THE FIRST SEX by Helen Fisher


The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World
Email this review


A pat biological rationalization for the purportedly improving position of women under the economic conditions of global capitalism. The future for women seems rosy to Fisher’society has finally caught up with what biology has known all along: Women and men are hardwired differently from birth. They have different “circuits in their brains,” which produce different behavioral proclivities. Since the embryo only develops into a male with the addition of androgens during a certain stage of gestation, Fisher declares women to be the first sex—they are now emerging socially and economically to claim this status granted by biology. Women have been held back historically despite their many biological advantages due to the division of labor which began in hunter-gatherer societies and intensified during the agricultural revolution. Under the conditions of globalization, the natural talents of women are finally being recognized as strengths. These include: talent with words; a capacity to read nonverbal cues; emotional sensitivity; empathy; patience; an ability to think several things simultaneously; a broad contextual view of any issue; a preference for cooperation; and leading via egalitarian teams. The author attempts to support each of these advantages with biological data concerning neural pathways and the size and shape of the prefrontal cortex. The happy coincidence here is that these are the exact abilities that are needed in the new global, service-centered economy. What Fisher fails to recognize is that those same social conditions that held women back all of these years are merely reconfigured under globalism. The kind of biological essentialism she is peddling merely rationalizes capitalist exploitation of women’she actually claims that more women are free to go to work now that housework has been made easier by consumer products. According to Fisher, Planet Earth will soon be benefitting from an “androgen” boom brought about by baby boomer women undergoing the hormonal changes of middle age. One doubts whether most feminists, like Fisher, will sleep easier at night in the belief that women’s equality is thus assured.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44909-4
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15th, 1999


NonfictionTHE FIRST LOVE STORY by Bruce Feiler
by Bruce Feiler