People loved Louanne Brizendine's book, The Female Brain, because it used scientific studies and Brizendine's experiences as a clinician treating symptoms of menopause and other hormonal imbalances to say things we feel are true: Women are more connected to others, better at communicating.
These things make sense, because women's brains are more susceptible to the bonding effects of oxytocin.
Except ... one of Brizendine's statements, one that was repeated in every news story, has been proven false. Brizendine claimed that studies showed that women speak an average of 20,000 words a day, while men speak a mere 7,000. There's nothing to back that up, while plenty of studies found men gabbing as much or more than women.
The idea that gender differences are based in biology continues to make people uncomfortable and to incite denial.
The Guardian has an excerpt from a new book by Deborah Cameron called "The Myth of Mars and Venus." She makes a good case for the extreme variability between individuals. Cameron argues that sex differences are fairly meaningless, because any individual may be very different from any other, and more like someone of the opposite sex.
Chambers' reference to individual men and women points to another problem with generalisations such as "men interrupt more than women" or "women are more talkative than men". As well as underplaying their similarities, statements of the form "women do this and men do that" disguise the extent of the variation that exists within each gender group. Explaining why he had reacted with instant scepticism to the claim that women talk three times as much as men, Liberman predicted: "Whatever the average female versus male difference turns out to be, it will be small compared with the variation among women and among men." Focusing on the differences between men and women while ignoring the differences within them is extremely misleading but, unfortunately, all too common.
As someone in the 1970s who insisted that all gender differences were cultural, I'm bemused by what science has shown: that the endocrine system profoundly affects brain structure and behavior. Still, I think that, rather than insisting that anyone behave more femininely or masculinely, I think the information can be used to give ourselves and each other a break when we don't behave according to cultural expectations.