I’m The Guy with the Female Brain: Expanding Our View of Manhood

11226868054_23014b4c45_zPrior to my birth my parents were sure I was going to be a girl. They had done some kind of tests (Don’t know whether they were medical or swinging a needle in front of my mother’s pregnant belly) that convinced them to begin picking out girl’s names and get lots of dolls ready for me. When I finally arrived they were surprised to see a baby boy. It took them weeks to figure out a name. My Dad finally named me Elliott after his recently deceased nephew. My mother hated the name and cried until he agreed to change it to John, after my mother’s deceased father. No one asked me what name I thought was appropriate.

My first memories were playing with the dolls that were meant for the girl who hadn’t been born and snuggling up at night, or whenever it was cold, with my mother’s big fur coat. I loved the feel of soft fur on my skin. I loved music and listened to my parent’s recording of Manhattan Tower, a story of love for the city where I was born. I think I was a born romantic and am still brought to tears by love songs.

I can still recall the words of Frankie Laine’s The Moon Light Gambler. “You can gamble for matchsticks. You can gamble for gold. The stakes may be heavy or small. But if you haven’t gambled for love and lost, then you haven’t gambled at all.” I was also hooked on romantic movies and would spend afternoons in a darkened theater watching Love is a Many Splendored Thing and Three Coins in a Fountain. I still cry at love stories.

It soon became apparent that I was different from the other boys and in some ways more similar to the girls. But I never felt “girly.” I just felt what I felt, liked what I liked, cried easily, and longed for love.

My first encounter with the gender stereotypes of what it means to be male or female came when I went to the shoe store for my first pair of “real boy shoes” when I was four years old. Up until then I had worn white baby shoes. I was entranced by all the shoes in the store in various colors. I spied the perfect pair for me. I can still picture them in my mind: Red Keds. I pointed them out to the salesman who smiled and told me and my mom. “You want the blue Keds. Red are for girls.” Off he went to the backroom to bring out a few to try on. I was shocked that there were certain colors reserved for boys and red wasn’t one of them.

When the salesman returned with the shoes, I insisted, “I want the Red Keds, not the blue ones.” He looked at my mother who shrugged as if to say, “Hey, what can I do. He likes the red shoes.” I walked out with my red Keds. I also became very defiant. No one was going to tell me what it meant to be a man. I liked red, still do, and proceeded to wear red.

When we went to pick out my first two-wheel bicycle, I was shown the “boys bikes” with the bar across the front. I wanted the bike with the scooped front. Even as a kid it was clear to me that going over bumps might bounce me off the seat. Landing with my balls on a bar was a risk it seemed silly to take. I got my scooped front bike. The kids teased me for riding a girl’s bike. But, though I wanted to fit in with the group, I stuck to my guns. “It’s not a girl’s bike,” I told them. “I’m a boy, so whatever I choose to ride is obviously a boy’s bike.”

I do remember getting into a fight when I was 11 or 12 when I came to school wearing jeans with elastic in the waistband. I was told that these were girl’s jeans and I was a sissy for wearing them. They were comfortable and I like them, but I was tired of being ridiculed so I fought back. I found that fighting was clearly a “guy thing” and getting or giving a bloody nose got extra points on the manliness scale. Turned out I quite liked fighting, as long as no one really got hurt. Tussling and roughhousing with other boys brought us closer together and some of my best friends were the boys I regularly got in fights with. Teachers thought I might have Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). My mother said, “He’s just being a boy.”

Sports was another area that I enjoyed and was associated with manly endeavor. Although I was small, I loved playing football. Catching a long pass was a joy like nothing else I had ever felt. I also loved throwing a long pass to one of my buddies. If there weren’t other kids to play with I would play both quarterback and receiver and pass the fall ahead and run and catch it. I would listen to radio broadcasts of college games and have fantasies of far-away places with exotic names like The Citadel, Holy Cross, Tulane, Duke, UConn, and Wake Forrest (next to Sherwood Forrest?)

