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Excerpt from Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Why Gender Matters

What Parents and Teachers Need to Know about the Emerging Science of Sex Differences

by Leonard Sax

Why Gender Matters
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2006, 336 pages

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1

DIFFERENCES

We're entering a new period in science, in which the rewards will come less from the breakthrough investigations of individual scientists than from fitting together the pieces of research to see what it all means . . . Social and biological insights are leaping together, part of a large and complex jigsaw puzzle to which the contributions of many sciences are essential.

--Shelley Taylor, professor of psychology, UCLA, 20021

Matthew turned five years old the summer before kindergarten started. He was looking forward to it. From what he had heard, kindergarten sounded like just one long play date with friends. He could hardly wait. So his mother, Cindy, was surprised when, in October, Matthew started refusing to go to school, refusing even to get dressed in the morning. More than once, Cindy had to dress him, carry him writhing and thrashing into the car, and then drag him from the car into the school. She decided to investigate. She sat in on his kindergarten class. She spoke with the teacher. Everything seemed fine. The teacher—gentle, soft-spoken, and well-educated—reassured Mom that there was no cause for alarm. But Cindy remained concerned, and rightly so, because major problems were just around the corner.

Caitlyn was a shy child and just the slightest bit overweight all through elementary school. In middle school, she underwent a metamorphosis from chubby wallflower to outgoing socialite. She lost weight so quickly that her mother, Jill, worried she might be anorexic. For the next four years, though, everything seemed great—in a frantic and crazy sort of way. Caitlyn was juggling a heavy academic load, had lots of friends, and maintained a full schedule of after-school activities, staying up until midnight or later doing homework. But she seemed happy enough: often frenzied and frazzled, sure, but still happy. Or at least that's what everybody thought until the phone rang at 3 a.m. that awful, unforgettable November night. A nurse told Jill that Caitlyn was in the emergency room, unconscious, having tried to commit suicide with an overdose of Vicodin and Xanax.

These true stories share a grim common element: each kid started out okay, then took a turn in the wrong direction. There is another element in common as well. In both cases the problem arose because the parents did not understand some basic differences between girls and boys. In each case, trouble might have been averted if the parents had known enough about gender differences to recognize what was really happening in their child's life. In each case, the parents could have taken specific action that might have prevented or solved the problem.

We will come back to both of these kids later in this book. Right now it may not be obvious to you how each of these stories illustrates a failure to understand sex differences in child development. That's okay. Later on, we'll hear more about Matthew and Caitlyn. Armed with some basic knowledge about hardwired gender differences, you'll be able to recognize where the parents made the wrong decision or failed to act, and you'll see how the story might have ended differently.

The Dubious Virtue of Gender-Neutral Child-Rearing

I enrolled in the Ph.D. program in psychology at the University of Pennsylvania in September 1980. Governor Ronald Reagan was challenging President Jimmy Carter for the Presidency. The original Apple computer had recently come on the market. "My typewriter is working fine," was the answer the department secretary gave me when I asked her whether she would be getting a word processor anytime soon. Nobody I knew had ever heard of Bill Gates, e-mail, or the Internet. The invention of the World Wide Web still lay ten years in the future.

Among the courses I took that fall was a graduate seminar in developmental psychology. "Why do girls and boys behave differently?" my professor, Justin Aronfreed, asked rhetorically. "Because we expect them to. Imagine a world in which we raised girls to play with tanks and trucks, in which we encouraged boys to play with dolls. Imagine a world in which we played rough-and-tumble games with girls while we cuddled and hugged the boys. In such a world, many of the differences we see in how girls and boys behave—maybe even all the differences—would vanish."

Excerpted from Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D. Copyright © 2005 by Leonard Sax, M.D., Ph.D.. Excerpted by permission of Broadway, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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