The Hausvater Project

Hausvater: /HAUS-fah-ter/
noun (German)
1. Housefather.
2. Spiritually responsible head of household, including the housefather as assisted by the housemother.
>> Example: "As the Hausvater should teach it [Christian doctrine] to the entire family ..."
(Martin Luther, Small Catechism, 1529)

Book Reviews

Were Men and Women Created to Think Differently?


Walt Larimore and Barb Larimore, His Brain, Her Brain: How Divinely Designed Differences Can Strengthen Your Marriage (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2007)


After living through the hyper-feminist 1970s and 80s, it is refreshing to see the pendulum swinging back toward a more balanced understanding of gender. Indeed, this book reveals that a key assumption of the feminist movement—that men and women think differently primarily because they are reared differently—has been disproved by biological and psychological research.

Walt Larimore is a medical doctor who has written well over a dozen other books and resources for Christians. He has sufficient expertise to interpret the technical articles one would need to understand the differences between men’s and women’s brains. Although a book of this sort could be heavy reading, it is not. It is a popular distillation of the current state of knowledge about men’s and women’s brain functions, and how those differences may affect a couple’s marriage. And while that characteristic makes the science accessible to the non-scientist, it also happens to be the book’s greatest shortcoming. In attempting to distill something so complex as brain function into a short popular book, Dr. Larimore sometimes over-generalizes, even to the point of occasionally getting some of the facts wrong. That said, there is still much material in this book to commend it.

The Larimores thereby seek to integrate what the Bible says about husbands and wives with what scientific research has shown to be differences in the manner in which men and women think.

Larimore’s wife, Barb, also contributes, providing a woman’s insight at various points along the way. She does this through stories based on her own experiences as well as by complementing her husband’s appreciation of the Scriptures. The Larimores thereby seek to integrate what the Bible says about husbands and wives with what scientific research has shown to be differences in the manner in which men and women think.

 

Different by Design

Dr. Larimore first describes the anatomy and function (sometimes humorously) of each of the major portions of the brain. He begins with the physiology of the developing embryonic child. At six weeks gestation the normal male child receives a dose of testosterone. This results in the child turning from a female pathway of development to a male pathway of development. The testosterone not only causes the physical characteristics of maleness to develop but it also changes the way in which the brain itself develops. After this surge of testosterone in the embryonic male the brain as well as the body will develop differently resulting in a “male” brain: larger than the female brain, yet not on average intrinsically more intelligent (32-33).

Male and female brains differ both as to the number of neurons within various brain regions as well as the number of neurons interconnecting those regions. Hormones also affect male and female brains differently. In men, testosterone increases aggressiveness and competitiveness. It is a crucial part of his quest for independence as well as his desire to succeed. In women, testosterone levels rise around the time of ovulation, causing an increase in sexual desire.

 

Different in Outlook

Dr. Larimore argues that as a result of different brain designs, men and women typically perceive the world differently. He quotes from Time magazine’s website that “women can see colors and textures that men cannot see” and supports this claim by noting that his wife Barb can see eight or nine colors in a rainbow while he can see only seven. This is called tetrachromacy and is a mildly rare condition in which someone has additional types of cones in the retina. It is true that this condition is mostly inherited by females. But it is by no means all females. His other point about gender differences in regard to sight is a bit more scientifically supported. That is that men have greater depth perception but women have better peripheral vision. He goes on to say that differences between men and women’s brains allow women to hear, smell, and taste better than men.

Larimore notes that in general men systematize information while women empathize. Understanding these differences is important in helping husband and wife relate to each other. Females have more interconnections within their brains and so process information differently. Research shows that girls as young as twelve months respond more empathetically to other people’s distress. On the other hand, males tend to be better at spatial tasks. An example of this is in map-reading, where women tend to have more trouble using two dimensional maps than men.

