Book Review of Why gender matters

Leonard Sax explores the differences seen between girls and boys in his novel, Why gender matters. Many of the variations between the sexes are socially constructed. There are innate or biological differences in how females and males learn. Both sexes have differing needs, abilities, and goals. There is a particular dissimilarity in the organization of the brain in males and females. Differences are found in risk taking between boys and girls. Women associate violence in another way than men do. Girls and boys have varying viewpoints of the teacher. Sax demonstrates the importance of recognizing the diversity seen in sexual behavior related to the brain’s activity, engagement in risky activities, and with how girls and boys fight and gain knowledge.

Different parts of the brain are used diversely between men and women. Adolescent girls use the same area of the brain for sorting out language and their emotions. The innate gender-based tendency for females is to interact with others concerning their emotions. Whereas, adolescent boys use separate areas of the brain for communicating and showing their feelings. Therefore, it is harder for males to describe their emotions to others. There are noticeable differences in sexual attraction. Women desire to have more of a close and committed relationship with a significant other. Men are not as concerned with having a committed relationship. There is also a difference seen in sexual interest between females and males. Sax (2006) says that men “desire larger numbers of sexual partners than women in every major region of the world regardless of relationship status, sexual orientation, or whether the person is actively seeking [a partner]” (p. 38). Men have more of a violent element with regards to sex and are more likely to commit rape. Women are more likely seeking intimacy during sexual intercourse.

There are variances seen in girls and boys involving risk taking. Boys take pleasure in risk taking and are easily amazed by others taking risks. Although boys may fail in risky situations, Sax (2006) describes them as being “likely to earn the respect of other boys for trying” (p. 41). Girls are not as likely to be involved in taking physical or dangerous risks. They are not as easily impressed and are more judgmental. Boys see the idea of living dangerously as a fun activity. Sax (2006) states, “Boys systematically overestimate their own ability, while girls are more likely to underestimate their abilities” (p. 43).  Therefore, boys are more prone to serious injuries or accidental deaths. Sax (2006) acknowledges, “Most young girls need some encouragement to take risks, the right kind of risks, and to raise their estimation of their own abilities” (p. 45). Men are expected to begin their own matters. Women are not as likely to be admired for taking on risky behaviors. Leonard Sax felt that more girls should be encouraged to discover and explore the world to build bravery and inner strength.

Aggression takes different forms during boys’ and girls’ lives. In general, boys see fighting as a way to connect with one another and see fighting as leading to friendship. Psychologist Janet Lever’s research illustrates elementary school boys as such that “boys who fight each other usually end up being better friends after the fight. They are more likely to play together in the days after the fight than they were in the days before” (Sax, 2006, p. 58). Boys unite with other boys in a teasing, aggressive manner. After females fight, the closeness is severed. Resentment results and adverse feelings can persist for years. As a result of harsh words shared with one another, the girls end their friendship with irreconcilable differences. Following interviews conducted with girls and boys, asking for their reaction to particular situations, psychologists Louise and David Perry found that “Boys who act aggressively usually raise their standing in the eyes of other boys, as long as their action is provoked, that is, as long as it’s not bullying” (Sax, 2006, p. 59). Aggression experienced between boys develops into a lifelong friendship, whereas aggression seen between girls only damages friendships.

Females and males have diverse learning styles. Typically, girls will seek out a relationship with their teacher. Girls are unafraid of asking the teacher for assistance, when needed. Girls will likely want to satisfy their teacher and go by the teacher’s model. Girls are anticipated to complete their assignments and will look for the teacher’s satisfaction in their work. On the other hand, boys are not as easily inspired to do their studies unless it is of interest. Sax (2006) asserts, “most boys will consult the teacher for help only as a last resort, after all other options have been exhausted” (p. 81). Boys and girls connect with their teacher in dissimilar ways. Girls are likely to request guidance from the teacher concerning personal issues. Small group instruction is better suited for girls than it is for boys. Sax (2006) proposes that “Boys can raise their status in the eyes of other boys by disrupting the teacher’s program” (p. 87). Boys’ performance is better on standardized tests than girls’ performance on the same timed tests.

