Battle of anatomy: Male vs female brains

Is the brain gendered? Exploring the concept of the male and female brains
In Two Minds?

Angad watches the drop of milk fall with a plop on the dining table. The 12-year-old couldn’t care less. He finishes slurping his evening fix in seconds before racing off with his tennis racquet. 

“Who’s going to mop off the spill?” yells Anoushka, his elder sister.

“Nobody. It will dry out on its own,” he retorts, slamming the door shut. 

Such scenes routinely play out in homes across India, even the world, with some variations. Parents are often asked how different it is, bringing up a girl and a boy. The answer: it is radically different, like in Angad’s case whose indifference towards cleanliness and love for cars contrast with Anoushka’s books with pretty covers and fondness for sourdough crackers.

Anyone in two minds over neural circuits differing in boys and girls, men and women, isn’t alone. There is a difference in the wiring of the brain in both sexes. Which is the obvious reason why they react differently to stimuli. So, is the brain gendered?

Is the brain gendered? Exploring the concept of the male and female brains

Studying gender brain intelligence across familial, social, cultural and professional areas is a growing neuroscientific field worldwide. More is caught than is taught, and the results are mapped the world over. Note last week’s social media comments suggesting that Ranbir Kapoor should go to pick up wife Alia Bhatt from London and escort her back carefully to India since she is pregnant. Bhatt retorted indignantly, “Meanwhile in some people’s heads, we still live in some patriarchal world… FYI. Nothing has gotten delayed. No one needs to pick anyone up. I am a woman, not a parcel.” 

Thought and action in both sexes are computed and initiated by their brains differently. In the performance sphere, most studies conclude that women are better than men. A Pew Research study notes that they are more compassionate and adjustable. Women adapt their work schedules to suit the needs of their children and family members who require care. More women than men put in the double duty as the primary parent and a home guard in a typical Indian family scenario and hence experience ‘time poverty’.  

Their social competence and high emotional reactivity make them more empathetic than men who are more assertive, although this doesn’t mean there are no assertive women and empathetic men there are more single mothers than fathers. Empathy is why women take care of children leaving their men to be the primary breadwinner, usually. Women are better at multitasking and compassionate a working mother will get up early, and make breakfast and lunch for the family while simultaneously working on the PPT due at the morning conference. This could be because women are more organised and responsible in relationships. “I make tiffin for my grown-up sons, husband, and myself before I board the local train to work every morning,” says Rekha Shinde, a Mumbai medical professional. “I reach home by 9:30 pm, prepare dinner and all of us eat together.” It has been her silent routine for the past 25 years.

Women are also better at handling finances—they have an aversion to debt. A global survey by the Boston Consulting Group, between 2010 and 2015, noted that female private wealth grew from $34 trillion to $51 trillion. However, a survey by the Indian online wealth management platform, Kuvera, concludes that of every five investors in India, only one is a woman. Women save more and invest better. A consumer expenditure study notes that women are more price-conscious and are better at finding sales and deals. They are also more risk-averse and security-conscious than men; a NoBroker survey finds that around 70 percent of Indian women invest in real estate, mostly residential homes. A Kuvera survey reveals that women’s top financial priorities are retirement, owning a home, and children’s education. Another survey finds that 68 percent of millennial and GenX women manage their  own personal finances and participate in all family  financial decision-making. 

At the workplace, women attend the same board meetings, and report to the same offices as men, but are more open to sharing work-related problems with family. A University of Western Ontario study concludes that in spite of the glass ceiling, women outdo men in job interviews. Yet a major new study of working women conducted by LeanIn.org and McKinsey & Co shows men get more—promotions, challenging assignments and access to the top bosses. Remember when Indra Nooyi rushed home at night to share the news of her appointment as the new PepsiCo president, and was told by her mother to fetch milk, since her husband was “tired”? “I want to achieve a work-life balance since I had kids late,” says Bhavna Singh, a Lucknow marketing professional.

“Even though my husband works from home, is extremely hands-on, and I have a supportive mother-in-law, I couldn’t bear passing up time with my young ones while blazing the work promotion circuit,” she confesses. She chose a less taxing job for less pay. “Maybe it is a mum-thing.” As workers, male candidates are more anxious than women who are more practical, seek social support from friends and colleagues and practice mock interviews with them. Men cope with anxiety by pretending it isn’t real and ignoring it. Surveys conclude that male recruiters are ‘lookists’ who base hiring decisions on a candidate’s appearance and personal style. Most of them will check out candidates’ photos before meeting them. Selfies posted on social media by applicants ­­­draw a negative response from men. Female employers pay more attention to the interviewee’s college degrees and references.

Shilpi Madan for Sunday Standard

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