Finding an identity that fits us includes coming to peace with what it means to be a man or a woman. Given that my sense of maleness has been at odds with what the larger society believes, I’m fascinated reading and learning about sex and gender issues. One of the most interesting is Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference: The Truth about the Male & Female Brain. Dr. Baron-Cohen is professor of psychology and psychiatry at Cambridge University and doesn’t waste time giving the core message of the book. In the first paragraph he says, “The subject of essential sex differences in the mind is clearly very delicate. I could tiptoe around it, but my guess is that you would like the theory of the book stated plainly. So here it is:

The female brain is predominantly hard-wired for empathy.

The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.

He indicates that for the most part men have male-type brains and females have female-type brains. But that isn’t always the case. He developed a questionnaire that shows the degree to which you express the male-type brain or the female type brain. When I took the questionnaire and got my score, it indicated that I have an extreme “female-type brain.”

That didn’t surprise me. It did surprise me that I scored so high on the Empathy scale (female brain type) that I was not only much higher than most men, but higher than most women. Further I scored so low on the systematizing scale (male type brain) that I was not only lower than most men. I was lower than most women. As a result, among other things, I’m a great therapist and my wife knows way more about how a car works than I do.

My conclusion is that I’m just me, with all my variations and complexities. I have the same attitude about my brain that I did about my bicycle choice. I see myself as 100% male. Since my brain is inside me, it too must be 100% male. Rather than call my brain “female” I’d rather expand what it means to be a man. Seems I’ve been doing that all my life. I’ll enjoy hearing about your own experiences with manhood, womanhood, sex, gender, XX, XY, and all the wonderful variations.

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Comments

  1. I appreciate the way in which you stood by your principles in the face of convention. My sense of you is that you have always done this. I read your email and your blog at the same time I was reading a Facebook post about the growing number of laws that restrict women at this time. I am familiar with – on a very deeply personal way – Angeles Arrien’s work on what she called the “Four Fold Way”, which are the ways of four powerful archetypes: healer, warrior, teacher, and visionary. Having known her personally, I sense that the healing of our world comes when we give women their power back, having stolen for it from them thousands of years ago. I am thinking of your power and how you recognize yourself as I speak these words because my sense is that the insanity we see in our world today is the loss of male power, a power that you clearly have. I have a strong sense that there is a role for men like you and me, which is to stand in support of women as they take their power back from the male components of societies all over the world that have effectively caused a great soul loss in women. I have pledged my Warrior, Healer, Visionary, and Teacher to stand in support of women as they reclaim their natural divine powers, and I have a sense of encouraging you to continue your work with men to encourage them to recover those archetypes in themselves. Does that make sense?

    • Ken, Well said. Angeles (who has since passed on) was a great friend of Carlin and me. In fact, she re-married us after we had been together for 15 years. I still remember the wonderful ceremony with Angie drawing on her Basque tradition. You’re right, this is a time for us to expand what it means to be men and women. Angie was one of the visionary leaders in helping us regain the power and purpose of who we are. Thanks Ken, for the work you do, who you are, and your friendship over the years.

  2. Richard Bradford says:

    Jed: I enjoyed your article. I turn 80 this year, and have hidden my true feelings about being moved to tears by music, beauty, a flower, a man putting his arm around his son. As a boy I was taught boys don’t cry, boys don’ee like this of beauty, music, or really most of the arts as they are “unmanly”..Unfortunately at this late time in my life I am realizing that regardless of that my father thought of me , I a a man. Am entitled to feel what brings comfort to me, pleasure to me,and joy of feeling who and what I am. No man should have to fit in a space by what society thinks. I wish I could have felt this way as a boy through manhood. My loss, and no ones gain. I am living each day as I want to now, the way the “Red Shoes” let you feel as //you left the shoe store. Kind regards, Richard

    • Richard, Good for you. Its never too late to accept who we are. Some of us have more pressures to conform to old stereotypes and less support. Good for you for stepping out now. Well done, my friend.

