The Female Brain movie

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Silas Lesnick, "An ensemble cast has come together for Whitney Cummings’ The Female Brain movie", 8/17/2016:

Black Bicycle Entertainment has today announced the ensemble cast for their upcoming The Female Brain movie, which marks the directorial debut of Whitney Cummings. Cummings herself will also star in the film, which she co-wrote alongside Neal Brennan, adapting the nonfiction book by neuropsychiatrist Louann Brizendine. […]

The Female Brain movie aims to comically detail the inner workings and complex power of brain chemistry among couples at different stages of their relationships. […] The film’s story follows five couples struggling through various stages of their relationships: whether it’s finding the right romantic balance; parenting; overcoming commitment issues; expressing emotion; or simply admitting to being useless around the house.

This won't be the first, or even the millionth, fictional exploration of popular gender stereotypes:

It won't even be the first dramatization of a general theory about gendered communication — for example, see the exchange between Gloria Clemente (Rosie Perez) and Billy Hoyle (Woody Harrelson) in White Men Can't Jump,  which explores the distinction between rapport talk and report talk that Deborah Tannen popularized in  "You just don't understand: women and men in conversation" (1990):

Gloria:  Honey? My mouth is dry. Honey. I'm thirsty.
Billy: Umm… [ Water Runs ] There you go honey.
Gloria: When I said I was thirsty, it doesn't mean I want a glass of water.
Billy: It doesn't?
Gloria: You're missing the whole point of me saying I'm thirsty. If I have a problem, you're not supposed to solve it. Men always make the mistake of thinking they can solve a woman's problem. It makes them feel omnipotent.
Billy: Omnipotent? Did you have a bad dream?
Gloria: It's a way of controlling a woman.
Billy: Bringing them a glass of water?
Gloria: Yes. I read it in a magazine. See, if I'm thirsty, I don't want a glass of water. I want you to sympathize. I want you to say "Gloria, I too know what it feels like to be thirsty. I too have had a dry mouth." I want you to connect with me through sharing and understanding the concept of dry mouthedness.
Billy: This is all in the same magazine?

But it may be the first movie to explore the idea that popular gender stereotypes represent "the inner workings and complex power of brain chemistry".

That idea, in one form or another, has been popular among philosophers, scientists and the general public for hundreds if not thousands of years, often taking the form of speculation about the superiority of female brains in certain respects. Thus William Thomas, Sex and Society (1907):

Indeed, when we take into consideration the superior cunning as well as the superior endurance of women, we may even raise the question whether their capacity for intellectual work is not under equal conditions greater than in men. Cunning is the analogue of constructive thought — an indirect, mediated, and intelligent approach to a problem — and characteristic of the female, in contrast with the more direct and open procedure of the male. Owing to the limited and personal nature of the activities of woman, this trait has expressed itself historically in womankind as intrigue rather than invention, but that it is very deeply based in the instincts is shown by the important role it plays in the life of the female in animal life.

But most of the stereotypes are empirically false — the actual group differences are generally small compared to the within-group variation, and often go in the opposite of the stereotypical direction. And Dr. Brizendine's claims about the neurophysiological foundations of the stereotypes seem to be mostly empty. For a long engagement with the details, you can sample the list of LLOG posts below. For a shorter and more authoritative account, see Rebecca Young and Evan Balaban's review of The Female Brain, "Psychoneuroindoctrinology", Nature 10/12/2006.

Overall, the evidence lines up behind Janet Shibley Hyde's conclusion in her review of meta-analyses "The Gender Similarities Hypothesis", American Psychologist 2005:

The differences model, which argues that males and females are vastly different psychologically, dominates the popular media. Here, the author advances a very different view, the gender similarities hypothesis, which holds that males and females are similar on most, but not all, psychological variables. Results from a review of 46 meta-analyses support the gender similarities hypothesis. Gender differences can vary substantially in magnitude at different ages and depend on the context in which measurement occurs. Overinflated claims of gender differences carry substantial costs in areas such as the workplace and relationships.

But the Female Brain movie might well turn out to be a hit.

"Neuroscience in the service of sexual stereotypes", 8/6/2006
"Sex-linked lexical budgets", 8/6/2006
"Sex and speaking rate", 8/7/2006
"Yet another sex-n-wordcount sighting" , 8/14/2006
"The main job of the girl brain", 9/2/2006
"The superior cunning of women", 9/2/2006
"The laconic rapist in the womb", 9/4/2006
"Open-access sex stereotypes", 9/10/2006
"David Brooks, Neuroendocrinologist", 9/17/2006
"Gabby guys: the effect size", 9/25/2006)
"'Every 52 seconds': wrong by 23,736 percent?", 10/13/2006
"Guys are a bit gabbier in Dutch, too", 10/16/2006
"Two new reviews of Brizendine", 10/30/2006
" Word counts", 11/28/2006
"Sex differences in "communication events" per day?", 12/11/2006
"Male and female college students are equally talkative", 7/5/2007
"The first time?", 7/5/2007
"Female talkativeness: 'Knowledge protected again induction'?", 7/6/2007
"Why men don't listen", 4/4/2010
"An invented statistic returns", 2/22/2013
"Sex and FOXP2: Preservation of endangered stereotypes", 2/28/2013



  1. Bill Benzon said,

    August 21, 2016 @ 10:29 am

    What the Bleep Do We Know? does take us inside brains while people are doing stuff, but as I recall, it's not particularly about gender differences, though the central character is a photographer played by Marlee Matlin. It's also got a lot of rhetoric about quantum consciousness and some really jazzy CGI.

    From the Wikipedia entry:

    What the Bleep Do We Know!? … is a 2004 film that combines documentary-style interviews, computer-animated graphics, and a narrative that posits a spiritual connection between quantum physics and consciousness. The plot follows the fictional story of a photographer as she encounters emotional and existential obstacles in her life and begins to consider the idea that individual and group consciousness can influence the material world. Her experiences are offered by the filmmakers to illustrate the movie's thesis about quantum physics and consciousness. The 2004 theatrical release of the film was followed by a substantially changed, extended DVD version in 2006.

    FWIW, here's a trailer (the whole film's online, just search):

  2. Brett said,

    August 21, 2016 @ 1:46 pm

    I think it's a good bet that this film will be about as accurate as What the Bleep Do We Know?

  3. Bill Benzon said,

    August 21, 2016 @ 2:03 pm

    I'm with you on that, Brett. I thought Bleep was rather fun. But science it isn't. And then we have Pixar's Inside Out. Is the CGI psychomachia going to become a genre? Here's a cute parody: Inside Out 2: Whore Island.

  4. Gwen Katz said,

    August 22, 2016 @ 5:04 pm

    The Female Brain, as differentiated from regular brains, one presumes.

  5. ella said,

    August 23, 2016 @ 12:46 am

    Goodness! I've been bumbling about with my very own Female Brain for all these years – thank goodness they've finally decided to publish a user's manual! *phew*

    But seriously, the obsession with the BS 'Men are from Mars' dichotomy is institutional sexism at it's most insidious. I cannot even.

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