Category Failure (Review of Leonard Sax, Part 3)

I’ve had good things and more good things to say about Leonard Sax’s 2017-updated book, Why Gender Matters. But I would like to revisit it once more with a criticism, because the book has an arc of usefulness. It reaches its climax in chapter 5, entitled, “School,” which is Sax’s home turf. He has visited and observed over 400 schools and his advice on sex differentiation is most valuable here, in boys’/girls’ friendships and learning techniques. Here he makes the case that gender-blind education really does perpetuate gender stereotypes. Wise teachers instead learn boy-friendly and girl-friendly approaches.


Sax is an able story teller. His narratives along with the study citations persuade the reader. He also gives much sensible advice. The key point is that students do much better when teachers are paying attention to gender. If you allow the boys to sit mostly in the back of the room, they cannot hear (because boys generally do not hear as well, p24). It fulfills the rap of boys being non-academic. Confusion about gender contributes to anxiety and depression in girls and a disengagement among boys (p12). Lamentably, very few schools of education provide any instruction on this topic.


Although I appreciate this valuable work, some of Sax’ categories are wrong. He does not distinguish true masculinity (as defined so well in the Bible) from male-typical behavior. This failure leads, as the book goes on, to problems in his treatment.


So, Sax is unable to advise on clear issues of gender in relationship.  In Ch. 6, he says: “We can’t say for sure whether hook-up culture is good or bad for people.” Excuse me?  Can’t we? Well he can’t because he doesn’t really know what gender ultimately is. Instead, he concludes: “Maybe we should be skeptical of sex relationships among adolescents.” Ya think?


In Ch. 9, Sax adopts terms like “anomalous males” and “gender atypical females” who don’t fit a cultural stereotype. He does not grasp the harm in doing this, again, because he doesn’t distinguish the moral category of masculinity from the platform of maleness. Many people today do this same thing, with serious consequence.


The failure leaves the author unable, for example in his Ch 10 , “Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual,” to interpret the diverse data. Sax guesses (with no data provided) that gay/straight is like being left-handed or right-handed.  Yet he wants to insist that gay boys are boys and gay girls are girls.  Consequently, Sax forces some data to fit that doesn’t fit. He tries to wedge Identical Twin studies into his model (pp222-223), claiming that they are evidence of a biological basis for same-sex attraction. He quotes one study (Baily and Pillard, 1991) which got as high as 52%, showing a slight edge over a 50-50% chance of similar sexual desires. But then, he must admit that a review of all published twin studies found that, if one identical twin had same-sex attraction, there is only an average of 25% chance of the other did. Put in plain language, that means there is not a likelihood that if one twin has same sex attraction, the other will. In fact, 3 out of 4 times it isn’t the case. That is a definite lack of evidence of a genetic basis, not the “strong evidence” that Lax wants to claim.


Similarly, the doctor is at a loss to explain the comorbidities he cites: “Girls and boys who are not straight are at increased risk of depression, compared with straight kids. In one study more than 20% of teens who are not straight purported attempting suicide in the past 12 months. And [they]…are 3 times more likely to use drugs and alcohol….Researchers in the Netherlands…one of the most tolerant and accepting countries in the world…found that a gay man who is in a relationship with a gay man is eight times more likely to commit suicide than is a straight man who is married to a woman” (p239, 242). His model of left-handed/right-handedness for sexual desire melts down at this point.


Still, Sax is admirably willing to contradict the cultural narrative, asking, for instance, if women even have a sexual orientation (a la Lisa Diamond). This he does because he sees that women are far more flexible in sexual desire. He even cites more recent research confirming Diamond’s work.



So this remains an overall useful book, if somewhat crippled by a departure from the explanation of gender found in the Bible. I hope that the later book’s wisdom will win the day in your family.


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