I can relate to differences between girls and boys formed biologically. As Sax (2006) points out, “Girls and boys behave differently because their brains are wired differently” (p. 28). My gender is a part of who I am. My tendency to interact with others is a result of being  encouraged to communicate. Sax (2006) implies, “the various regions of the brain develop in a different sequence in girls and boys and according to different timetables” (p. 242). I can remember playing with Barbie dolls and baby dolls as a child. On the other hand, my brother enjoyed playing video games as a child. Another noticeable difference I can depict is the fact that I love learning a new language and I can remember my brother hated learning German while in high school. I also love music, which could be due to having better hearing than boys do. I don’t learn as well in a noisy atmosphere and can be easily distracted by excessive noise.

I find it refreshing to know that I have the same characteristics described of a female concerning taking risks. I am less likely to be involved in dangerous activities than males. I am more cautious and I examine a situation before getting involved in an activity. I contribute notions of noninvolvement in risk taking behaviors as needing expertise in a skill. I agree with Sax’s (2006) proposition that “risky and dangerous activities trigger a ‘fight or flight’ response that gives a tingle, a charge, an excitement that many boys find irresistible” (p. 42). I find that you can have fun without living dangerously. I can remember a particular circumstance, in which a friend of mine and I were trapped in a maze at a haunted house. My guy friend was more than willing to climb a wall to solve the circumstance, whereas I was less willing but obliged. Another notion that I find holds true is taking the occasional risks and succeeding at them. Sax (2006) exclaims, “if you have had plenty of experiences exploring new situations, facing your fears and mastering them, then you can face new challenges and conquer them as well” (p. 47). Each day I am learning more about myself and who I want to become. I am also discovering new things that I like and am grateful for new opportunities, which could lead to meaningful experiences.

I am in agreement with Sax’s view of females with regards to aggression. Girls are prone to dispute with words, where boys naturally quarrel by wrestling and the problem is resolved. Girls are not as likely as boys to hit one another and have hurt feelings after a disagreement. Sax (2006) describes girls’ fights by proclaiming that “Tensions can simmer and build for weeks or months, corroding a friendship until there is no friendship left” (p. 74). In my experience, this particular statement holds true. My high school friend and I had a disagreement and therefore, she turned others against me. As of today, we are not speaking with one another. Another remark made by Sax (2006) that is of importance is the notion that “Whereas boys typically bully kids they barely know,  girls almost always bully girls within their social group. These girls are intimate enemies.” (p. 75). My high school friend that I was in disagreement with was in my social circle and therefore, affected others’ thoughts of me. An elementary school teacher recently told me that she enjoyed having boys in her classroom, because she didn’t want to handle the drama that came with being a girl.

Teachers struggle with finding different approaches to teach males and females. Andrew Hunter, who is a veteran teacher mentioned by Sax (2006), believes that “teaching in a coed classroom is like teaching two classes at once” (p. 242). This may very well be true, because girls require more of a supportive approach from the teacher, while boys flourish in a moderately stressful environment. I can remember as a fifth grader, I was not fond of my teacher because he demanded more from me than I was willing to give. I was shy and he forced me to stand up in front of my class and give book reports. Rather than encouraging me to speak louder, my teacher would have me practice yelling particular phrases while at recess. I can also remember not doing as well on standardized tests as my brother. I like to take my time when completing a test and do not like being rushed for time.

There are male-female differences with regards to the development of play and the ability to listen, the ability to take risks, fighting, and learning. The reasoning for gender differences is due to biological and socially constructed differences. It is important to understand the development of boys and girls and to embrace gender differences in order for children to reach their full potential. An unawareness of the differences seen between girls and boys could lead to a decreased performance in boys’ academics, girls having less confidence in their talents, and girls being unable to connect with each other. There also may be a misconception developed with regards to toy preferences and females being considered more emotional than males. When we recognize a child’s gender, he or she is able to feel secure about his or her well-being.


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