Julie Lynn: Accept it, feminists – women’s and men’s brains simply aren’t the same

In November 2016 an article in The Times reported a claim by scientists that researchers had been ignoring gender differences in the brain for fear of being labelled sexist. Neurobiologist Prof Larry Cahill, as guest editor of the Journal of Neuroscience Research, said: ‘The heart of the resistance is the view that if neuroscience shows males and females are not the same in brain function, we are showing they are not equal. That is false.’ He went on to add that the practice of studying male brains and then extrapolating those findings to female brains led to generalisations that put men’s health at risk when it came to the development of drugs, for instance in Alzheimer’s research.

In April this year another article, this time in the US publication Science, reported on how the largest brain imaging study of its kind had found sex-specific patterns in the brain. It was careful to point out immediately that ‘overall there were more similarities than differences’ but that the work did raise ‘new questions about how brain differences between the sexes may influence intelligence and behaviour.’ There was mention of how cortices were thicker in women and how this was associated with higher scores in a variety of cognitive and intelligence tests, and it stated also that men had higher brain volume than women in every subcortical region they looked at. These included the hippocampus (broad roles in memory and spatial awareness), the amygdala (emotions, memory, decision-making), striatum (learning, inhibition and reward processing) and thalamus (processing and relaying sensory information to other parts of the brain).

It is striking but perhaps understandable just how nervous researchers always are when it comes to interpreting any of their findings on behaviour or intelligence. It just feels too dangerous. Psychologist Stuart Ritchie, who led the University of Edinburgh team, told Science that his focus was on the differences in the male and female brain, not speculating on what they could mean. Quite. This is a controversial area, that much we can say. Cambridge neuroscientist Amber Ruigrok said the study’s sheer size made the results convincing but suggested that in future studies one other factor in particular should be addressed. That factor was menopause. She added that hormonal fluctuations have been shown to influence brain structure.



Right. So talking about hormones is not necessarily a no-go. Leadership performance does involve a leader’s psychology and psychology can be analysed on three levels: the biological (all that XX and XY and hormonal stuff), the cognitive (mental processes such as memory, perception, thinking, and attention) and the sociocultural (how environment and culture affect behaviour and/or thinking). Feminist orthodoxy would have it that the only thing holding women back from doing what they want, how they want and when they want to do it is patriarchal society (trigger warning: there are patriarchal communities that do need challenging in the unacceptable way they treat women, but that’s for another day).

There. Patriarchal society. End of. If we could only deal with that one overwhelming, rotten problem, the sociocultural one (high quality childcare, get dads to step up to the plate more, overhaul the House of Commons schedules, that kind of thing) all would be just tickety-boo for women in top, high-octane leadership roles. Then they could just go on and on in charge pretty unfazed, as do notable exceptions such as Mutti Merkel. Sociocultural factors have been an issue and many have been quite rightly addressed, but their pre-eminence now in the debate has all but buried the other two. Biology has become the B-word now that we have transgenderism. Hormones? That’s the H word. Anyway, that’s been dealt with by good old HRT. Menopause, the M-word? Ssh. Let’s just go back to when a woman in her forties or fifties could be whispered about as being ‘bad with her nerves’.

Most of us are not research scientists. The word ‘chemistry’, as in ‘brain chemistry’, suggests to the layman, however, pretty much what things are: hormones. Male and female bodies are subject to different exposures to hormones at different times of life and development. Testosterone, present in elevated levels in males, has been shown to be behind higher physical aggression in men and it might also be linked with greater competitiveness (though this latter might be on less secure ground in terms of scientific research); oestrogen levels are important to a woman’s reproductive potential; oxytocin is believed to be significant in bonding between mother and baby. We are all more than the sum of our hormonal parts but we are, if not driven by them, then at least affected by them psychologically. They’re there (or not there) for a reason and they play a not insignificant role in making us what we are.

Being a leader means being able to withstand certain kinds of pressure. If a woman can take it and get through it, great. If she can’t or won’t subject herself to what leadership demands and, for some headline writers inexplicably ‘throws it all away’, that doesn’t make her a failure. It might just mean that she is coming to terms with who she is and what is important to her (and why do we have to be perpetually lamenting that women often choose working lives that best fit around family life?). Here’s a thought: it might be that women, suggested sometimes to be better listeners and empathisers, are listening to their own voice, a voice asking questions constantly about how it’s going, how they’re doing, how others are getting on, how you can listen better, communicate better. In short, maybe there is just a lot of emotional noise in a female leader’s head when the pressure gets ramped up. That doesn’t mean crying or hysteria. It means having the kind of ultimately punitive attunement that can tip a woman from that ‘glass cliff’. That’s not a failure. It’s not something that makes women unequal to men but something that makes them different from men. Furthermore, we’re talking about women who do not have children to think about as well as those who do have those responsibilities and commitments.

