BookBrowse Reviews Why Gender Matters by Leonard Sax

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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 by Leonard Sax
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  • First Published:
    Feb 2005, 320 pages
    Paperback:
    Feb 2006, 336 pages

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Controversial & compelling, with the potential to radically change how we educate our children. Parenting/Education

From the book jacket: 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.

Comment: If you read Time Magazine you may remember this book from a cover story on gender differences that ran in March 2005.  Sax's opinion (always backed up by data) is that girls and boys are innately different and the effect of 'gender neutral' education benefits neither and actually reinforces gender stereotypes.  

My only criticism of this book is that Sax is very definitive in his opinions. There are exceptions to every rule but he doesn't give much, if any space, to discussing these. Having said that, when the pendulum of opinion has swung so firmly in favor of gender neutral co-ed public education (to the point that in most states single-sex education isn't even on the table for discussion) it takes someone who feels as strongly as Sax to push the balance back, even a little.

From kindergarten through to high-school Sax makes compelling points for single-sex education.  Here are just a few examples:

A seven-year-old girl is likely to have hearing that is 2-4 times as acute as a seven-year-old boy - so the tone of voice that is comfortable for a female teacher to speak at simply may not be audible to the boys sitting at the back of the class, or maybe at a level where it is just plain boring to listen to. Conversely, the constant tap-tap-tapping and fidgeting of a boy having trouble sitting still will be easily filtered out by the other boys, but is likely to be a substantial distraction to the girls.

Girls tend to be excessively critical in evaluating their own academic performance. Conversely, boys tend to have unrealistically high estimates of their own academic abilities and accomplishments - so the teaching methods to best reach each group need to be quite different.

Boys tend to prefer books with male protagonists that are exciting, whereas girls usually prefer books which focus on relationships.  The vast majority of books read in elementary schools (and the way they're discussed) favor the way girls think (unsurprising considering the majority of elementary school teachers are women), which leaves many boys concluding that reading is boring.

Girls at single-sex schools have just as many heterosexual relationships as girls at coed schools. Teens in single-sex schools tend to date, whereas teens in co-ed schools increasingly 'hook up' (have sexual encounters with no emotional attachment or long-term commitment). At a single-sex school, even if you do have a boyfriend, your social network at school is likely to be separate from your boyfriend's group of friends. So, it's easier to say no. You have more autonomy over your sexual decision-making. It's easier to contemplate life without the boyfriend.

Single-sex schools break down stereotypes - girls become more competitive, boys become more collaborative.  In single-sex schools boys usually consider it much cooler to study than they do in a co-ed environment, even if they're 'jocks'.  Girls tend to study more science related subjects in single-sex schools, and boys tend to study more arts.

This review is from the March 20, 2006 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



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