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squelch her fear and give her daughter the approval she needed. She says she wishes she had had a camera to record the moment Samantha landed with a bump at the bottom. Her face lit up with a grin that expressed her pride and excitement, and she immediately ran over to her mother and gave her a big hug.
The brain’s first organizing principle is clearly genes plus hormones, but we can’t ignore the further sculpting of the brain that results from our interactions with other people and with our environment. A parent’s or caregiver’s tone of voice, touch, and words help organize an infant’s brain and influence a child’s version of reality.
Scientists still don’t know exactly how much reshaping can occur to the brain nature gave us. It runs against the grain of intuition, but some studies show that male and female brains may have different genetic susceptibility to environmental influences. Either way, we know enough to see that the fundamentally misconceived nature versus nurture debate should be abandoned: child development is inextricably both.
T HE B OSSY B RAIN
If you’re the parent of a little girl, you know firsthand that she isn’t always as obedient and good as the culture would have us believe she should be. Many parents have had their expectations dashed when it came to their daughter getting what she wanted.
“Okay, Daddy, now the dollies are going to lunch, so we have to change their clothes,” Leila said to her father, Charles, who dutifully changed the outfits—into party clothes. “Daddy! No,” Leila screamed. “Not the party dress! The lunch outfits! And they don’t talk like that. You’re supposed to say what I told you to say. Now say it right.”
“All right, Leila. I’ll do it. But tell me, why do you like to play dolls with me instead of with Mommy?”
“Because, Daddy, you play the way I tell you to.” Charles was a little thrown by this response. And he and Cara were taken aback by Leila’s chutzpah.
Not all is perfectly calm during the juvenile pause. Little girls don’t usually exhibit aggression via rough-and-tumble play, wrestling, and punching the way little boys do. Girls may have, on average, better social skills, empathy, and emotional intelligence than boys—but don’t be fooled. This doesn’t mean that girls’ brains aren’t wired to use everything in their power to get what they want, and they can turn into little tyrants to accomplish their goals. What are those goals as dictated by the little girl’s brain? To forge connection, to create community, and to organize and orchestrate a girl’s world so that she’s at the center of it. This is where the female brain’s aggression plays out—it protects what’s important to it, which is always, inevitably, relationship. But aggression can push others away, and that would undermine the goal of the female brain. So a girl walks a fine line between making sure she’s at the center of her world of relationships and risking pushing those relationships away.
Remember the wardrobe sharing twins? When one asked the other to borrow the pink shirt in trade for the green, she set it up so that if the other sister said “no” she’d be considered mean. Instead of grabbing the shirt, she used her best skill set—language—to get what she wanted. She was counting on her sister’s not wanting to be seen as selfish, and indeed her sister gave up the pink shirt. She got what she wanted without sacrificing the relationship. This is aggression in pink. Aggression means survival for both sexes, and both sexes have brain circuits for it. It’s just more subtle in girls, perhaps reflecting their unique brain circuitry.
The social and scientific view of innate good behavior in girls is a misguided stereotype born out of the contrast with boys. In comparison, girls come out smelling like roses. Women don’t need to lay one another out, so of course they seem less aggressive than males. By all standards, men are on