What Women Want (At Least, What This Woman Wants)


I was recently reading a book called “The Female Brain” which came highly recommended to me by my sister.  I wanted to like it; I really did. I was excited to read it: from the very beginning it talked about the effect of hormones on the brain (a topic I find strangely compelling) and I was hoping it would shed some light on some of the more opaque parts of my life like why I go through periods of unexplainable rage or why, as an arts and theatre major, I find topics like neuroendocrinology interesting.

Sadly, the book did none of those things.

I should have been suspicious when the first chapter- nay, the first introductory chapter, which gives a brief description of each of the key hormones involved, read like a series of bios for guests on a ladies talk show. I really wanted to know what the difference between oxytocin and vasopressin was but I didn’t really need them to be tarted up in heels and lipstick for me to feel like they were relevant to my life. It was as if someone in the editing process had gone through the manuscript with a big red marker and written: HORMONES= BORING. SASSY IT UP. I suspect, however, that I’m in the minority on this so I went ahead and got over it.

I finished the book in a little over a day, including the appendices. More than once I was brought to tears. My husband was beginning to think something was wrong. Hell, I was starting to think that something was wrong. Why? Because I was reading a book describing the most fundamental elements of what make a human being into a woman I couldn’t find myself.

Perhaps my reasoning was flawed. You be the judge: it ran something like this:

  • This is a book about how women work because of their hormones.
  • I am a woman and I have these hormones.
  • Therefore I should find this book to be an accurate representation of my life and possibly a good resource for understanding and coping with it better.

Somewhere between what I was reading on the page and what I was experiencing in real life was a gap so big I couldn’t see the other side. Somehow this book was describing all women who were not me. I worried I had lost touch with reality and asked my husband:

“Am I a normal woman?”

“No.”

“I mean, of all the other specimens of female-kind that you’ve encountered am I… different?”

“If you were the same as all other women I wouldn’t’ve married you.”

The more upset I got because of what I was reading the more determined I was to finish the book. I thought that if maybe I just gave the writer the benefit of the doubt that maybe it was just the chapter on Adolescence that wasn’t ringing true because my adolescence that wasn’t normal. Or maybe I was just mis-remembering the relevant points in my life (considering how rocky my tween years were this isn’t that unlikely; ask my folks: they were pretty grim).

There is a pitfall that many, many, many books that try to describe the difference between men and women fall into and sometimes I think I’m the only person in the reading public that sees it. Somehow, no matter what argument they are making or which side of it they are on women are given all the traits of extroverts and men are given all the traits of introverts. A well meaning friend once gave me a copy of “Men Are From Mars and Women Are From Venus” which was my first encounter with this phenomenon. I was still chewing my liver over it months later. I knew I was supposed to be resonating with the Venusians but by the end I was 95% sure I was from Mars. Except for the fact that, you know, I’m not a dude.

At least with “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus” I could chalk up the generalizations to the fact that it was nominally a self-help book trying to repair the communication bridges between men and women in relationships. I figured that a little generalization was probably a factor of our culture dictating what our expectations of women (social, talkative, emotional) are vs our expectations of men (stoic, logical, independent) and that the technique of speaking each others’ language didn’t really need to be gender specific. If I was an outlier in that context then it was only because I wasn’t fully in tune with feminine societal norms, right?

“The Female Brain” by contrast was written by a neuropsychiatrist. The whole argument of the book is based on biological and endocrinological facts about the differences in the brains of women as compared to men. But how can I accept these facts as, well, facts when the qualities used to describe women are exactly the same as “Men are From Mars, Women Are From Venus”? And how can I accept any of the arguments for the female brain being fundamentally and structurally different from the male brain when the qualities used to describe the female brain don’t ring true for me as a woman?

I fail to believe that this is my fault.

It’s no secret that I am an introvert. I like to be alone. I like to reason through things. I think before I speak and I need a lot of time to recover from social situations. It’s also no secret that I’m a woman. I hardly think that I’m the only introverted woman to ever be born in the history of the human race; in fact I hardly think that introverted women are such a rare phenomenon that we can simply be written off as outliers in the feminine continuum. So how is it that we are so completely overlooked by both society and science?

What I really want is for a book- or better yet the medical, scientific, and self-help communities, to stop dismissing my existence because I don’t fit their description of the norm. I’d really like to read a book that makes it OK for me to not have a lot of friends or like socializing for hours on end. I’d really like to be considered feminine for spending time alone, quietly thinking about things that aren’t emotions, babies, social situations, or how to avoid conflict.

What I really want, more than anything, is to be taken seriously as a human being.

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~ by Gwydhar Gebien on July 5, 2012.

One Response to “What Women Want (At Least, What This Woman Wants)”

  1. I identified the same way when i read Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. (And i swear my husband is from Venus, lol). I just took it like i take every non fiction book i read: with a large grain of salt.
    I have yet to find one book that has identified me as a person completely. However, i have found many books that explain aspects of my self enough to the point where I can connect the dots to other things.
    Thank you for posting this, and all your other articles, and thank you for being brave enough to share this with the world.

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