  3. : I enjoyed your article. I turn 80 this year, and have hidden my true feelings about being moved to tears by music, beauty, a flower, a man putting his arm around his son. As a boy I was taught boys don’t cry, boys don’t like things of beauty, music, or really most of the arts as they are “unmanly”..Unfortunately at this late time in my life I am realizing that regardless of that my father thought of me , I am a man. I am entitled to feel what brings comfort to me, pleasure to me,and joy of feeling who and what I am. No man should have to fit in a space by what society thinks. I wish I could have felt this way as a boy through manhood. I am attempting to convey to my grandson. My loss, and no ones gain. I am living each day as I want to now, the way the “Red Shoes” let you feel as you left the shoe store. Kind regards, Richard

  4. Jamie Lee says:

    Hi there!
    I am a female with an extreme male brain.
    I have always thought like you did. I was called a tomboy often growing up, since I liked boy’s toys, liked doing “boy stuff”. I didn’t like dolls or pink. As I grew up, I took up hunting, something my two older brothers were too squeamish for. My older brother, in fact, was a vegetarian, loved animals, had a soft heart, liked cooking and more generally girly things. My mom always said I was a tomboy-but I didn’t understand why, since my brother was a boy, he didn’t like ” boy stuff” like I did. So if a girl likes “boy things” and a guy likes “girly things”-what does that even mean to be ” boyish” or “girly”? Doesn’t make sense to me. Anyway, I always had friends who were boys, and as I grew up, I retained that typically ” masculine ” behavior into adulthood in many areas.

    Anyway, this is something you might be interested in-digit ratio. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200506/sexuality-your-telltale-fingertips
    Also check out http://www.bbc.co.uk/science/humanbody/sex/add_user.shtml
    I have a very masculine digit ratio, lower than most men in the BBC study-.95. That means I was exposed to a lot of testosterone in the womb. The implications are consistent with the theory. I scored much higher on men on tests men do good at (got 100% on the angle perception) and much worse than men on tests women did well on. I also have ADHD. On the test you linked to, I scored 8 on empathy, very low, 48 for systemizing. It explains a lot, a quick Google search will give more in depth info, including on how it affects promiscuity and other things.
    My brother has an index finger about an inch longer than his ring finger. That’s much higher than most women.

    Stereotypes seem to be exaggerated claims based on a little truth. Hormones have a big impact on our behaviour. And men typically are exposed to more testosterone in the womb because of sex determination process. So, as a whole, the male population generally leans toward more masculine and female population lean towards more feminine behaviour. Thats why these stereotypes about men and women formed in the first place, because of these tendencies. But that’s a very generalized assumption, and far too simplistic a conclusion to say that all women act feminine because they are women and all men act masculine. Its a tendency, not a rule. There are exceptions to this. About 5% of men are exposed to more estrogen, and 10% of women to more testosterone. Like most personality traits, we exist somewhere in the middle of a spectrum between masculine and feminine, regardless of sex. And most of us fall very close to the very middle, some leaning a little more one way or the other. We all have testosterone and estrogen and possess both masculine and feminine traits.

    So, just be yourself. There are no “boy” or “girl” brains because brains don’t have genitalia. Don’t worry about what the norm is. Just be you and do what you like.

    Good article.

    • Jamie, Thanks so much for your sharing and the resources you provide. Totally with you on all counts. We all need to understand how all of us conspires to help us be who we are: Hormones, identity, genes, biology, psychology, culture. Putting it all together is the journey of a lifetime.

  5. Mike Withers says:

    Jed and Jamie you both might will be interested to read the following: http://www.yesmagazine.org/issues/make-it-right/what-native-hawaiian-culture-can-teach-us-about-gender-identity

    After reading this I our cultural sexuality and that of the middle east, really have been adopted from a religious structure that was created by nomadic shepards. Procreation was viewed as being absolutely the most important aspect of sex for the survival of the tribe. Maybe?

  6. Laurentius Nico says:

    Hi Jed,

    Thank you so much for sharing this. I feel better about myself now.
    However, I’m still worried about something. I’m worried that because I’m more into the empathy and not really into the systematizing, women will tend to see me as a ‘friend’ not as a ‘man’. I’m worried that this will get in the way when I try to get close to someone I like.
    Do you have any suggestions?

    Thank you.