Among the observations made about both Theresa May and Hillary Clinton on their election campaigns was that they appeared in public to be ‘stiff, wooden, uncomfortable and robotic’. Conversely, Jeremy Corbyn and Donald Trump were perceived to be relaxed and just ‘being themselves’. Some prominent women in the world of politics, media and business thrive in high-stress leadership positions (though the current de facto leader of Myanmar doesn’t appear to be one of them) and are good at it. Others don’t. That might be down in some measure to things of which they are not fully in control.

It feels, of course, heretical to say it but it’s worth saying nevertheless – it could be something to do with biological and cognitive factors which make us react and behave in certain ways; care about certain things more than we care about others. It might be this that makes women wonder whether ultimately they’re really up for it. In the end, those prepositions – Up FOR it? Up TO it? – don’t really matter. They shouldn’t matter to women and nor should they matter to men because this is not a question about whether women are equal as human beings to men. That would be an idiotic question. Biologically different does not mean biologically inferior. The question is whether certain kinds of leadership (that ‘all’) make a woman tick. Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t. If they don’t, then it’s time to do what does. That does not equate to having ‘thrown it all away’. Any chance we might bin that fallacy?

Julie Lynn

  • Flaketime

    All of this would make it a lot more difficult to deny that there is a genuine medical condition of transsexualism where someone of one gender has the brain of the other.

    It also makes a mockery of the gender variance being pushed by the BBC and other Left wing groups

    In addition, where other studies have found that certain races have difference they have been suppressed so as not to allow the public to see the Emperor has no clothes. I fully expect that where reality bursts the leftie bubble, reality will be denounced as ‘sexist’ or some such.

    • JabbaPapa

      condition of transsexualism where someone of one gender has the brain of the other

      There is no demonstrable link of cause and effect between these two conditions. I mean, zero.

  • Royinsouthwest

    He went on to add that the practice of studying male brains and then extrapolating those findings to female brains led to generalisations that put men’s health at risk when it came to the development of drugs, for instance in Alzheimer’s research.

    The sentence quoted above does not make sense. If findings from the study of male brains are extrapolated to female brains and the extrapolation proves wrong then it would be women’s health that is put at risk, not men’s.

    • Bik Byro

      Indeed. What Neurobiologist Prof Larry Cahill actually said was that it put *women’s* health at risk.

    • JabbaPapa

      Actually, both would be true.

  • Inside

    Women are from Venus, men are from Mars – It’s been on the bookshelves for years surely?

    • Bik Byro

      and the excellent “Why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps”

    • weirdvisions

      Makes you wonder where all the other gazillion genders come from though. An alternate reality is my guess.

    • forgotten_man

      I’ve sort of wondered which part of the gender fluid spectrum would claim Uranus as their planet of choice 😉

  • CitymanMichael

    I have always believed that biology would not give men 50% extra weight and 50% extra upper body strength and give exactly the same brains to both men & women – doesn’t make sense.

    • Sargv

      Western women seem to quickly catch up with men when it comes to weight.

  • Bik Byro

    In “Why men don’t listen and women can’t read maps”, the theory in there may have some merit : the idea is that for most of the human race’s time on earth it has been as cavemen and cave women; modern humans are but a blink of an eye in comparison to the whole time the species has been around.

    Cave man would have been the hunter for which the ability to focus and put aside distractions would have been key to survival (hence why when a man is watching television he tunes out anyone else in the room (usually his wife!), and why a man will turn the radio down in the car in order to see better) At night, tired after a busy day’s hunting, the man would flop down in front of the fire.

    Cave woman would have been the gatherer – this would have been a social group activity with chat and discussion and would also have required the women to have ears and eyes on guard for dangers such as wild animals. Hence why women can hold two or three conversations at once and happily chat on the phone while watching a TV programme.

    • John Standley

      And even if these differences are begrudgingly acknowledged, the examples given are usually biased against men:

      “Men won’t listen; men can’t multi-task.” Contrast with: “Women have greater empathy; women are better communicators” etc.

      Virtues in women but vices in men.

