Elevate Difference

Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps—and What We Can Do About It

Given the heavy media coverage about studies that “prove” significant, inborn differences between males and females, it is no surprise that we excuse or accept certain behaviors depending on whether they come from a boy or a girl. We are often led to believe that it is natural for a boy to be athletic and for a girl to demonstrate more empathy because it is part of their biology and something that cannot be helped one way or another. If this were true, we would have to resign ourselves to our appropriate gender roles and stick to the activities and behaviors assigned to us by nature.

Not so, says Eliot. Right off the bat, Pink Brain, Blue Brain shows us that we must examine these studies critically in order to appreciate their message. Eliot goes through various popular studies with a fine-toothed comb and comes away with a vastly different interpretation of the data. Rather than proving innate differences between boys and girls, instead we see that these differences are really not as large as they appear and that the outcomes have been subtly manipulated and phrased in ways that present the results as far more provocative, and therefore popular with the media.

After a close scrutiny of the studies, Eliot goes on to investigate the various claims of the differences between boys and girls starting at conception and ending around puberty. Though she is a neuroscientist, Eliot provides well thought out sociological critiques along with useful explanations of biology. She fuses both the nature and nurture aspects of development to show that gender gaps are not just innate or taught, but oftentimes both. What nature instills, society tends to exaggerate. The consequences are that these gender stereotypes become self-fulfilling prophecies, and this hurts both boys and girls.

Particularly useful to those who strive to raise well-balanced children are the ideas and tips that Eliot includes at the end of nearly every chapter. For instance, she recommends pet care as a way to teach and encourage a sense of nurturing in young boys. Likewise, she suggests getting girls involved in chess in order to help foster a healthy dose of competition and to improve spatial analysis skills. We may have been dealt a specific set of cards at birth, but this by no means should limit us in what we achieve and how we excel.

Written by: Shana Mattson, January 4th 2011