Marianne J. Legato, MD, FACP, is a professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University and has devoted herself to the study of “gender medicine.” She has concluded, on the basis of massive (and often quite recent, Nobel Prize awarded) research, that men and women are in fact quite different, fully aware that this truth may offend some in the feminist movement—including a large contingent of Harvard professors who effectively ousted President Larry Summers for daring to suggest it. Truth to tell, “there is a tremendous risk in categorizing certain behaviors as ‘male’ or ‘female’” (p. xxii) as she does throughout her recent treatise (written with the assistance of Laura Tucker). Why Men Never Remember and Women Never Forget (Rodale, 2005) makes clear why this is so and offers suggestions concerning how we should deal with the opposite sex.
Legato’s thesis, set forth in the Introduction, is this: “Men and women think differently, approach problems differently, emphasize the importance of things differently, and experience the world around us through entirely different filters” (p. xiv). While processing information, men use only one side of the brain and consider “one thing at a time” (p. xvi). Women, however, have more gray matter in the frontal cortex of their brains and simultaneously synthesize several strands of information. Consequently, women have significantly superior verbal skills, whereas men are able to focus like a laser on specific tasks.
“Men and Women Are Different” declares chapter one, affirming the consensus judgment of common sense. A few decades ago, Legato says, she and others “assumed that women were, physiologically speaking, simply small men” (p. 2). Brain studies, however, make it clear just how the sexes differ. At the moment of conception we are genetically either male or female. So many sexual differences are “hardwired. But as soon as we’re born, the environment works in powerful ways to interact with, and even change, our hardwiring to shape the way we act and interface with others. . . . . Treating your daughter like she’s a girl may make her more so” (p. 7). Though men’s brains are larger, “women use more parts of their brains when given a wide variety of verbal and spatial tasks” (p. 10).
Sexual differences naturally explain sexual attraction. Women want men who will “provide emotional and financial security” and display strength and assertiveness, whereas men desire women who are “young and healthy enough to reproduce; indeed, many of the physical characteristics that men find most attractive in women are ones that connote youth and good health” (p. 19). Like it or not, looks matter! Women crave men who are “sociable, approachable, and of high social status. They also gave high marks to expensive or elegant clothing” (p. 22). In the dating and mating dance, women initiate (at least 70 percent of the time) the process, though the process is so “subtle” that the man appears to make “’the first move’” (p. 30). A man initiates a conversation only after a favorable “glance from the woman” (p. 30).
Legato devotes a chapter to conversational differences between the sexes. As important as it is to communicate well, men and women frequently fail in this area. From the moment of birth, girls hear better than boys. Subsequently, they listen better and talk more fluently. Studies of the brain simply document the fact that male and female brains significantly differ in their capacity to handle words. Women also interpret visual cues—i.e. facial expressions, body language—more skillfully than men. And they also have better memories “for the spoken word” (p. 68). Consequently, they remember all the details of arguments quickly forgotten by men. Women love to talk and tell stories, especially about family and home; it’s a part of sustaining friendships. Men, however, talk mainly to get information, discussing the news or sporting events.
Having explained and justified her position, Legato proceeds to offer advice regarding marriage, parenting, stress and aging. Some of her views are derived from her studies; others come from her personal experience. Apart from what she considers scientifically demonstrable, however, she gives no clear moral guidance. Multiple marriages (including her own)—and affairs between married folks—may be the best way to cope with life. Despite the lack of a moral compass, however, the book merits reading for its cogent defense of one, simple, guiding truth: the differences between men and women are anything but social constructions, they are naturally given and inescapable.
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Meg Meeker’s Epidemic: How Teen Sex is Killing Our Kids (reviewed in “Reedings” #135) is a book I recommend to everyone concerned with adolescent sexuality. She has recently published Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know (Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., c. 2006) to emphasize the irreplaceable role of fathers in rearing healthy daughters. Whereas Epidemic was richly documented and sought to describe alarming developments in the nation, this book is generally anecdotal and filled with the common sense of a practicing physician, wife (married to a physician with whom she shares a medical practice), and mother of four children. The bibliography duly refers us to serious scholarly resources, but the text itself targets a popular audience.
