Demystified: The Female Brain, Explained
The Female Brain, Explained
Sex sells. As television producers, film directors, and adverting moguls can attest to, sexual images and racy vocabulary in the media draw attention and attract heightened responses. Louann Brizendine, M.D. was certainly aware of this fact while writing and publicizing her eye-opening book, The Female Brain (1).
Brizendine's book was published in 2006 and intended for both women and men to read. She chose to paint the back cover in quotations that spoke of the books ability to explain women. For example, Christiane Northrup, M.D., and the author of The Wisdom of Menopause wrote, “…All women-and the men who love them-should read this book.” Daniel Goleman, the author of Social Intelligence, wrote “Finally, a satisfying answer to Freud's question, 'What does a woman want?' Louann Brizendine has done a great favor for ever man who wants to understand the puzzling woman in his life…”. On her website, Louann Brizendine went on to describe what the book has to offer. In a welcome message, she explained that the book could teach anyone “what your sex hormones do for you every day, how falling in love and choosing a mate are balanced by your brain and hormones, [how to] instantly increase you communication with the opposite sex -- learn what you and he are really thinking about, [how to] improve your emotional and social I.Q. -- [she is] sure you want more love and communication in your relationships” (2). Brizendine went on to discuss various chapters in the book in an attempt to sway listeners into purchasing her work.
However, despite what critics, scholars, and even Dr. Louann Brizendine herself may say about the book, I believe that there is more to it than just sex. Although in order to sell copies, selling sex may be an effective technique, the book itself is an enlightening look at the inner workings of the female brain.
In the opening chapter of her book, Dr. Brizendine appropriately explains what makes women women. She explains that 99 percent of male and female genetic coding is exactly is the same in men and women. However, she goes on to emphasize that the one percent difference is extremely important in that it influences every single aspect of a woman's life and every single cell in a woman's body. This means that the one percent difference affects everything “from the nerves that register pleasure and pain to the neurons that transmit perception, thoughts, feelings, and emotions.” Brizendine is also quick to mention that although male brains are nine percent larger than female brains, both women and men have the same number of brain cells. However, this book is not a comparison of the male and female brains. Although the book does provide information about the male brain, in the end, readers are left hoping that in the future Dr. Brizendine will write a book about the inner workings of the male brain.
The Female Brain travels chronologically through the life of a woman, and is then supplemented by an epilogue and three appendixes. The book is filled with colorful examples, making it a pleasurable read.
After Dr. Brizendine describes the neuro-hormones she will later refer to in the book, the phases in a female's life, and what makes women themselves, she begins with “the birth of the female brain.” In this chapter, The Female Brain explains that baby girls are born interested in studying faces. This is because they are interested in the actions and expressions of others, as well as the responses of others to them. Baby girls are acutely socially aware from the beginning of their lives, and, in fact, from the time that they are in utero. Female fetus's brain cells develop more connections in the communication centers and in the areas that process emotion. This means that baby girls are more susceptible to notice and become upset by social discomfort and chaos. As baby girls become youngsters, they remain increasingly socially conscious. Whereas boys will often throw a punch to communicate, girls will reason. Young girls aim to maintain relationships with friends and family. However, little girls are not perfect. In order to be in the limelight, maintain social order, and create community young girls may often become aggressive and bossy.
Yet, the aggression that may occasionally spike in a young girl does not compare to the turbulence of the “teen girl” brain. Teenage girls are care more about the way they look, become increasingly sensitive, have new sleep cycles and are carry more stress due to estrogen and progesterone waves, and cortisol levels. At their core, teenage girls have a fear of conflict. Thus, although it may often seem as though they are being unreasonably mean, they have purpose. Female teenagers are sexually competitive, in an effort to survive and find a mate, and socially competitive, in an effort to secure a close, protective group of friends.
In subsequent chapters Brizendine discusses both “love and trust,” and “sex: the brain below the belt.” According to her research the doctor explains that although women may believe that they have control over the relationships in their lives, who we love is actually determined by our biology. The Female Brain asserts that both women and men choose spouses based on mating potential. The book also discusses how women become attached, which is through the neurohormones oxytocin and estrogen. These hormones need to be replenished through touch and contact, thus many couples realize how much they depend on each other when they are apart.
The Female Brain goes on to describe “the mommy brain” and “emotion: the feeling brain,” before concluding with “the mature female brain.” At this point, the female brain has come full circle as women in menopause become less focused on pleasing others and more concerned with pleasing themselves. At this stage in a women's life, the circuits remain, however the hormones necessary for boosting communication, emotion, tenderness, caring, and the urge to avoid conflict dwindle. However, along with estrogen drops, many women also experiences drops in other hormones which estrogen affects. These include serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and acetylcholine. Thus, this change in life can be challenging as many women struggle to find a new self, with irritability, with new sleep patterns, and with memory lapses.
Many concepts in this book were illuminated by the Neurobiology and Behavior course taught at Bryn Mawr College by Professor Paul Grobstein. The Female Brain is a book, despite how it may be advertised, written to explain women to themselves. Although I, as a women, have personally experienced, witnessed, and acted upon many of the hormonal patterns of behavior described in the book, I was never aware of why I was acting in such a way, feeling as I was, or seeing what was in front of me. I was also never aware of the fact that most women experience similar emotions, and therefore act in similar ways. Thus, the discussion of generalized control mechanisms in Neurobiology and Behavior helps to explain how one can experience and act in certain ways without noticing or understanding why. Hormonal fluctuations are autonomous from the environment and the I-function, have pharmacological dependence, and have associated potential problems. The hormonal changes, surges, and drops in a woman's life cause shifts that can often be extreme but seem unexplained. Therefore, an acceptance of the generalized control mechanisms aids in explaining these changes.
The Female Brain is an excellent account of an extremely puzzling part of the human body. The book is clear and direct, as well as poignant and funny. Dr. Louann Brizendine has done an excellent job of fusing science and literature in order to create a piece that is both educational and enjoyable to read. The female brain has been demystified.
(1) Brizendine, Louann. The Female Brain. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006.
(2) Brizendine, Louann. "The Female Brain." 2006.