"Mazel tov, it's a girl!"
Have you ever noticed that when the proud parents tell you about a new arrival, the first thing they mention is whether it’s a boy or a girl? Does the baby's gender determine only the color of the outfits we'll buy for the newborn or does it really make a difference? Will we raise a girl any differently than a boy? Does a person's sex affect the outlook he or she will have on life, his choice of profession, when to marry, and so forth?
Since the second half of the twentieth century, women have set out to demand equal rights. One area of life that has been affected is education. School curricula no longer differentiate between subjects "suited for girls" and those intended for their male counterparts. The underlying presumption is that the difference between the sexes remains in the reproductive organs.
Why then, are there additional characteristics we deem typical of males or females? The usual answer given is that society expects different behavior patterns in men and women. Social conditioning inevitably trains most people to fulfill the roles their environment assigns them. Boys are assumed to be more aggressive, their games are rowdier and demand physical prowess. On the other hand, girls are encouraged to be gentle, passive and submissive. Society took on the assumption that these differences were the result of social conditioning. It followed quite naturally that if we no longer expected boys to act differently than girls, most of the inherent distinctions between the two would disappear.
However, more recent research contradicts this premise. Scientists have ascertained the existence of clear-cut distinctions in the brains of males and females right from birth. Social conditioning plays no part in establishing these characteristics as male or female.
On the average, the male brain weighs 1.400 kilogram at birth, while that of the female is 1.200 kg. The brain is composed of three sections: the cerebrum, the cerebellum, and the brainstem. The cerebrum is the largest and most important, and constitutes approximately 85% of the brain's total weight. It has two lobes, right and left, each of which controls the opposite side of the body; the right brain controls the left side of the body, and vice versa.
In 1981, a scientist named Dr. Roger Sperry was awarded a Nobel Prize for his research on the differences between the functions performed by the right and left lobes of the brain. His work involved extensive experiments with patients suffering from severe epilepsy who did not respond to conventional treatment. The only option for these epileptics was to sever the bridge connecting the two lobes of the brain, known as the corpus callosum.
By devising innovative methods of exposing only one side of a patient's brain to a specific stimulus, Dr. Sperry clearly established that each side of the brain has its specific tasks and character. The left lobe specializes in language, reasoning, arithmetic, and the ability to analyze input. In contrast, the right lobe takes over for tasks requiring intuition, creativity, and spatial relationships. It understands things holistically, and has little need for words.
Brain research reveals that there are indeed biochemical differences between the male and female brain. These differences affect the way each sex functions. MRI's and PET scans of the brain indicate physiological differences between the two types of brains. On the whole, men have a more dominant right lobe, specializing in creative tasks, while the left lobe, with well-developed analytical skills, is more dominant in women.
When a man and a woman consider the same situation, each of them employs a different area of the brain. Even if the two arrive at the same conclusion, they follow different paths in the brain to arrive at the answer. Research has shown that, in certain circumstances, men and women utilize a different number of neurons in dealing with the same problem.
The research of S. Ben Israel and A. Chagai discovered differing thought patterns between the sexes. Each sex attributes a different, unique significance to a given word. For instance, men associated the word "competition" with victory, while women tend to connect the word to "difficulty." To men, "arrogance" is linked with achievement, while women define it as "weakness, a lack of culture." In short, the authors concluded as follows: "We were amazed to discover how the connotations attributed to a given word by each of the sexes differed."
As stated, the left side of the brain is usually dominant among women, just as the right is with men. After a cerebrovascular event of the left lobe of the brain, men have a more difficult time than women in regaining the faculty of speech (S. Robertson, Chug Hanuronim, pg. 57, Mechon Berniko, 1999). This fact is mentioned in the Talmud, in the Tractate Kiddushin, 49b, which states: "Ten measures of speech descended upon the world; women took up nine of them."
It is important to note here that the Talmud is not referring to idle chatter, but rather to a highly developed faculty for language. The Hebrew word for "tongue" is "lashon", which derives from the root "lash", to knead. This root indicates a combination of two diverse elements into one whole, just as flour and water are blended into dough through the process of kneading. It is the tongue which creates a bond joining separate individuals. Women are endowed with this ability more than are men. On the whole, they are better able to express themselves, their feelings, and their inner wisdom.
