13 February 2008

Baby I love your chemistry

I've been slogging my way through Dr. Louann Brizendine's book "The Female Brain" and, alas, it doesn't appear I can make it all the way through. It's not that the book is long, exactly, but my poor abused wallpaper tells me it can take no further punishment. Perhaps I should have taken the back cover blurb by David Brooks as a warning sign.

Maybe I'm being unfair. I did make it through the sections of the book on love and sex, and it can only get better from there, right? But that's what I'm here to talk about today, as you might have reckoned by the date.

The title of the book thankfully spares me the trouble of describing its contents. Brizendine is an accomplished psychologist, and distilled this book out of decades of her own research. It is, as far as I know, scientifically unassailable, and may even be informative if you've never spent significant time around a woman and occasionally listened to anything she said, a solution I'd recommend I'd recommend as a source of more accurate information than this dreck. I admit my bias here; I'm a quixotic crusader against determinism, biological or divine; which is to say I'm pissed off at whichever one gave me the short end of the stick, and intend to get my revenge.*

In Brizendine's book, she tells the story of one of her clients, a film producer named Melissa who has had a string of misses with on the dating scene, until one night at a dance club.

Melissa was locked in gaze with this stranger. A wave of energy shot up her back. It was the feeling she hadn't experienced in all the months of her bad dates. There was something vaguely familiar about him. "Hmm, who's that?" she said under her breath to Leslie, as her brain's cortex scanned her memory banks. No match was found, but all her attention circuits were now on "mating alert status."

The closer he got, the more unfocused Melissa became. She grabbed her drink tightly. Her eyes and attention were riveted on him--his leather Armani shoes, his sexy black cords, and no wedding ring on his finger.
Aww, yuppies in love! Indeed, this is an ongoing theme in the book which makes it easy to see why Bobo and his friends were so enraptured; it could more easily be titled "Trials and Tribulations of the Urban Bourgeoisie."

Even though Melissa is an "independent economic unit," she must still go through her assigned evolutionary duty of seeking a man to be a provider, which Brizendine assures is us "not sex stereotyping" but cold, hard biological fact (reminiscent of the scientific racism of "The Bell Curve" and the unfortunate Dr. James Watson). I'll save you the suspense; Rob is indeed a successful marketing consultant, saints be praised, and as far as we know their molecules coexist happily ever on.

Melissa may not have wanted to meet anyone that night, but her brain had other plans that are deep and primitive. When it saw Rob across the room, a signal went off for mating and long-term attatchment, and she was lucky that his brain felt the same way. Each of them will come up against anxiety, threats, and mind-numbing joys, over which they have little control because biology is now building their future together.
Yes, very lucky indeed. For us ugly shits*, or people without the limitless leisure hours for gene experimentation as a San Francisco film producer or marketing consultant, we'll have to find some other way beyond the time-tested ways of our ancestors, who were apparently Yalie Cavemen. Brizendine here actually contradicts something she says at the beginning of the chapter, which is that Melissa was, in fact, looking to "settle down" and find a mate now that she was secure in her career. This is an ongoing problem throughout the book; using arbitrary anecdotes to buttress supposedly hard-wired behavior. In another passage, we learn Melissa doesn't sleep with Rob on the first date because her brain is still sizing up his long-term suitability. I'm more than capable of doing the same, of course. If our brains assign us long-term partners based on first sight, most people's experiences would suggest they aren't very good at it.

Everyone, I think, can point to having a similar response as what Brizendine describes in Melissa. Mine was my first year of college, when I was wholly smitten by another journalism student with a cherubic face, a river-long smile and a cool sweep of blonde hair. On any given day I was both earnest and terrified with the prospect of seeing her, and felt the onset of stomach sickness if I was around her for too long. You can predict how it played out, and it wasn't with me screaming at her that my brain had ineffably assigned her to me against my will. (She was mercifully graceful when I did finally confess it.) I think most people emerge more practical from these infatuations, and don't try to justify it with evolutionary twaddle.

It seems to me people can be just as fulfilled in relationships where they talk to each other in addition to fucking. Perhaps Brizendine shares Brooks' concern that white folks are denying their biological impulse to extend their genes and are being outbred by the darker-skinned mob. I'm sure we'll find a way to survive, even if you end up with a withered branch of the evolutionary tree.

*I'm aware this is not a sufficient excuse for me, of course, since beyond beyond horrifying to look at I have all sorts of other personality defects that won't be getting passed on. I reckon this is a point in Brizendine's favor.

It bears mentioning as well that Brizendine doesn't consider much beyond the straight-arrow polarities of "male" and "female" brains. What about the vast gray area in between? Too unseemly, apparently, along with the rest of the proles who don't fit the Urbane Gothic paradigm.

After all that depressing inanity, I'll raise you a Billy Bragg elixir.

Happy Valentine's Day, everybody.