Why Gender Matters - for Parents
Male/female differences in the ability to smell. Common scenario: a mother says to her son, in the son’s bedroom, “How can you stand it in here? It stinks!” The son answers, “I don’t smell anything.” Mom thinks her son is being defiant and disrespectful. The son thinks mom is being weird. Neither recognizes that they are experiencing different sensory worlds. The son really doesn’t smell anything. For more on this point, see my article on this topic for the New York Times, as well as chapter 2 of my book Why Gender Matters, 2017 edition.
Female/male differences in brain development. Girls reach full maturity in brain development by about 22 years of age. Boys, not until about 30 years of age. Female/male differences diminish as a function of age: such differences are small among adults, but large among children. (We define an “adult” as a female over 22 years, or a male over 30 years.) We explore the significance of these findings for parents.
Male/female differences in language acquisition. According to a study at Cambridge University, the vocabulary of the average 18-month-old girl is about 90 words. The vocabulary of the average 18-month-old boy is only about 40 words. Other studies have yielded similar results. Most parents don’t know about these studies. If you have an older daughter and a younger son, don’t compare your son to your daughter, especially with regard to language acquisition. You might easily conclude that your son is ‘delayed,’ when in fact . . .he is just a normal boy! What else do parents need to know about girl/boy differences in language?
Female/male differences in the visual system: We review recent research which demonstrates that the visual system is different in females compared with males – not only in our species, but in other primates as well (see the appendix at the end of Why Gender Matters, second edition, for more information and scholarly citations). Parents who understand these differences are better able to understand why most girls want to draw pictures that are different from the pictures most boys want to draw. And, why your daughter says it’s “periwinkle” when your son says it’s “blue”!
Male/female differences in the auditory system: We review recent research demonstrating that the average girl is more sensitive to mid-range sounds compared with the average boy (again, see the appendix at the end of Why Gender Matters, second edition, for more information and scholarly citations). The father who doesn’t understand this is more likely to have a daughter who says her father is always shouting at her. The lack of awareness of hardwired male/female differences can drive a family apart.