A medical doctor, Meeker credits her father (also a MD) with instilling in her the confidence she has needed to succeed in life. He “was an eccentric man, quiet, antisocial and extremely smart” (p. 3). He said very little, yet his daughter always knew he loved her. “My dad protected me fiercely, to the point where I was almost too embarrassed to date anyone. He was a hunter and he let my boyfriends know that” (p. 3). It was easier to talk with her mother, but she knew she’d call on her dad, who was “tough” and “serious,” if ever her “life or health” were endangered. He was thoroughly, unapologetically, masculine.
In retrospect, ever more deeply impressed by her father, Meeker says: “When we think of masculine men, we (women at least) envision those with one overriding quality: a spine of steel. Nothing makes a woman’s heart melt like a man with courage and resolve” (p. 132). “True masculinity is the moral exercise of authority. And your little girl needs it” (p. 47). Troubled girls rarely have “authoritative” fathers; their dads are almost always absent or indifferent. Even when she “pushes hard against your rules, flailing, crying that you are mean or unfair, she is really asking you a question: Am I worth the fight, Dad? Are you strong enough to handle me? Make sure she knows the answer is yes” (p. 32).
All daughters need what Meeker’s dad provided. Men, she insists, “are natural leaders, and your family looks to you for qualities that only fathers have. You were made a man for a reason, and your daughter is looking to you for guidance that she cannot get from her mother” (p. 4). She has written this book to summon men to stand up and assume the role required of them if their daughters are to flourish. “Men, good men,” she says: “We need you. We—mothers, daughters, and sisters—need your help to raise healthy young women. We need every ounce of masculine courage and wit you own, because fathers, more than anyone else, set the course for a daughter’s life” (p. 7). In her medical practice, she has talked with hundreds of girls. She has watched them react to their fathers’ presence. And she firmly believes that dads really matter.
They matter because every girl wants a hero. And she wants, above all else, for that hero to be her dad. She wants someone who will protect her. Indeed, Meeker devotes an entire chapter to this theme: “Protect Her, Defend Her (and use a shotgun if necessary).” She wants someone who will enforce rules that protect her—especially from the sexual predators (both in person and the media) that prowl about everywhere. Knowing the ravages resulting from teenage promiscuity—STDs, depression, suicide—dads must resolutely stand guard over their daughters’ sexual behavior. “Of the fifteen to eighteen million new cases of STDs that occur every year, two-thirds occur in kids under the age of twenty-five” (p. 101). This need not be! Strong fathers could prevent lots of it! For the truth is: “If you don’t want your daughter to be sexually active in high school, you need to tell her, you need to teach her. Otherwise, she will be. Popular culture trains our daughters for a life of promiscuity” (p. 121).
Dads are also important because they’re their daughters’ first love. Girls easily identify with their mothers, for they have much in common. But men are a mysterious and alluring other. So girls desire to know and love the opposite sex, and they rightfully long to establish ties with their fathers. Daughters need to know, continually, that they are loved. Words are important, but actions count for much more. Setting and enforcing curfews, spending time together (even when little is said), listening to her a mere 10 minutes a day, telling her you love her. Above all: stay married to her mother, even when it takes unusual grit and discomfort. “The most common cause of unhappiness and despair, what crushes the spirit of children more often than anything else, is divorce. Divorce is really the central problem that has created a generation of young adults who are at higher risk for chaotic relationships, sexually transmitted diseases, and confusion about life’s purpose” (p. 144). And, ultimately, if you’re a good dad, chances are your daughter will marry a man just like you. If you’re truthful, she’ll covet a truthful husband. If you’re a man of integrity, she’ll look for that quality in a man.