      • Bik Byro

        It was only after reading the book that my wife realised that I was “better at focussing” rather than “poorer at multi-tasking”

    • weirdvisions

      Satnavs are a godsend. It’s a pain having to pull up to consult a map when you are behind the wheel and your bloke isn’t occupying the navigator’s seat.

  • Greenlander

    Of course the female brain is different than the male brain and together as a team they have a far larger range of abilities and emotions than a same sex team. It’s the fact that the state in it’s arrogance takes a lot of the responsibility of child rearing that provides the lie that same sex couples can raise as happy and healthy child as a natural couple can.
    Why do I single out child raising? Primarily it’s what we are here for, not arguing politics or leading multinational companies, as there will still be couples raising children when they are historical footnotes.

    • Sargv

      > together as a team they have a far larger range of abilities and emotions than a same sex team

      Also much more reasons for internal conflicts due to significantly lower group cohesion. If you have no idea how the person next to you tick and what is their value structure – would you trust that person?

      A man and a woman, bonded in a pair? Yes, absolutely. Mixed-sex group oriented toward a single goal? It’s complicated.

  • Colonel Mustard

    The pressure exerted by the third wave feminist lobby is interesting because it appears that radical and arguably barmy minority must have quite a following from “political women” (including journalists) in general for male politicians, scientists and academics to be so frightened of stepping out of line from their orthodoxy. “Equality” seems to have become an absolute concept (except where women are deemed “vulnerable” and must be accorded special privileges) and anything which even indirectly challenges that must be denounced with the usual “outrage”.

    “You can’t say that” prevails which is unhealthy and undermines objectivity.

    • weirdvisions

      I do “say that”. But them according to the femiloons I’m a traitor to my gender and probably a xenophobic racist and an extreme right winger. The accusations will no doubt be squared because I’m also a Brexiteer. 😀

  • KilowattTyler

    For more of the standardised rubbish about ‘gender stereotypes’ look at the current (23rd September) issue of ‘New Scientist’ (page 9). The underlying premisses, as always, are that (1) differences in behaviour are attributable solely to environment, and (2) that ‘gender stereotypes’ harm women more than men.

    Premiss (2) is obviously fallacious since women comfortably outperform men at all stages of education, yet ‘gender stereotyping’ is apparently still a huge problem – in other words, for this premiss to be true the cart must come before the horse.

    Premiss (1) is a belief necessary for social ‘scientists’ as it enables them to wrest control of funding and influence from biologists and other real scientists. Since most ‘opinion formers’ and ‘leaders’ don’t know their Petri dish from their Bunsen burner, the jargon-stuffed outpourings of sociologists and those in related academic indisciplines are more likely to carry weight than anything genuinely rigorous.

    • David

      When I was a teenage science pupil “New Scientist” was about genuine science and our Physics teacher encouraged us to read the library copy. Just shows how everything has become politicised.

      • Royinsouthwest

        I was a teenager in the 1960s and I found the New Scientist to be quite informative then. In recent years I have bought it on just a handful of occasions and have been disappointed nearly every time. Why did I buy it then? Well, on those occasions the subjects mentioned on the cover were of interest to me and I hoped, in vain, that after going through a bad spell the magazine would have got back to what it was many years ago.

    • Simon Platt

      I haven’t read New Scientist for several years, but I used to read it courtesy of the library at my then place of work. I generally found it to be unreliable on subjects abut which I had some expertise. I could only assume that it was equally unreliable about subject on which I had none. I have heard others make similar comments.

    • weirdvisions

      I prefer to call it New Post-Scientist. Haven’t bought one in years after they chose groupthink consensus over empirical, falsifiable evidence.

    • JabbaPapa

      (2) that ‘gender stereotypes’ harm women more than men

      This is, in itself, a blatant gender stereotype.

  • Sargv

    Socialists ostracise, arrest and ban scientists when facts uncovered by later contradict to religious fanaticism of the former? Yawn. Been there: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nikolai_Vavilov

    > Biologically different does not mean biologically inferior.

    In theory – yes. But consider a group that is genetically predisposed to have lower median IQ (because they evolved in sparsely populated savanna landscape that put no requirements on developing neocortical links to handle complex social interactions, but there were substantial requirements for over-developed physique). They are in no way biologically inferior to other groups, as IQ is merely an arbitrary trait that has nothing to do with a value of an individual. The whole idea of “inferiority” in biology is ridiculous, as species are tools of survival and gene propagation in a particular environment. A tool can be ineffective (in which case it ceases to exist), but it can’t be inferior to another instrument.

