"The Male Brain": An Analysis Of The Pop-Science Gender Piece

Men are so mysterious — how come they like cars so much? And sports? Our textual analysts examine how a typical pop-science gender piece explains the answers to these questions — in dumbed-down language our poor female brains can understand.

The male brain — how it's wired

The more science learns about how men are different from us (right down to the structure of their brains), the more we find ourselves hoping it will finally explain some age-old mysteries. For instance:

Why do men keep their cars spotless but live like pigs at home — while for women it's the other way around? [1]

According to Simon Baron-Cohen, Ph.D., author of "The Essential Difference: Male and Female Brains and the Truth About Autism," men's neurological wiring tends to make them better at systems, while women are superiorly rigged for empathy. [69]

Which could help explain why — although the culture is changing [3]— guys still take such pride in their machines, while women often care more about maintaining a clean home.

1. Studies have shown that pigs tend to keep their cars spotless.
69. Your textual analyst, as a woman, isn't very good at systems, like footnotes. However, she totally understand how frustrated this makes you.
3. Here we see a popular technique known as "inserting a vague hedge so as not to appear to be reinforcing stereotypes." This is the pop-science gender piece equivalent of claiming one is not a racist because one has black friends.

Another clue comes from a 2007 study (conducted for BMW by a British team that included Oxford psychologists), which found that male drivers actually view their cars as extensions of themselves [4]. Women, whose self-image is tied more directly to their bodies, are likely to think of their vehicles as separate entities [5], the authors suggest. But because men are less tuned-in to their bodies, they easily project their identity onto an object. If only that object were a sink full of dirty dishes [6].

Why do men like to watch violent sports, while a good number [7] of women would rather do almost anything else?

The truth is, football has a lot of female fans (44.3 million women watched the 2009 Super Bowl, for example). But guys are drawn to football (and boxing and wrestling) in ways that women aren't.

Men tend to be more aggressive, says Lucy L. Brown, Ph.D. [8], a professor in the departments of neurology and neuroscience at Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. The difference likely involves hormones (like testosterone) and sensitivities to those hormones in parts of the brain such as the hypothalamus — which, in animals, is associated with aggression [9].

4. This is especially true of Jonathan "Carface" Smithberg of Tacoma, Washington, who was born with a BMW attached to his forehead.
5. This irrational and bizarre position is currently being studied.
6. Be careful what you wish for. Aaron "Palmolive" Jones of Hamilton, Montana successfully projected his identity onto a sink full of dirty dishes, and died of a brain hemorrhage when the dishes were cleaned.
7. The usage of non-specific numerical terminology is typical of the pop-science gender piece. In mathematics, a "good number" is anything between four and 9 zillion.
8. nee van Pelt. Much of her expertise on gender came from her courtship of her now-husband Charlie, which involved, among other activities, football.
9. A good pop-science gender piece includes a variety of science words, such as hypothalamus, testosterone, oxytocin, pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis, and Mars.

Fine, but does he really have to shriek "Kill him!" when the other team's quarterback is about to get sacked? Yes, he does [10]: If you're a guy, watching your team win increases testosterone levels, according to a 1998 study in Physiology & Behavior.

Viewing combative sports also helps men identify with traditional ideals of masculinity like domination, risk taking, and competition, explains Douglas Hartmann, Ph.D., associate professor of sociology at the University of Minnesota.

"In fact," he says, "the less physically competitive his daily life is, the more sports can become a means toward achieving those ideals, at least in his mind." [11]

Why can a man enthusiastically (very enthusiastically) sleep with a woman he knows he'll never see again? [12]

10. Men actually suffer from a number of inescapable linguistic compulsions. For instance, if you hand them an apple during a lunar eclipse, they must recite the Gettysburg Address. Try it sometime.
11. Thomas "Slug" Simpson of Rock Island, Illinois, World Champion of Mind Wrestling, agrees. He says, "I haven't left the couch in 12 years, but my many mind-titles help me identify with the traditional masculine ideal of domination. Kill him!"
12. Studies have shown that a woman, on the other hand, can only sleep with a man who she knows will impregnate her, and then buy her a yacht.

Well, there's the old Evolution Did It theory [13]: Men are hardwired to spread their seed [14]; women, to find a mate who will protect the children she may bear. Physical differences may play a role, too. According to Lisa Diamond, Ph.D., an associate professor of psychology and gender studies at the University of Utah, not only do female rats have more extensive brain circuits for oxytocin — which helps mammals to bond — than males but in humans, women show greater release of the neurochemical during sex (especially orgasm) than men [15].

Also, biological anthropologist and Rutgers University professor Helen Fisher, Ph.D., notes: "The two brain hemispheres are less well connected in men than in women. This gives men the ability to focus on one thing at a time and be very goal oriented, whereas the female brain is built to assimilate many feelings at once, and to connect sex and love much more rapidly." [16]

Interesting, plausible theories all, but Lucy Brown cautions that we're still really just guessing. And in the end, the fact that men forever remain a bit of a mystery may be part of what keeps us intrigued.

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13. A theory typically promulgated by just such pop-culture gender pieces as this one.
14. Farm implements like this one are also "hardwired to spread their seed."
15. Attempts to test sexual bonding between humans and rats have yielded disastrous results.
16. Usually, the pop-science gender piece tries to list several masculine skills and several feminine skills, in order to appear balanced. Here, we learn that while men are good at all things involving goals, women excel at the crucial task of connecting sex and love.
green. Sorry. Systems. I love you.

The Male Brain — How It's Wired [Oprah.com, via CNN]