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The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World

The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World

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by Helen Fisher

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"Tomorrow belongs to women," notes celebrated anthropologist Helen Fisher. In her explosive new book, The First Sex, she illustrates this enticing assertion. Drawing on original research, Fisher reveals how women and their natural talents are changing the world, making them ideal leaders and successful shapers of business and society--today and on into the


"Tomorrow belongs to women," notes celebrated anthropologist Helen Fisher. In her explosive new book, The First Sex, she illustrates this enticing assertion. Drawing on original research, Fisher reveals how women and their natural talents are changing the world, making them ideal leaders and successful shapers of business and society--today and on into the twenty-first century.

Looking back to prehistoric times, Fisher shows how the special structure of the female brain enables women to do "web thinking" or "synthesis thinking," as compared to men's more linear or "step" thinking. With lively anecdotes and fascinating stories, Fisher reveals how women's special talents--superior verbal abilities, people savvy, acute senses, healing techniques, and more--are geared to success in today's worlds of medicine, education, communications, law, philanthropy, and government. Changes in society--the growth of the communications economy and new trends in family--are also giving women an advantage: women's unique talents are especially needed in our modern age.

This eye-opening book will change the way you see yourself, your family, and the world around you, including every man and woman you meet.

From the Trade Paperback edition.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Anthropologist Fisher reviews the literature on the biological differences between the sexes and concludes that the genetically based tendencies of women to think in webs of interrelated factors, to operate best in nonhierarchical groups, and to prefer long-term committed relationships will give them the edge in most areas of endeavor in the future. While social scientists do seem to be reaching a consensus that there are hormonally driven differences in the brain functioning of males and females, this book fails to warn that we don't know how big these differences are or how much variation exists between same-sex individuals and that we therefore have no basis for judging whether these gender differences are really important. Nevertheless, major trends in current social sciences research are covered, so this title is recommended for academic and public libraries that haven't picked up the fifth edition of Ashley Montagu's The Natural Superiority of Women (Altamira, 1998), which covers the same material. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 1/99.]--Mary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Jim Holt
Fisher stands squarely in the evolutionary psychology camp. Nature, she believes, has given men and women distinct talents and brain structures....The First Sex is an original and often quite enjoyable book, but it must be read with great caution....While as a man I was relieved by the concluding emphasis on parity between the sexes, I wonder whether Fisher isn't still being a little too optimistic.
The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
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 peddlingmerely 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.

From the Publisher
"PROVOCATIVE . . . Fisher, an anthropologist, synthesizes the insights of her own discipline and those of psychology, sociology, ethnology and biology into good news for women."
—Publishers Weekly

"[Fisher's] science and her sociology make for a well-reasoned case that the people Simone de Beauvoir once defined as 'the second sex' are about to move to the head of the class."

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Random House Publishing Group
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Read an Excerpt


Women's Contextual View
What man has assurance enough to pretend to know thoroughly the riddle of a woman's mind?


God created woman. And boredom did indeed cease from that moment." Friedrich Nietzsche was no feminist, but he apparently appreciated the female mind. He was not the first. Women have been adding zest, wit, intelligence, and compassion to human life since our ancestors stoked their fires in Africa a million years ago.

Now women are about to change the world. Why? Because during the millions of years that our forebears traveled in small hunting-and-gathering bands, the sexes did different jobs. Those jobs required different skills. As time and nature tirelessly propagated successful workers, natural selection built different aptitudes into the male and female brain. No two people are the same. But, on average, women and men possess a number of different innate skills. And current trends suggest that many sectors of the twenty-first-century economic community are going to need the natural talents of women.

Please do not mistake me. Men have many natural abilities that will be essential in the coming global marketplace. Nor have men been laggards in the past. They have explored and mapped the world; produced most of our literature, arts, and sciences; and invented many of the pleasures of contemporary life, from the printing press to lightbulbs, sneakers, chocolate, and the Internet. Men will continue to make enormous contributions to our high-tech society.

But women have begun to enter the paid workforce in record numbers almost everywhere on earth. As these women penetrate, even saturate, the global marketplace in coming decades, I think they will introduce remarkably innovative ideas and practices.
What are women's natural talents? How will women change the world? I begin with how women think.

I believe there are subtle differences in the ways that men and women, on average, organize their thoughts--variations that appear to stem from differences in brain structure. Moreover, as discussed throughout this book, women's "way of seeing" has already begun to permeate our newspapers, TV shows, classrooms, boardrooms, chambers of government, courtrooms, hospitals, voting booths, and bedrooms. Feminine thinking is even affecting our basic beliefs about justice, health, charity, leisure, intimacy, romance, and family. So I start with that aspect of femininity that I believe will have the most ubiquitous impact on tomorrow.

In this chapter I maintain that women, on average, take a broader perspective than men do--on any issue. Women think contextually, holistically. They also display more mental flexibility, apply more intuitive and imaginative judgments, and have a greater tendency to plan long term--other aspects of their contextual perspective. I discuss the scientific evidence for these female traits and the probable brain networks associated with them. Then I trace women's outstanding march into the world of paid employment and conclude that women's broad, contextual, holistic way of seeing will pervade every aspect of twenty-first-century economic and social life.

The Female Mind
"When the mind is thinking, it is talking to itself," Plato said. Everyone has tossed around in bed at night churning over a business problem or a troubled love affair. Images appear, then vanish. Scenes unfurl. Snippets of conversation emerge from nowhere, dissolve, then repeat themselves. A rush of anger engulfs you. Then pity. Then despair. Then rationality takes over for a moment and you resolve to do this, then that. On goes the debate as clock hands wind from three to four. A committee meeting is in progress in your head.

"The mind is a strange machine which can combine the materials offered to it in the most astonishing ways," wrote the British philosopher Bertrand Russell. Both men and women absorb large amounts of data and weigh a vast array of variables almost simultaneously.
Psychologists report, however, that women more regularly think contextually; they take a more "holistic" view of the issue at hand.1 That is, they integrate more details of the world around them, details ranging from the nuances of body posture to the position of objects in a room.2

Women's ability to integrate myriad facts is nowhere more evident than in the office. Female executives, business analysts note, tend to approach business issues from a broader perspective than do their male colleagues.3 Women tend to gather more data that pertain to a topic and connect these details faster. As women make decisions, they weigh more variables, consider more options and outcomes, recall more points of view, and see more ways to proceed. They integrate, generalize, and synthesize. And women, on average, tolerate ambiguity better than men do4--probably because they visualize more of the factors involved in any issue.

In short, women tend to think in webs of interrelated factors, not straight lines. I call this female manner of thought "web thinking."

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Helen Fisher is an anthropologist at Rutgers University and the author of The Sex Contract: The Evolution of Human Behavior and Anatomy of Love: The Natural History of Monogamy, Adultery, and Divorce. For her books, articles, and radio appearances, Dr. Fisher received the American Anthropological Association's Distinguished Service Award in 1985.

From the Hardcover edition.

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The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a book that you need if you are going to do a research paper about men and women. This author has worked so hard to give the reader a huge amount of information!