Men and women also respond differently to stress. Women tend to process emotional responses before physically reacting, whereas men tend to respond by acting first and thinking later. This is due in part to different connections in the brain and in part to hormonal influences. Men tend to react to stress with more anger or aggression, whereas women will tend to react with a desire to cooperate and communicate. Part of this difference may be due to different sizes, in males and females, of a brain region called the amygdala.

Another behavioral difference is that women seem to be better at multitasking while men tend to compartmentalize, and focus on the task at hand. It therefore can take men up to seven hours longer to process emotional stimuli, thoughts, and feelings, whereas women tend to operate their emotions at the same time as other thought processes. The greater neural interconnectedness inside a woman’s brain may also be responsible for “women’s intuition.”

 

Understanding and Welcoming Our Differences

The Larimores hope to show that by understanding and welcoming gender differences, a married couple can work together to accomplish more than either spouse could alone. Mutual understanding must begin with a recognition that men and women communicate differently.

The Larimores hope to show that by understanding and welcoming gender differences, a married couple can work together to accomplish more than either spouse could alone. Mutual understanding must begin with a recognition that men and women communicate differently.

“Men speak the language of action” (100). To communicate love a man tends to want to “do something” such as to “open the door for his wife,” but “women thrive on the language of relationship” (101). Because of their need for relationship women need to have other women as friends. I found chapter 6, “Decoding Our Communication Differences,” to be more helpful than the chapters that dealt with brain physiology. For example, men tend to be more direct in their communication, favoring literal language, whereas women tend to be more indirect. The gist of the chapter is that men need to spend time listening to their wives, while wives need to make it easier for their husbands to listen to them. Page 106 has specific suggestions for how wives can help their husband to listen to them.

Similarly, Dr. Larimore identifies how the unique designs of male and female brains shape the different attitudes men and women have to sexual intimacy. Men tend to be oriented physically, whereas women tend to be oriented emotionally and relationally. Men are stimulated by images and sight; women are stimulated by feelings, smell, touch, and words. The book rightly notes that when husbands and wives understand these differences, the intimacy of their relationship will be greatly enhanced. Looking beyond science to Scripture, Dr. Larimore further advises that the husband should strive to fulfill his wife’s needs for intimate affection while she strives to fulfill his needs for physical intimacy (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5).

 

Distinct and Complementary Passions

The final third of the book identifies the distinct and complementary orientations of male and female brains. Men are programmed for conquest, provision, and respect; women, for nurture, security, and love.

Males feel a need to attain significance through competition, aggression, the affirmation of others, or accomplishment. Dr. Larimore accordingly notes how important it is for parents to affirm their young boys. Women are programmed for nurture. This especially shows in their nurturing of children, but also in their care for sick family members. Women are driven by the greater amounts of oxytocin in their brain to seek security in a happy marriage and relationships with the family. Women almost universally find it to be very important to have a man who can support and provide for them. Being successful in providing for his wife is very fulfilling to the husband; indeed, it is even essential to his sense of worth. The Larimores argue that a provider-protector instinct is built into the husband’s DNA. Therefore, the wife should not try to usurp this unique role of the husband. This is further bolstered by several footnoted bullet points demonstrating that marriages are happier when men and women pursue these traditional roles.

The broader point is that distinctively male and female qualities co-exist by God’s design. When we honor this design by allowing each spouse to excel in the areas he or she does best, then mutual affirmation will occur which strengthens the marriage bond.

The broader point is that distinctively male and female qualities co-exist by God’s design. When we honor this design by allowing each spouse to excel in the areas he or she does best, then mutual affirmation will occur which strengthens the marriage bond. Also, each spouse will have blind spots. The wise husband or wife will assist (gently) in helping his or her spouse to understand and deal with those blind spots.

