Delusions of Gender

Delusions of Gender

How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference

Book - 2010
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It's the twenty-first century, and although we tried to rear unisex children--boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks--we failed. Even though the glass ceiling is cracked, most women stay comfortably beneath it. And everywhere we hear about vitally important "hardwired" differences between male and female brains. The neuroscience that we read about in magazines, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes even scientific journals increasingly tells a tale of two brains, and the result is more often than not a validation of the status quo. Women, it seems, are just too intuitive for math; men too focused for housework.Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men's and women's brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men's brains aren't wired for empathy and women's brains aren't made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men's and women's behavior. Instead of a "male brain" and a "female brain," Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender.Passionately argued and unfailingly astute, Delusions of Gender provides us with a much-needed corrective to the belief that men's and women's brains are intrinsically different--a belief that, as Fine shows with insight and humor, all too often works to the detriment of ourselves and our society.
Publisher: New York : W. W. Norton, c2010.
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780393068382
0393068382
Branch Call Number: 612.82 FINE C
Characteristics: xxix, 338 pages ; 22 cm.

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dnk
Feb 04, 2018

Although women can now vote, access higher education and pursue traditionally "male" careers, a number of books and scientific studies have been published to demonstrate or prove that there is a "hard-wired" difference between male and female brains. Coincidentally, these differences explain the traditional, gendered approaches that we've used in child-rearing, education and professional mentoring in many parts of the world. If you're not aware of what those are, they work to encourage females to pursue vocations (or sometimes just avocations) that focus on nurturing or the home and males to pursue scientific, mathematic or adventurous endeavors. Such works have been used to justify why it is that although women are legally allowed to pursue competitive careers, the emotional and logistical needs of the home still need to be addressed by women. This also explain that girls are biologically programmed to play in ways that reflect a nurturing tendency and why boys can't help sometimes being more physically aggressive and even destructive.

Dr. Fine points out that the gold-standard technology used in these studies, the PET and fMRI scans, are not as well-developed as some would have you believe. Many neuroscientists are skeptical about how much they prove about brain activity and how much can be extrapolated about behavior from said activity. Further, even if it can be shown that different sized brains (the average male brain is larger than the average female brain) light up differently during a certain behavior, many scientists believe that the different brains are working differently so that they can accomplish the same task. In other words, even if male and female brains are different, that doesn't mean that they must behave differently. It should also be noted that doctors cannot look at a brain scan and identify whether the brain they are looking at is male or female without being told first; they're not *that* different, and although the average size of the male brain is larger, there is still overlap.

We are reminded throughout the book that neuroscience is just the latest in the arsenal of scientists to justify "normal" social behaviors. The measurement of skull size, "snout length", the size of the cervical and lumbar vertebrae and, my favorite, the energy usage of the ovaries at the expense of the brain, were all used in the nineteenth- and even twentieth centuries to discourage women from pursuing careers as doctors or scientists or even voting. To modern ears, those all sound ridiculous. And yet, today, many will grab onto the most tenuous connections between supposed brain activity and observed behavior and make extrapolations about what must be genetically programmed.

But this is not Fine's larger point. Purveyors and consumers of popular science seem to rely on the assumption that your genetic "programming" is what will ultimately dictate your behavior and the environment you and others like you shape. As Fine (and many others) have pointed out, the causation can go both ways. Gene expression is also dependent on stimulus from the environment. More importantly, it is also affected by your thoughts. As she puts it, the skull is not nearly as impermeable to social influences as we like to think.

Fine does not discount that there may indeed be differences that are dependent on gender (personally, I prefer the term sex). Her intent here is to hold under heightened scrutiny what has been previously accepted in other pop-science. What we find by the end of the book is that much of what we "know", including the gospel of Greater Male Variability, are not scientific facts but sociological phenomena.

u
undereli
May 15, 2014

I'd often wondered just how women and men wind up defining themselves, especially having grown up (as I suppose we all have now?) during the feminist movement and so many of the old stererotypes that define women and men having supposedly been squashed. This well researched and written book illustrate just how alive and well gender stereotypes still are, despite lots of people's efforts to reduce strong symbols that define the sexes. A very worthwhile read, in my opinion

k
Kuhflubbadubba
Jul 06, 2012

This is an amazing book that demolishes in extreme detail the notion that male and female minds are naturally different in any significant way.
Nearly every paragraph describes one study after another representing huge numbers of scientists and test subjects. It is a great book.
My only problem with it is that it's a little difficult to read at times. It deals with neuroscience, which is a difficult subject no matter who the author is. Just take your time though, and you'll get it all. Overall, I consider this a must-read. This book will change the way you see the world.

s
Sandy_102
Jan 13, 2012

Delusions of Gender is an enthralling, insightful account of what scientists do and (mostly) do not know about innate sex differences. Cordelia Fine expertly debunks the widely-held and currently popular view that many aspects of gendered behaviour are innate and immutable. The author does not claim that gendered behaviour does not have a biological basis, but rather that there is insufficient evidence to make the sorts of outrageous claims brought forward by many influential writers such as Simon Baron-Cohen, Louann Brizendine, and John Gray. The author demonstrates that stereotype threat, priming, small samples, and publication bias all skew study results. Fine also dissects the never-ending appeal of the Greater Male Variability hypothesis and the limits of neuroimaging equipment in determining gendered thinking. Witty and clever, the author systematically dismantles what many readers presume to know about gender. Highly recommended.

s
shapjul
Oct 31, 2010

I confess that I did not get to finish this the first time out of the library. It's a great book, however, and so I expect it will be among the small number of books I decide to buy.

Cordelia Fine takes on recent science demonstrating that girls and boys (and men and women) are fundmentally different. At the same time, she reviews tests that demonstrate the extent to which all of us--no matter how well informend and well-intentioned--carry around sterotypical associations about men and women.

She has a very readable style, including occasional asides that are very funny. But there's no question that she is taking on some of the major names who have created a strong sense that gender differences are real within the last decade or so. Much to think about here.

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Sandy_102
Jan 13, 2012

"Gender Equality 2.0, a revised version of equality in which men and women are not equal, but equally free to express their essentially different natures [...] justifies a status quo in which politics, wealth, science, technology, and artistic achievement continue to lie primarily in the hands of (white) men. [...] When a child clings on to a highly desirable toy and claims that his companion 'doesn't want to play with it,' I have found that it is wise to be suspicious. The same skepticism can be usefully applied here."

s
Sandy_102
Jan 13, 2012

"The obscurity of the relationship between brain structure and psychological function means that just-so stories can be all too easily written and rewritten. Do you find that your male participants are actually less lateralized on a spatial problem? Not to worry! As the contradictory data come in, researchers can draw on both the hypothesis that men are better at mental rotation because they use just one hemisphere, as well as the completely contrary hypothesis that men are better at mental rotation because they use both hemispheres. So flexible is the theoretical arrangement that researchers can even present these opposing hypotheses, quite without embarrassment, within the very same article."

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