    But back to IQ. Unfortunately, it is a trait that massively correlates with life outcomes in modern urban societies, which means that the group outlined above is deemed to be always economically disadvantaged in such a society.

    Same with the sexes. The biological difference does not mean inferiority. It might easily cause a persistent inequality in outcomes though. Especially if we define what constitutes good results in a rigid economic way of income and wealth.

    In fact, I believe it is this simplistic, reductive approach that claims people to be mere economic units – which is a part of current frame even for those, who think that they oppose Marx – is what behind that controversy. “Even women and men are equal in value, why men earn more?” But that is a silly question. Males and females are not equal in their long-term economic utility (especially when one do not put a price on reproductive labour made by women – and economists tend no to) – and why should they be?

    Maybe instead of striving for equality defined in economic terms, we should strive for maximum happiness? In fact, I believe that we do that already and always did. It’s just the current narrative keeps chanting to us that this is wrong; that we need to maximise economic utility to achieve independence to achieve happiness. As if independence had anything to do with happiness.

  • David

    A very thoughtful and useful article here, and thank you for it, Julie.

  • Flaketime

    The other issue here is the lie of equality which because it is not defined at the outset can never be realised.

    A man has two identical one ton piles of sand which need to be moved an identical distance. He is prepared to pay an identical amount to two people to undertake the work.

    A man and a woman are given the task, however the man is much stronger than the woman and is able to complete the task in half the time. This means that the woman has received half the hourly rate of the man.

    This is exactly the dilemma we face every time equality is discussed and why it can never be achieved, because there are always more than one way of looking at the situation, and why it is therefore imperative at the outset to specify what is meant by ‘equality’.

    What we have now is a situation where a victim groups is able to cherry pick the best situation for themselves every time.
    Equal work for equal pay? Some would say that’s fair, but how does that work in women’s tennis where only three sets are played and it doesn’t attract the audience the men’s tennis does, and which every one agrees is a much tougher game?

    Like all the ‘isms’ and ‘fauxbias’ equality doesn’t exist because no one ever bothers to define it at the start

    • weirdvisions

      Which is why any sensible woman worth her salt, unless she is built like a brick outhouse, has the muscles of a navvy and owns a very large shovel, wouldn’t have applied to shift the sand in the first place. I certainly wouldn’t. Femiloons are victims and identity politics warriors because that’s what they choose to be. I’m of the opinion that a man’s gotta do what a man’s built to do. A real man that is. Thank God there’s still a few of them left.

  • The Duke of Umberland, England

    Miss

    Are there any women out there, who are single and like the bird described below?

    A good woman is hard to find, and worth far more than diamonds.

    Her husband trusts her without reserve, and never has reason to regret it.

    Never spiteful, she treats him generously all her life long.

    She shops around for the best yarns and cottons, and enjoys knitting and sewing.

    She’s like a trading ship that sails to faraway places and brings back exotic surprises.

    She’s up before dawn, preparing breakfast for her family and organizing her day.

    She looks over a field and buys it, then, with money she’s put aside, plants a garden.

    First thing in the morning, she dresses for work, rolls up her sleeves, eager to get started. She senses the worth of her work, is in no hurry to call it quits for the day. She’s skilled in the crafts of home and hearth, diligent in homemaking.

    She’s quick to assist anyone in need, reaches out to help the poor. She doesn’t worry about her family when it snows; their winter clothes are all mended and ready to wear.

    She makes her own clothing, and dresses in colorful linens and silks.
    Her husband is greatly respected when he deliberates with the politicians.

    She designs gowns and sells them, brings the sweaters she knits to the dress shops. Her clothes are well-made and elegant, and she always faces tomorrow with a smile.

    When she speaks she has something worthwhile to say, and she always says it kindly.

    She keeps an eye on everyone in her household, and keeps them all busy and productive.

    Her children respect and bless her; her husband joins in with words of praise: “Many women have done wonderful things, but you’ve outclassed them all!”

    Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the Fear-of-God. Give her everything she deserves! Shower her life with praises!

    • weirdvisions

      And at the end of the day, when all her good works are complete, she turns to her husband and says, “Not tonight, dear, I’m knackered.”

      • The Duke of Umberland, England

        Then a good husband respects that, and ensures he contributes.

        • weirdvisions

          I know. I’m married to one. He’s good at what he does and I do my best to support that. Unfortunately I’m no domestic goddess. 😀

          • The Duke of Umberland, England

            I have not met one bloke who expects his wife to be a ‘domestic goddess’. Not one.

