Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget  

Friday, March 09, 2007

Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget
By Marianne J. Legato, MD, and Laura Tucker, 2005
Hardback, from the library

You should know
I was a Gender Studies minor in undergrad, so books about how men and women are different tend to spark my interest. Especially if they’re good.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. The author was apparently a pioneer in gender-specific medicine, so I was looking forward to some good, authoritive theorizing. And sure, there was some of that. For instance, it seems that after an argument, men’s brain chemistry returns to normal, while women’s brain chemistry stays in “upset” mood. So when he says, “But we finished this!” he’s right. And when she replies “No, we didn’t,” she’s right too. Sort of.

Also, while men have the typical “fight or flight” response to stress, women have more of a “tend and befriend” response, because evolutionarily… oh, blah blah blah babies blah blah hunters on the plains blah. It sounds like a good point at face value, but when I try to relay it, it just sounds stupid. That seems telling to me.

Especially since one of Legato’s points is that since men’s and women’s social roles are becoming more and more similar, so are their brains, so these differences may not be as severe as they once were.

Legato does make the interesting point that the reason many women reject the idea that men's and women's brains work differently is because of our idea that when two things are different, one of them (often the male one) are considered "better." So if we're going to be equal, we must be the same. Which, of course, we aren't.

Now, I’m not one to inject race and class into every bit of gender-studies literature I read, but it seems to me that the author’s points, especially the anecdotal ones, are largely based on American culture, and especially her particular slice of American culture. Yes, she cites studies done in other parts of the world, but I bet there are studies out there that disagree with her, too.

As for the studies, though they are mentioned frequently, they are rarely, if ever, properly cited. I checked the bibliography for the source of one reference she made; the first cited reference for that chapter was a one-act play she mentioned in passing.

Further, I don’t much like how she makes certain points. There is a sidebar in a later chapter about the pros and cons of hormone-replacement therapy. It starts out by saying that many women (but not how many) are worried about the potentially serious consequences of hormone therapy (but not what those consequences are are), but that the risk is actually low (but not how low). I want numbers before I trust your suggestion to screw around with my body chemistry, doc.

Finally, and this isn’t a criticism so much as a warning, but the book is clearly geared for female readers. That’s not to say that men won’t find it interesting or get something out of it (I plan to recommend it to Chris, in fact), but it’s something for those men to keep in mind.

Take it with a grain of salt
I’m sure it sounds like I hated this book. That’s not true. I didn’t like it as much as I expected to, and it let me down in the ways I outlined above. Still, it got me thinking, which is always good, and it raised some really intriguing ideas. So while it may not be for everyone, and I certainly wouldn’t blame you for giving up after a chapter or two, I do recommend it. Just… I’m glad I didn’t pay for it.

The rest of the Internet
An interview with Legato at WebMD.
A review as MindConnection.
Legato writes about gender-specific medicine for The New York Times.

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