[In this six-part feature, Jed Diamond examines his male experience through fatherhood, mental illness, and the Men’s Movement to explore what it means to be a more whole, mindful Man. | Part I: Fatherhood | Part II: My Female and Male Mentors | Part III: Why We Must Disengage from the Woman in Order to Learn to Love]
Re-Connection Between Men and Women
Early in my work with men, I assumed that men and women were essentially the same with only a few important differences having to do with our genitals and reproductive apparatus.
Later I came to believe that men and women were essentially different. In his book, “The Essential Difference: The Truth About the Male & Female Brain,” Simon Baron-Cohen says, “The subject of essential sex differences in the mind is clearly very delicate. I could tiptoe around it, but my guess is that you would like the theory of the book stated plainly. So here it is: ‘The female brain is predominantly hardwired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.’”
But Baron-Cohen points out that we all have mixture of ability to empathize and systematize and not all males are better at systematizing and not all females are better at empathizing, though most men are better at systematizing and most women are better at empathizing. I seem to be the exception to the rule and I’m sure I’m not the only one.
Every time I’ve taken the test that Baron-Cohen developed, I turn out to be very high on the empathy scale (indicating a female type brain) and very low on the systematizing scale. So, becoming a psychotherapist is a perfect choice for my brain type. And, not surprisingly, my wife knows a lot more about fixing cars than I do.
The emerging field of gender-specific medicine recognizes that males and females are often different in how we function. But these differences don’t imply that one sex is “less than” the other. They do give us information that can help us become who we are and improve our health and well-being.
In 1992, Marianne J. Legato, M.D. published The Female Heart: The Truth About Women and Coronary Artery Disease and revealed that women’s presenting symptoms of heart disease were different than men’s, were taken less seriously than men’s, and when women underwent cardiac surgery, they were less likely than men to survive. Her medical training told her that men and women were essentially the same. Heart disease, and other diseases, was the same for both sexes. But she was learning that wasn’t always the case.
Legato says, “If you want to know what a culture holds to be most important and true, read its myths.” In reflecting on the origin myth of creating Eve from Adam’s rib, she says, “It’s not only a biblical tale, it’s also a medical fable, and an eerily prophetic one at that; it describes the first anesthesia, major surgery, and cloning of a new individual. More important, it tells us that Eve is literally derived from the stuff of Adam. Apart from their reproductive biology, by definition Adam and Eve are identical. Eve is simply a smaller version of Adam.”
She imagines Eve asking the question, “How am I different from Adam?” To answer that question Legato founded the Partnership for Women’s Health at Columbia University in 1997, but soon changed the name to the Foundation for Gender-Specific Medicine to reflect her belief that we needed to focus the gender lens on both men and women. The field of gender medicine is expanding rapidly and there is now an International Society for Gender Medicine with chapters in Austria, Germany, Italy, Israel, Japan, Sweden, as well as in the United States.
In her book, “Eve’s Rib: The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine,” written in 2002, she says, “Eve’s Rib is not just about women’s health, but about the health of both sexes and the new science of gender-specific medicine.” She concludes that “Everywhere we look, the two sexes are startlingly and unexpectedly different not only in their internal function but in the way they experience illness.”
David C. Page, M.D., professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and director of the Whitehead Institute says, “We’ve had a unisex vision of the human genome. But we know now that men and women are not equal in our genome and men and women are not equal in the face of disease.”
It has been said that our genomes are 99.9% identical from one person to the next. “It turns out that this assertion is correct,” says Dr. Page, “as long as the two individuals being compared are both men. It’s also correct if the two individuals being compared are both women. However, if you compare the genome of a man with the genome of a woman, you’ll find that they are only 98.5% identical. In other words, the genetic difference between a man and a woman are 15 times greater than the genetic difference between two men or between two women.” [.1% difference for two males or two females and 1.5% difference between a male and a female.]
Page concludes, “We need to build a better tool kit for researchers that is XX and XY informed rather than our current gender neutral stance. We need a tool kit that recognizes the fundamental difference on a cellular, organ, system, and person level between XY and XX. I believe that if we do this, we will arrive at a fundamentally new paradigm for understanding and treating human disease.”
Jed Diamond, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., is Founder and Director of MenAlive, a health program that helps men, and the people who love them, to live well throughout their lives. He is a pioneer in the field of male-gender medicine, integrative mental health, and complementary medicine. Since its inception in 1992, Jed has been on the Board of Advisors of the Men’s Health Network. He is also a member of the International Society of Men’s Health and a founding member of the American Society of Men’s Health.
His work has been featured in major newspapers throughout the United States including the New York Times, Boston Globe,Wall Street Journal, The Los Angeles Times, and USA Today. He also did a nationally televised special on Male Menopause for PBS.
Diamond has been a licensed psychotherapist for over 40 years and is the author of ten books including the international best-selling Male Menopause that has thus far been translated into 17 foreign languages.