            We men also need to ‘get our act together’.

            1. Never, ever, forget the wedding anniversary;
            2. Celebrate her birthday;
            3. Take her out at least once every two weeks;
            4. Take her shopping for clothes etc (guys be honest in what she looks best in);
            5. Ensure that St Valentine’s morning is furnished with flowers, chocolate, strawberries with cream (for breakfast) and champagne;
            6. Ensure that we change the oil on her car regularly – so that it’s always in tip-top condition.

            You girls also need to give us and our sons some space: all boys scouts; huntin’, fishin’, shootin’ and campin’; and all male barbecues, beer, football and chess.

          • rubyduck

            You men, first and foremost, need to earn a living. I’ve come across many who don’t.
            After that, you might be right.

  • HappyCheese

    Feminism and it’s offshoots/fellow travelers protect themselves against unwelcome scientific research with the fanatical belief of a fundamentalist religious crank denying evolution. Researchers are right to be worried about the effect on their careers from a hostile bureaucracy and things won’t change until the scientific community is shielded from their social pressure.

  • AR Devine

    Great piece. Check out Stephen Pinker’s ‘the Blank State’ its a great book that outlines how human beings are not born blank slates in which society imposes culture including gender roles, but that it is our biology that shapes us to a large degree with socialisation playing a role but not a dominant one that overrides biology.

  • Chris Gacek

    Mrs. Lynn – you should watch this TED Talk by Prof David Page, Director of the Whitehead Institute and professor of biology at MIT. The talk is entitled: Why Sex ReallyMatters. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQcgD5DpVlQ&t=1049s&index=15&list=WL

  • JabbaPapa

    Most of us are not research scientists. The word ‘chemistry’, as in ‘brain chemistry’, suggests to the layman, however, pretty much what things are: hormones.

    No, in fact the differences between the so-called “male” and “female” brains are principally structural — hormone repressants and hormone pills are incapable of altering these structures, except quite superficially.

    Furthermore, the most important chemical causing this differentiation is DNA.

    Male and female bodies are subject to different exposures to hormones at different times of life and development.

    The development of the so-called “male” and “female” brains occurs within the womb, and to a lesser degree during childhood and adolescence, and whilst it’s likely that various hormones play a part in determining this, this area of research is particularly difficult.

    Furthermore, it is a VERY common mutation for an individual to have a brain that is structurally defined as the “opposite” one — around 15% of women have “male” brains, and around 30-35% of men have “female” ones (structurally that is) ; no link whatsoever exists between this fact and probability of homosexuality BTW — men with “female” brains are no more likely to be homosexual than those with “male” ones.

    The difference really is that statistically, the one type of brain structure is typical in men, whilst the other is typical in women ; but masculinity and femininity are not defined by these structures.

    Testosterone, present in elevated levels in males, has been shown to be behind higher physical aggression in men and it might also be linked with greater competitiveness

    A very dubious claim — women with abnormally high testosterone levels cannot be shown to exhibit greater tendencies towards physical aggression.

    Men are more physically aggressive than women ; it is completely undemonstrated that the statistically greater prevalence of testosterone in men than in women is the primary cause of this phenomenon.

    Nevertheless, I think your general conclusion — “it could be something to do with biological and cognitive factors which make us react and behave in certain ways” — is correct, despite some flaws in your means of getting there.

    That men and women are different to each other is simply a FACT, that feminists and lefties and the gay lobby seek to deny.

  • The_Mocking_Turtle

    Slightly off topic but does the current President of the United States actually have a functioning brain worthy of the name? Personally I reckon that Hilary Clinton, with her brilliant academic record and decades of political experience might have done a better job. And at least a lady president wouldn’t be have been crass, stupid, ignorant and egotistical to have stumbled into a childish p*ss*ng contest with an equally juvenile and insane North Korean dictator.

    One trouble with the male brain is that you get a bigger deviation from the normal as far as men go, i.e., a larger number of geniuses at one pole and psychopaths at the other.

    Donald Trump is extreme, true, but sadly and obviously not a genius.

  • PutinCooksSocks

    It’s fine to say that women’s and men’s brains are different, as long as you never, ever, say that men are better than women at some things. That’s sexist.

    But you can say that women are better than men at some things. That’s “equality”.

  • PlainOldTruth

    Lysenkoism kills — and often kills those with the best character.