaching again. I believe the information in this book will make her a better teacher.

I pray that you might be encouraged to give Gender Matters a read and that God would supply you with sufficient discernment to be undistracted by its shortcomings and to situate its strengths for the benefit of His kingdom and your children.”
Jeff Shamess, wtsbooks.com staff

“Why is Westminster Bookstore promoting a book by an author who endorses Nietzsche, is open to homosexuality and trusts evolutionary theory? We believe that common grace enables the unbeliever to discern truths in our world and that the believer's responsibility is to faithfully examine and evaluate what is said.

Leonard Sax takes recent scientific studies on gender differences in the brain to challenge the reigning belief that "gender blind" or "gender-neutral" teaching is the best way to relate to boys and girls. He further asserts that gender blind teaching actually causes negative gender differences!

While Sax gives much to evolutionary theory and amoral sexual preferences, he remains pro-parent and is opposed to adolescent and teenage sexual activity. Why Gender Matters is not the first book to turn to for parenting advice, but it does provide supplemental information and insight that will prove helpful to critical readers.”
D. A. Cason, wtsbooks.com staff

“Sax has written an important book about recent scientific research on sex differences. He offers advice for parents and educators on the importance of recognizing and welcoming gender-specific differences in child development. Bucking the sociological trend of blurring gender distinction, Sax explores the relationship between gender and sexual activity as well as parental discipline. Much to be welcomed are some of Sax's arguments for strong gender and age-related discipline in the home, preferring an inductive, reflective method of discipline for girls and "power assertion," including physical restraint and corporal punishment, for boys. While one will certainly not agree with every conclusion, this volume provides a helpful reminder that gender affects every aspect of life and that gender differences need to be enforced in parenting and teaching.”
Oren Martin and Barak Tjader, Writers, Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood; (This book review appears in the Annotated Bibliography for Gender-Related Books in 2005, JBMW Volume 11 No. 2.)