Just Like a Woman: How Gender Science Is Redefining What Makes Us Female

Dianne Hales, Author Bantam Books $24.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-553-10228-4

As Hales (Caring for the Mind) argues on the one hand against old stereotypes of women as inferior and, on the other hand, against those feminists who insist on no difference between men and women, she finds that fundamental differences between the sexes exist and are cause for celebration. In three sections, she gathers a vast amount of biological and physiological research on animal behavior, genetics, hormones, women's health; findings on the female life cycle from girlhood through menstruation, pregnancy, infertility and menopause; and investigations into the mind, from the brain to emotions, mental disorders, sexuality and spirituality. The first two sections offer a heavy-handed determinism: in the way female seals jockey for choice rock positions and entice male seals to fight each other, Hales sees the evolutionary roots of the differing competitive styles of corporate men and women. More interesting are the crucial medical discoveries she reveals, especially concerning heart disease: the traditional test for detecting heart disease in men is far less reliable for women, whose heart attacks often don't show the same symptoms as men's. While Hales claims to steer clear of ideology, her choice of facts reinforces the idea that the differences between men and women are what matters most about who we are; often she replaces a disparaging set of stereotypes with a valorizing one. Only in the chapters on the brain and emotions does she suggest that men and women may be as similar as they are different or that the differences may be caused by social rather than biological factors. As absorbing as it is contradictory, her book will be welcomed by readers who want to know why women are different from men but will be frustrating to those more interested in the significance of those differences. (Mar.)