Importantly, dads must realize that they will, like it or not, “teach her who God is.” In this book, unlike her early one, Meeker reveals her religious commitments. She insists that girls need God, and they need a dad who will “show her who He is, what he is like, and what he thinks about her” (p. 177). Irreligious parents reading this book, she says, need to disregard much the media says about religion and realize how deeply children need religious roots. All sorts of research demonstrate the healthy role religious faith plays in the lives of the young. Parents who ignore this endanger their kids far more than parents who smoke cigarettes in their cars and homes! “God is more important than dinner” (p. 182). “Kids are born with an inherent sense that life is more than what they see” (p. 181). They simply know that there is “an invisible, real, and wonderful” inner self, the “soul,” that is of ultimate and eternal worth. Dads “are the first authority figure” in a girl’s life. “If you are trustworthy, loving, and kind, your daughter will approach god more easily” (p. 190). Much more than boys, “girls tend to see more similarities between God and their parents” (p. 190). So dads need to read (C.S. Lewis, Lee Strobel, Thomas a Kempis, Pascal and Dostoevsky are recommended) and think and come to conclusions regarding God. Your daughters especially need to know where you stand—and where you are headed.
In a land plagued by “experts” who insist kids can be reared by same-sex couples, or by single parents, Meeker’s book is a realistic reminder that both boys and girls (and girls especially) need dads who are committed to and involved in their daughters’ development. As Armand M. Nicholi, Jr., M.D., professor of psychiatry at Harvard medical School, the author of The Question of God, says: “No one interested in what children experience growing up in our culture today and the impact that parents, especially fathers, have on that experience, can afford to miss reading this book.”
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Meeker and Legato certainly espouse politically incorrect views on various issues. So, as one might expect, Carrie L. Lukas, in The Politically Incorrect Guide to Women, Sex, and Feminism (Washington: Regnery Publishing, Inc., c. 2006), shares and extends their basic positions. Lukas did her undergraduate work at Princeton, earned a master’s degree from Harvard, and is the vice president for policy and economics at the Independent Women’s Forum. She declares: “The modern feminist movement isn’t about women’s equality. It’s about an agenda designed to benefit a special interest group: women who will follow the professional feminist’s idea of what a woman should want” (p. ix).
She insists that men and women are truly different and that romance (drawing together the two sexes in a relationship that is more than sexual) is truly good. Despite the feminist briefs for “safe sex” and unlimited sexual freedom and the abolition of marriage, most women actually desire lasting, monogamous, marriages. Despite the hostility to men amply evident in women’s studies departments and feminist literature, despite the inflated rhetoric about female “victims of violence” at the hands of vicious males, most women long for the “right man” to come along. Despite the approbation afforded divorce, as the first step to take when unhappy in a marriage, the evidence mounts regarding the devastation of splintered unions and fractured kids.
Lukas also insists on facing “fertility facts.” Increasingly numbers of women remain childless—and age plays a major role in this fact. It’s simply much easier to get pregnant when you in your 20s than in your 30s. But women are increasingly marrying (and hoping to conceive) too late to realistically expect to procreate. The National Association of Women blithely assures the faithful that women can easily conceive in their 40s, but such propaganda is utterly self-serving rather than truthful. Consequently, “Many women have been led to believe that they can postpone childbearing without consequence and regret that decision later in life” (p. 110). For many women discover, at the age of 40, having “made it” in a career, that they long for children much more than money and vocational “success.”
In fact, work in the real world rarely resembles the fantasies of feminist literature, portraying a “politically correct TV-land” filled with female “lawyers, surgeons, or impeccably dressed advertising executives” (p. 135). Most working women in the real world, however, “are working in traditional fields and are motivated by financial need” (p. 138). Given other options (part-time work or full-time homemaking), only 15 percent of the nation’s women want “to work full-time” (p. 139). Increasingly, women acknowledge the impossibility of “having it all.” You can be a successful career woman or a satisfied mom. Attaining both goals, except for those privileged few (often the professors who write and teach the books assigned in university classes), proves to be difficult if not impossible. Complicating the picture are the “daycare delusions” promoted by feminists and politicians. Kids just don’t thrive in daycare, nor are moms happy to be away from them for most of their waking hours.
All-in-all, Lukas concludes that women have been seriously misled by their self-anointed leaders. Her book is a wake-up call, designed to embolden women who want to live as they are designed to live.
