Cover image for 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
Fisher, Helen E.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Random House, [1999]

Physical Description:
xx, 378 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
GN479.7 .F57 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
GN479.7 .F57 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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This explosive book will change the way you see yourself, your family, and the world around you, including every man and woman you meet. Drawing on original research, the celebrated anthropologist Helen Fisher reveals inThe First Sexhow women's natural  talents are changing the world, making women ideal leaders and successful shapers of business and society today and on into the twenty-first century.          Through deep evolutionary history, women and men developed different abilities and brain structures. InThe First Sex, Fisher explores how women's innate superiorities are particularly well adapted to today's global society. Why is entrepreneurial America increasingly female? Why are many American philanthropic organizations led by women? How are women changing what we watch on television? How are women changing medicine and the law?  Why are women better able to juggle many tasks at once--an important talent for today's executive? The answers lie in prehistory. 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, and she shows why this difference in female and male brain structure and thinking creates opportunities, and complications, for women in the business world. With anecdotes and stories, Fisher explores how women's special talents--superior verbal abilities, people savvy, acute senses, healing techniques, and more--are geared to success in medicine, education, communications, law, philanthropy, government, and police work. Changes in society--the growth of the global service and communications economy--are also giving women an advantage: women's unique talents are especially needed in our modern age.          The evolution of women's sexual, romantic, and family lives is also explored as Fisher traces the origins in prehistory of the differences between the ways men and women love and bond. She discusses new trends in families, maintaining that if there ever was a time when men and women had the opportunity to make fulfilling marriages, that time is now.          "Like a glacier," Fisher says, "contemporary women are slowly overturning worldwide business and social practices, creating a new economic and social landscape." Provocative and eye-opening, The First Sex will make you think, and will help you understand why people are the way they are--and why, as Fisher says, "tomorrow belongs to women."

Author Notes

Helen Fisher, PhD is a Research Professor and member of the Center for Human Evolution Studies in the Department of Anthropology, Rutgers University. She has conducted extensive research and written books on the evolution and future of human sex, love, marriage, gender differences in the brain and how your personality type shapes who you are and who you love.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Women are, biologically speaking, the first sex because all embryos start out female, and for much of our species' existence, women were equal socially. Fisher, a high-profile anthropologist, believes that after centuries of aberrant sexism, we are returning to a balance between the sexes. Never before in recorded time have so many women been so involved in public life. They are bearing fewer children and living longer, and their fuller participation in every aspect of society, from education to medicine to the arts, will effect deep change because women are different than men in more ways than their role in reproduction. Fisher explains exactly how in concise paragraphs, building her argument with an ebullient momentum. She describes how women's brains differ from men's structurally and functionally, contrasts women's "web thinking" with men's "step thinking," and tracks the effects of each mode on realms private and public. Because she is articulating easily observable aspects of gender relations, Fisher's theories and predictions seem commonsensical, and her optimism about the positive impact women will have on society feels right. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

No tears spilt over the limited effects of wrinkle cream here! Fisher (The Anatomy of Love), an anthropologist at Rutgers University, synthesizes the insights of her own discipline and those of psychology, sociology, ethnology and biology into good news for women: their biological advantagesÄcontextual thinking, interpersonal intuition and long-range planningÄmake them better suited to innovate and thrive in the emerging "knowledge economy." In Fisher's scenario, risk-taking males attack with words and play win-lose games, endlessly arguing unbending rules from the playground to the boardroom, while verbal, apologetic females roam in leaderless packs playing win-win games. She believes paternalistic, pyramidal mega-corporations are becoming obsolete as those girls morph into Net-minded women executives who manage virtual corporations with "flat" organizational structures. The playhouse blurs with the office in the decentralized "hyborgs" of the future: "officeless" business webs and virtual classrooms. With breezy optimism, Fisher takes a conservative stance in the nature/nurture debate, cheerfully reducing all of patriarchal history to the result of sex hormone surges with nary a nod to the "social" in "social science." Overly optimistic though her argument may be, it offers a provocative overview of the latest bio-anthropological studies on gender and communication, menopause and romantic love. Agent, Amanda Urban at ICM; 9-city author tour. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

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.]ÄMary Ann Hughes, Neill P.L., Pullman, WA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Fisher's book is written from an evolutionary perspective. Men and women are fundamentally different, she argues, the result of doing different tasks that required different skills. Her thesis is that the skills that women have developed give them a competitive edge in the new "global service and communications economy." Her "immodest proposal" is that as women continue to pour into the paid workforce around the world, they will apply their natural aptitudes in many sectors of society and dramatically influence 21st-century business, sex, and family life. However, some readers will find that Fisher's generalizations about women's "natural talents" bear further scrutiny, for example, her assertions of women's "ability to do and think several things simultaneously"; "patience"; "a broad contextual view of a problem"; "a preference for cooperating"; "reaching consensus, and leading via egalitarian teams." It is hard to believe that these talents are built into the brains of women, as the author claims. General readers. C. Adamsky; University of New Hampshire



THE FIRST SEX CHAPTER 1 WEB THINKING Women's Contextual View What man has assurance enough to pretend to know thoroughly the riddle of a woman's mind? cervantes 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." Excerpted from The First Sex by Helen E. Fisher All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.