Dr. Larimore posits that a male’s high levels of testosterone and vasopressin naturally lead him to respond to respect and admiration. He notes that if a man is not valued by his wife he will often abandon her. If a wife disrespects her husband (especially publicly) then he may begin to spend more time at work or with hobbies or other distractions. “A man needs a wife who is a better cheerleader than she is a critic” (175). Women on the other hand are “hardwired to be loved, loved, loved.” They are made to respond to love and nurture as well as to provide love and nurture. A man must “make frequent deposits” into his wife’s “emotional savings account” (174). This type of love is displayed by Christ Himself, and by seeking to fulfill each other’s needs a husband and wife are actually serving God.

In short, the husband is to sacrificially love his wife while she is to sacrificially respect her husband. On a practical note Larimore mentions that over the years he has practiced loving his wife by using the “one another” or “each other” verses of Scripture, such as 1 Thessalonians 5:11: “Therefore, encourage one another.” A chart on page 179 illustrates how some of those Scripture passages can be applied, and Barb offers several paragraphs with practical recommendations for the Scriptural admonition to the wife to “respect her husband” (Ephesians 5:33).

 

A Mixed Blessing

The book concludes by returning to the creation narrative of Genesis 2. Unfortunately, Dr. Larimore misunderstands the Hebrew language. In his zeal to elevate women, he infers that because two different Hebrew verbs are used by Moses to describe how God created Adam and Eve (Genesis 2:18-22), God must have made Adam by a sort of crude mashing of clay into place, while woman was very delicately crafted. Dr. Larimore also steps onto shaky ground when interpreting the Hebrew term ezer, traditionally translated “helper,” as “rescuer,” as if the main point was that Eve rescued Adam from loneliness. Larimore mistakenly interprets Eve’s rescuing of Adam in a quasi-divine sense, claiming that “apart from this passage, the word ezer is used in the Bible to describe only the work of God himself!” The reality is that in Scripture the word ezer and its cognates azar and ezra are used in the Old Testament to refer to God (Psalm 30:10), unnamed helpers (Daniel 11:34), or even the military forces of Egypt (Ezekiel 30:8).

While the middle portion of the book provides advice that is sure to be pure gold for some couples, other sections disappoint the careful reader. ... Spiritually, as well as scientifically, the book has some shortcomings.

While the middle portion of the book provides advice that is sure to be pure gold for some couples, other sections disappoint the careful reader. The citations backing up scientific claims too often point to popular, rather than peer-reviewed scholarly sources. Add to this the fact that brain research is notoriously difficult to interpret and the first portion of the book does not inspire a great deal of confidence. True, Dr. Larimore provides plenty of evidence that the brains of men and women are different, but the causes and effects that he introduces as fact will undoubtedly turn out to be more complex than the somewhat simplistic inferences he makes. Meanwhile, one must be cautious not to overstate the differences between men’s and women’s brains, or to infer that all of those difference can so readily be explained.

Spiritually, as well as scientifically, the book has some shortcomings. In chapter 7 he mentions that men are designed to look at attractive women, but does not provide sufficient warning against lust or any guidelines to know when one is crossing over from admiration to lust. The book also fails to state explicitly that a man should be the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:23). One might expect that since God designates husbands for headship, He would equip men psychologically for that role. Instead of exploring how brain science research may dovetail with this biblical revelation concerning manhood, Larimore seemingly goes out of his way to show that women’s brains are superior in multiple ways to men’s brains. Indeed, this may be true. But by the time I reached the end of the book I was left thinking that the only reason that a man is designated by God as the head of his wife is to inflate his ego. Finally, although Dr. Larimore noted quite rightly that Jesus is our example of what sacrificial love ought to be, he did not emphasize that Christ’s sacrificial love also is the main motivation for Christian husbands and wives to love each other.

Aside from these criticisms, the book does offer beneficial insights for both men and women. With a caveat to be aware that much in this book is oversimplified and sometimes overstated, I give it my lukewarm recommendation.

 

Dr. Doyle Holbird teaches biology at Bethany Lutheran College in Mankato, Minnesota. He is an ordained Lutheran minister and, with his wife Mary, a homeschool parent of three children.

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TAGS: Marriage, Created Male and Female

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