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In Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity (Grand Rapids: Brazos Press, c. 2005), Lauren F. Winner persuasively argues (from a very modern perspective) the case for an ancient virtue. “Chastity,” she notes, “is one of the many Christian practices that are at odds with the dictates of our surrounding, secular culture” (p. 9). However unpopular, however, it is perennially right, for it “is God’s very best for us. God created sex for marriage and that is where it belongs” (p. 15).
Real Sex, in many ways, is a profoundly personal story, for Winner transparently details her less-than-chaste pre-Christian life. Coming to faith in Christ, however, led to conviction for sin (while receiving the sacrament of penance in an Episcopal church) and (through many struggles) commitment to chastity. Her position, importantly, is deeply rooted in the scriptures and traditions of the church. Neither a subjective personal opinion nor a simplistic citing of selected Bible verses, it’s an ethic grounded “in the faithful living of the fullness of the gospel” (p. 30).
What’s needed in our day is a faithful explication of this gospel. Everyone seems to freely talk about sex. Talk is truly cheap when it’s about sex! All the talk, all the sex education, all the “liberated” TV and seminar discussions of a “new morality” have de-sanctified and vulgarized what ought to be one of the most precious of human interactions. “The problem is not that we talk about sex,” Winner says. “The problem is how we talk about sex” (p. 63). We need some “straight talk,” refuting the secular lie that “sex can be wholly separated from procreation” (p. 64). Christians need to carefully consider the ethical ramifications of contraception. For “if contraception invites us to be carefree, it also encourages us to be people who think we can control and schedule everything including the creation of our families, down to the month, down to the week. And, most important, it invites us to be people who have utterly separated sex from procreation” (p. 65).
Talking straight also leads us to reject the lie that “how you dress doesn’t matter” (p. 70). Modesty and appropriate clothing cannot be severed, though we have, as a society, increasingly failed “to discern why clothes matter, and what clothing is appropriate when” (p. 71). Winner argues that “casual Fridays” reveal much about our “confusion about clothes. Professional workplaces have dress codes in part because managers know that how we dress shapes our behavior” (p. 74). This is powerfully evident in students’ classroom behavior, where casual clothing encourages “a casual attitude, a slouching, an irreverence. But it is not my students’ fault. Some of their teachers wear blue jeans to class, so why should students dress up? They are, as it were, just following suit” (p. 76). So too, she says, casual dress (e.g. flip-flops) in church leavens a flippant attitude towards God and the holy.
Christians in earlier eras understood this. Granted, some preachers erred in their single-minded criticism of women’s fashions. But both men and women need to take seriously their appearance. “There is,” she argues, “a certain power in modest dressing, an assertion that though my body is beautiful, I am more than a sex object designed for your passing entertainment. But the power of dressing is also the power of narrative. For our clothes tell stories, and it would be naïve and irresponsible to pretend otherwise” (p. 77).
The “straight talk” Winner desires means the church must stop telling lies about sex! Despite much rhetoric, it’s not true that premarital sex will “make you feel lousy.” In truth, it often feels great. But feelings, of course, are often deceiving! And the Father of Lies generally “whispers to us about the goodness of something not good. It makes distortions feel good” (p. 89). What the church ought to clarify is this: “premarital sex is bad for us, even if it happens to feel great. In other words, sexual sin is not subjectively felt” (p. 90). That women dislike sex, that sex is somehow dirty, are other lies occasionally promoted within Christian circles.
Supported by “straight talk,” Christians can live chastely. Winner explains why fornication—and pornography and masturbation as well—must be rejected if one practices chastity. It takes self-discipline and the support of a strong faith community, but it’s possible to follow God’s will in this area. And it’s truly what’s good for us. “That people have sex outside marriage is understandable; we fornicate for the same reason we practice idolatry. Idolatry carries in it the seed of a good impulse—the impulse to worship our maker. Idolatry is that good impulse wrongly directed to disastrous ends. Like idolatry, fornication is a wrong reflection of a right creational impulse. We were made for sex. And so premarital sex tells a partial truth; that’s why it resonates with something. But partial truths are destructive. They push us to created goods wrongly lived. To borrow a phrase from Thomas Cranmer again: they are ultimately destructive to our selves, our souls and bodies” (p. 121).