Old-Fashioned Girls

Wendy Steiner

  • Brain Sex: The Real Difference between Men and Women by Anne Moir and David Jessel
    Joseph, 228 pp, £14.95, October 1989, ISBN 0 7181 2884 2

This must be the first popular attempt in decades to prove that the sexes are inherently unequal. According to the authors of Brain Sex, the male and female brains are differently structured because of the pre-natal activity of genes and hormones, and these produce ‘the real difference’ between men and women. The traditional view of the genders is thus a valid reflection of nature, and all the liberationist adjustments in nurture since the Sixties have done nothing to change matters. ‘To maintain that [men and women] are the same in aptitude, skill or behaviour is to build a society based on a biological and scientific lie.’

Moir and Jessel claim that infants come into the world ‘with their minds made up’ through gender. In the womb, the sexual organs douse the embryo with hormones, which, in the case of a boy, transform the basically female neural template into a male brain: strong in visual-spatial ability, highly compartmentalised, possessing a thinner corpus callosum and hence fewer connections between the left and right halves of the brain. The average female brain has particularly focused verbal centres in both halves, but other skills are diffused; a thicker corpus callosum and the distribution of skill centres allows for more extensive connection among the various mental functions.

As a result of their neural structuring, men have an inborn advantage in mathematics, physics, abstract thinking, and all sports requiring hand-eye coordination. Compartmentalising their various mental states, they have difficulty expressing (right-brain) emotion in (left-brain) language. Most comfortable in object relations and naturally aggressive, men are promiscuous, competitive, and less emotional than women. Women’s linguistic acuity, sensory receptivity, and the extensive interconnection among their brain functions allow them to synthesise more information than men – the famous ‘women’s intuition’. They show an aptitude for all activities involving inter-personal relations (mothering, teaching, nursing). People-orientated, sensitive and emotional, they are generally monogamous, and sacrifice prestige and gain for social cohesion.

The hormonal washing in the womb is not a one-off event, but a repeated process in which the physically-sexed body parts, the appropriate brain structure, and the mechanisms of sexual arousal, are severally generated. If anything should go wrong with these sexual baptisms, the child will be ‘abnormally’ male or female. If a mother takes female hormones through part of the pregnancy, for example, her boy child may look physically male and have a masculine range of abilities and mental traits, but be attracted to men rather than women. If the female hormone interferes at a different point in pregnancy, the physically male child may act unaggressively and show other ‘feminine’ mental traits, as well as being attracted to men. Or he might look like a man, act like a ‘sissy’ and be attracted to women. It all depends on what phase of the hormonal action is disturbed.

Since male foetuses have to be acted upon by testosterone in order to develop male brains, whereas females, in order to develop female brains, only require not to come into contact with male hormones, there is more chance of error when it comes to men, and therefore male homosexuals outnumber lesbians four to one. The authors blame similar hormonal vicissitudes for transsexuals and transvestites and, less dramatically, for a whole range of socially-condoned sexual variation-high-achieving women, retiring men, the Margaret Thatchers and J. Alfred Prufrocks of the world.

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