Monday, March 08, 2004
What is it with men and cars? Why doesn't he notice how much housework needs to be done? Why does he need to keep a grip on the remote control? And the most bewildering one of all -- why won't he just talk to me?
The answers, says social philosopher and author Michael Gurian, lie not in laziness, sexism or sheer pigheadedness but in profound differences between the male and female brain -- and scientists now have the technology to prove it.
"What Could He Be Thinking? How a Man's Mind Really Works," combines two decades of neurobiological research with anecdotes from everyday life and Gurian's experience as a family therapist to present a new vision of the male psyche.
It's a vision that Gurian hopes will help promote a better understanding of men and reverse what he sees as the dangerous assumption born of the past 40 years of radical femininism that men have simply become redundant.
"As a culture, we've made profound mistakes in the last few decades by assuming that men were unnecessary. Many people have even gone so far as to negate or dismiss what is at the core of a man," Gurian writes.
Gurian, author of the 1996 groundbreaking book "The Wonder of Boys" and its follow-up "The Wonder of Girls," is no anti-feminist. He is married with two daughters, and his book mines the field of brain science to help improve relations between couples.
Culture plays a part, but Gurian argues that biology matters much more than previously realized.
"The science has been crucial. Wherever I go, I start by showing PET scans and people can see for themselves the differences between the male and female brain. I think that alters life and marriages," Gurian told Reuters.
The science part
Such are the advances in technology and understanding that PET radioactive-imaging and MRI magnetic-imaging scans can now show whether a man and a woman are truly in love by measuring the amount of activity in the cingulate gyrus, an emotion center in the brain, Gurian says.
Like a guide through a secret forest, his book leads the nonscientist through the complex world of brain science and relates it to some of the most frustrating sources of conflict between men and women in long-term relationships.
The male brain secretes less of the powerful primary bonding chemical oxytocin and less of the calming chemical serotonin than the female brain.
So while women find emotional conversations a good way to chill out at the end of the day, the tired male brain needs to zone out all that touchy-feely chatter in order to relax -- which is why he wants the remote control to zap through "mindless" sport or action movies.
His brain takes in less sensory detail than a woman's, so he doesn't see or even feel the dust and household mess in the same way. Anyhow, the male brain attaches less personal identity to the inside of a home and more to the workplace or the yard -- which is why he doesn't get worked up about housework.
Male hormones such as testosterone and vasopressin set the male brain up to seek competitive, hierarchical groups in its constant quest to prove self-worth and identity. That is why men, paradoxically (from a hormonally altered new mother's point of view), become even more workaholic once they have kids, to whom they must also prove their worth.
Back to nature
Gurian says his book is aimed mainly at women. "Men get this already. They are living this brain but they don't have the conscious language to explain it. Women are not living it.
"If they are relating to a man, I hope they will be touched, informed and entertained and will have a new vision of the way they can make their relationship work.
"I beg people to go back to nature, look at the PET scans, look at the brain differences and see if it makes sense."
If it does, the consequences are profound for a generation of "liberated" women brought up to believe it is men who have to change, and men who must respond to a female way of relating in order for marriage to succeed.
Gurian says men can learn new skills and alter their behavior but they will not be able to meet all of women's expectations.
"Popular culture focuses so much on trying to get people closer. Most people believe that marriages break up because men and women are not close enough. But what I am learning about the brain leads to the idea of intimate separateness, in which the brain seeks less intimacy at times," Gurian said.
"People want to love each other. If we can learn who we might be -- not what IS he thinking, but what COULD he be thinking -- then I am optimistic."