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The First Sex: The Natural Talents of Women and How They Are Changing the World Paperback – February 1, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Rutgers University anthropologist Helen Fisher isn't afraid of immodest proposals. The woman who demystified four million years' worth of romance in Anatomy of Love now suggests in The First Sex that evolution favors women. Citing recent research in biology, sociology, sociobiology, and anthropology, Fisher makes a strong case for a near future in which the natural talents of women as thinkers, communicators, and healers, adapted to the age of information, create a new kind of global leadership in business, medicine, and education, skewing the power dynamics of sex and relationships towards the feminine. Women, she says, are contextual thinkers to a far greater degree than men; this "web thinking," as Fisher dubs it, is an asset in a global marketplace. Women are far more talented than men at achieving win-win outcomes in negotiations. On an organizational level, women are less interested in rank and more interested in relationships and networking, an essential attribute in a world without borders. In the arena of education, women have a natural talent for language and self-expression; as healers, they enjoy an emotional empathy with their charges that can and will redefine doctor-patient relationships. And, she predicts, in the next century women will reinvent love by asserting feminine sexuality and creating peer marriages, true partnerships. While Fisher's future may seem idealized, her science and her sociology make for a well-reasoned case that the people Simone de Beauvior once defined as "the second sex" are about to move to the head of the class. --Patrizia DiLucchio --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

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 advantagesAcontextual thinking, interpersonal intuition and long-range planningAmake 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.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 1, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0449912604
  • ISBN-13: 978-0449912607
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #692,330 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Helen Fisher, Ph.D., is one of this country's most prominent anthropologists. Prior to becoming a research professor at Rutgers University, she was a research associate at Manhattan's American Museum of Natural History. Fisher has conducted extensive research on the evolution, expression, and science of love, and her two most recent books, The First Sex and The Anatomy of Love, were New York Times Notable Books. She lives in New York City.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By M. Honeck on April 15, 2009
Format: Paperback
I think the majority of these reviewers are reading the book with the intent to be offended. Fisher never argues that one sex is better than the other, simply that we are different and that for thousands of years we were equally important to society and we're finally getting back to that. She also states that we are all mixes of masculine and feminine rather than pure one or the other, that gender is a continuum rather than dichotimus. Everything she refers to is "on the average" meaning not true for all women or all men.
Don't bother with this book if you aren't going to be open to what she has to say.
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29 of 38 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on May 27, 2004
Format: Paperback
Well, this was another one of those books I picked up to try to understand my mother-in-law better. Thank the gods that I found it used! This book is yet another one of those "women are the nurturers" sorts of books: just the sort of thing to give my MIL a present, after all, remember, "women are tied to mother earth by virtue of their menstrual cycle!" Remember that, and remember it well, for it will guide you in making sense (well maybe not SENSE, per se) of this unfortunate mishmash of sociobiology/genetics/post-feminist ramblings.
You're probably wondering, in light of that last sentence, why I am giving this book three stars instead of the one that you would expect. One of the primary reasons is that, despite the sketchy facts, and the overall silliness, and the evidence that leads one to form the OPPOSITE conclusion to that the author seems to be promoting, this really is an amusing book, especially if you think that women and men are the way they are due to socialization.
Opposite, eh? Well, by page 10, the author has asserted that only 50% of women express the genes that lead to the internetworked functions of both hemispheres in the cortex which results in the traits of "web thinking," "contextual thought," and nurturing that she associates with all women. Women, and only women, are capable of thinking in web-like and interconnected terms, according to the author, and her entire theory of women's pending ascendency in the world economoy is completely based upon these traits. However, there is one HUGE problem: the half of the female population that does NOT express these traits. So, will these spatially inclined, non-verbally fluent women who make up 50% of the female population be left behind in the coming business revolution?
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23 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Amy Alkon on March 4, 2007
Format: Hardcover
I've not only read Helen Fisher's book, I've read many of the studies behind what she writes, and I read the same journals and attend the same conferences as ev psychs in the field, as I use data, not just speculation, in my newspaper column.

She does have an "optimistic" tone about what's possible for women, and takes a positive look at some of the unique features in a woman's brain. That said, she doesn't distort data to do it.

Contrary to the speculation of a layperson above, that it could be socialization at work, not biology -- take a look at some of the fMRI work by people like Julian Paul Keenan and you'll understand how wrong that is. Our genes work in response to the environment. They aren't just there to work in a vacuum.

Furthermore, men's and women's brains ARE different, and it's not as a result of socialization. I say this as somebody who just read seven studies this morning, including Silverman and Eals' "Sex Differences In Spatial Abilities" from the collection of studies edited by Cosmides and Tooby, entitled "The Adapted Brain." Many, many studies show this -- but social scientists, many of whom aren't as rigorous about data as those in other disciplines (or who use little data at all) -- keep promoting a different view...a view based largely on speculation and wishful thinking. FYI, for all you anti-feminists out there -- the idea that it's society that's the culprit serves the victim-feminist cause.

It's just as silly to demonize Helen Fisher for pointing out the results of the research as it is to demonize men for being highly visual and being interested in pornography when women aren't. Male sexuality isn't WRONG, it's just different.
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34 of 45 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 16, 1999
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I expected more from Helen Fisher. This book was poorly written, and is biased. I think it's fine to acknowledge the differences between men and women,in fact I'd like to see more discussion about this, especially the biological aspects. But why not show how both sexes have strengths and weaknesses, and how they compliment each other? Instead Fisher fills page after page claiming that women are superior at almost every task, and in most cases provides supporting arguments that are weak. Talents of males are mentioned as an afterthought. And of course in the 21st century the supposedly limited skill set of males will no longer be needed. I suppose many female readers will eat this up, but discrimination is discrimination, no matter where it's directed. The prose is quite choppy, kind of surprising, given the innately superior language abilities of women. She must have had a male editor.
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116 of 158 people found the following review helpful By Barron Laycock HALL OF FAME on July 15, 2000
Format: Paperback
Reading this self-congratulatory feminist manifesto, one gets the impression the author would have us believe women of the species have just parachuted into our midst rather than being our long-time companions down here on the planet of the (male) apes. Given their complicity in all the wonders & woes through recorded time, it's only logical to attribute at least half-credit (and blame) for what humankind is and is becoming as due to their persisting and enduring influence over the eons. Yet here we find no such admissions of female culpability in the sorry state of the species. Instead, it seems to be exclusively males who have royally mucked things up so far. Yet, in the world according to Ms. Fisher, one must not despair, for all that will be changed as soon as women (the super sex) begin to come into their own. The reader is left with an uneasy impression this is all another thinly veiled sexist and virulently anti-male argument parading as social science a la Susan Faludi ("Backlash" and "Stiffed").
In all this heady prose of feminist celebration one can almost hear the faint echoes of Helen Reddy's feminist paean "I Am Woman' (Hear her roar!). Yet there is only anecdotal proof that any of what she purports is accurate or true of women in general, never mind that it will somehow ineluctably come to pass. For example, she boasts that women have "natural" talents males do not, and therefore are "better suited" biologically to excel at a whole range of complex social tasks than are males. This isn't a carefully couched scientific argument framed in terms of recognizing much wider individual variations within the female population itself than between males and females generally. Rather, it is argued as if it were a general sex-linked intellectual trait.
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