This scientific finding expresses a concept found in the first chapters of the Bible. "And he (Adam) called his wife Eve ("Chava" in Hebrew), for she was the mother of all living." (Genesis 3:20) Eve was named "Chava" because she was "the mother of all life" — "chai" in Hebrew. Her name also alludes to the word "chavayah", experience, and to "chivui dei'ah", the expression of an opinion. Chavah, as the archetypical woman, makes it possible to experience life, and gives the correct, positive expression to the experiences of the family, of society, and of the nation.
We find that Jewish law also acknowledges the woman's inclination for language and speech. The Torah commands a new husband to "gladden his wife". (Deuteronomy 24:5) The Sages suggest that one way of fulfilling this precept is by devoting ample time to conversing with her.
The differences between the two sides of the brain, and between the male and female brain, extend beyond the two cerebral hemispheres. Underneath the cerebellum, we find two groups of neurons, approximately the size of an almond. These are known as the right and left amygdalae. Laurence Summers, former president of Harvard University, investigated the functions of the amygdalae in the brains of subjects watching a particularly violent film. He noted that in a portion of the subjects, only the right amygdala reacted to the stimulus, while in others, only the left side responded.
When he examined this finding more deeply, he discovered a definite correlation between the side that was stimulated and the sex of the subject. Women tended to recall the interpersonal emotional responses of the experience they were viewing, namely, those involving the left amygdala. Men, however, whose right side tends to be more dominant, remembered only the central point of the experience. ("His Brain, Her Brain", by Larry Cahill, Scientific American, April 2005)
We cite these psychological differences between the male and female brain to stress that men tend to grasp a situation from one central point and to ignore the accompanying details, whereas women react differently. In contrast to men, they grasp a situation with all its details and implications and have an inborn need for response too. In short, men and women differ in their personalities due to basic, inborn variations in their biological make-up. These differences are present even before birth and clearly do not arise from social circumstances or training. Moreover, most of the differences remain intact despite cultural or social pressures to change them.
These findings were substantiated by the research of Professor Lionel Taiger, an American anthropologist, and Dr. Joseph Shefer, in their work entitled "Women on Kibbutz." (The kibbutz is a collective settlement established by the socialist movement in Israel before and shortly after the founding of the State of Israel.) These settlements hoped to establish a new society which would deliberately eliminate any social traditions thought to be prejudiced against women. Hence the new, liberated woman of the future would not be fettered by preconceived notions of what ought or ought not to be the female’s role in society, and women would finally realize their dream of full equality. This was the premise that Taiger and Shefer set out to test. Had the kibbutz succeeded in creating equality between men and women?
The researchers found that the kibbutz did, indeed, allow women a far wider range of career choices. No longer assigned to child care and housekeeping tasks, they were free to make their own unprejudiced choice of an occupation or career. Nonetheless, according to statistics compiled by the two researchers, the majority of women chose tasks traditionally reserved for women, and over 85% stated that they were happy with their choice.
In an article published by one of Israel's leading newspapers, Yediot Achronot, Iris Yotvat expresses a similar idea from a different angle: "Nature is the wisest of all. The reasons for the differences (between men and women) are biological, namely, hormonal, a woman's body produces oxytocin instead of adrenalin."
These findings clearly refute the claim that the reason for the differences between men and women lies in the different ways that society treats boys and girls. Those who maintain that changing the education given to children will cause the differences to disappear are obviously mistaken.
These scientific findings correspond to Jewish law. The left lobe of the brain is more dominant in women, while the right prevails in most men. This is parallel to the pattern established by Kabbalah, which always places the woman on the leftand the man on the right. Our Sages also declare that "women are endowed with more understanding than men". (Tractate Nidah 45) This also conforms with the fact that understanding – the ability to deduce one matter from another – is a function of the left lobe of the brain and is more dominant among women.
We have already mentioned the sources in the Torah which acknowledge women's superiority in the fields of language, human relationships and attention to detail, all of which stem from the dominance of the left side of the brain. It is fascinating to discover how current research in our times "reveals" findings known to the Sages of the Talmud thousands of years ago.