Friday, September 10, 2010

"Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference" by Cordelia Fine - Various Reviews

Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine is getting a lot of attention in the world of book reviews and gender/masculinity blogging. And with good reason - it dispels a lot myths about brains and gender, what Fine calls neurosexism.

Here are some reviews and an interview or two. This book sounds excellent and necessary - people like John Gray and other purveyors of mythic gender stereotypes have brainwashed the general public into thinking that men are violent and emotionally shallow and women are emotional and bad at science. It's about time someone uses science to set the record straight.

The gender myth

September 9, 2010


Forget those who say men and women are fundamentally different, writes Robin McKie.

It's the mainstay of countless media articles. Differences between male and female abilities - from map reading to multi-tasking and from parking to expressing emotion - can be traced to variations in the hard-wiring of their brains at birth, it is claimed.

Men instinctively like the colour blue and are bad at coping with pain, we are told, while women cannot tell jokes but are innately superior at empathising with others. Key evolutionary differences separate the intellects of men and women, and it is all down to our ancient hunter-gatherer genes that program our brains.

The belief has become widespread, particularly in the wake of the publication of international bestsellers such as John Gray's Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus which stress the innate differences between the minds of men and women.

Delusions of Gender author Cordelia Fine.

Challenging "neurosexism" ... Delusions of Gender author Cordelia Fine.

But now a growing number of scientists are challenging the pseudo-science of ''neurosexism'', as they call it, and are raising concerns about its implications. These researchers argue that by telling parents that boys have poor chances of acquiring good verbal skills and girls have little prospect of developing mathematical prowess, serious and unjustified obstacles are being placed in the paths of children's education.

In fact, there are no major neurological differences between the sexes, says Cordelia Fine in her book Delusions of Gender, to be published by Icon next month. There may be slight variations in the brains of women and men, says Fine, a researcher at Melbourne University, but the wiring is soft, not hard. ''It is flexible, malleable and changeable,'' she says.

Read the whole review.

'Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference'

Cordelia Fine
327 pages | Buy this book

So you thought sexism was a thing of the past? Not so much, says Cordelia Fine. A growing number of Americans believe there’s an “immutable” biological difference between the male and female brain. But brain differences are no explanations for why so few women are engineers and so few men go into nursing. Fine says old myths dressed up with new science are propagating dangerous new conventional wisdom, and when it comes down to it, she argues, all that science just doesn’t add up.

What’s the Big Deal?

Everyone, it seems, is pointing out the innate differences between men and women lately: Louann Brizendine’s The Male Brain purports that men are simply less emotional than women; Leonard Sax has led increased calls for single-sex education to better cater to the different needs of girls and boys; even the World Economic Forum recently suggested that corporations are failing to capitalize on distinctly female talents. But isn’t that all just an excuse to keep inequities in tact? Perhaps. Because if men and women truly have different brains, shouldn’t we all just accept that it’s men who are hard-wired for jobs in engineering, politics, and science, and that women should—as Cambridge University psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen has put it—accept their place in the world of primary-school teachers, nurses, and social workers? Actually, no. Fine links brain psychology to persistent workplace inequities, which show what all this skewed thinking is costing women today.

Buzz Rating: Hum

The New York Times reviewed the book last week, and the feminist blogosphere is sure to take the buzz up a notch.

One-Breath Author Bio

A research fellow at the University of Melbourne, Australia, Fine is also the author of A Mind of Its Own, about how the brain distorts and deceives. She has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from University College, London.

In Her Own Words

“Is it realistic . . . to expect two kinds of people with such different brains to ever have similar values, abilities, achievements, lives? If it’s our differently wired brains that make us different, maybe we can sit back and relax. If you want the answer to persistent gender inequalities, stop peering suspiciously at society and take a look right over here, please, at this brain scan. If only it were that simple.”

Read more, including some stuff from the book.

Q&A: 'Delusions of Gender' author Cordelia Fine

CAPTION: NIMH Emotion and Development Branch
Anticipating readers might have more questions about her book's suggestion that brain scan study differences between men and women don't add up to much, we asked author Cordelia Fine of the Centre for Agency, Values and Ethics at Australia's Macquarie University, to talk in more detail some of the points in her August book, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference. Here are some of her answers, by email:

1. What do you see as your book's main message?

A: The main message of the book is that our comforting beliefs about gender – that everything's fair now, that sex inequality should be blamed on 'hardwired' differences between the sexes, and that our failure to rear unisex children just points the same way – just don't bear up to scrutiny.

2. A lot of our anonymous online readers will take one look at this book and comment to us that a shrewish feminist author is blinded by her ideology and can't see the evidence as plain as her nose that boys and girls are inherently different. Is there anything you can say to them?

A: It's definitely long overdue for feminists to get a PR makeover; it's sad if that old shrew/pc image is putting off people who might otherwise find themselves genuinely interested in the science (or lack of science) behind widely held beliefs about sex differences. It turns out you don't have to have a desire for political correctness to object to popular claims about 'hardwired' sex differences – just a desire for scientific correctness. Unfortunately, objection to the careless treatment of the science of sex differences is often confused with disapproval of the very idea of intrinsic sex differences.

Read the whole interview.

"Delusions of Gender": The bad science of brain sexism

Some studies claim that women are innately bad at math, and men are bad at empathy. Here's why they're wrong


Women's brains are wired differently from men's. It's why so few women do well in math. It's why women gravitate toward dolls and tea sets as young children, and why they're so much better at understanding other people's emotions. It's why they're so good at housework! (Men are more wired to focus on one task — like arithmetic.) At least that's what a host of recent studies in the field of neuroscience have argued. Too bad they're wrong.

In her new book, "Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference," Cordelia Fine, a research associate and the author of "A Mind of Its Own" (also about brain science), discovers that, far from supporting the existence of vastly different male and female brains, much of the research on the topic is not only deeply flawed, but dangerously misleading. Women aren't worse at math (as Fine proves in the book, bad neurological research is one of the reasons women are still struggling to catch up in the field), and girls' preference for girlish toys probably has more to do with social expectations than what's in their skulls. Fine's book is a remarkably researched and dense work that, even while tackling highly complex subject manner, retains a light, breezy touch.

Salon spoke to Fine over the phone from Australia about the science of single-sex schooling, the message of "Revenge of the Nerds," and why women aren't really better than men at interpreting people's feelings.

Why did you write this book?

It began when I read a parenting book that claimed that hard-wired sex differences meant that girls and boys should be parented and taught differently. When I looked at the actual studies being used as evidence, I was really shocked by how badly the neuroscientific findings were being misrepresented. I saw the same thing going on in other popular books about gender, and when I looked, I was surprised to discover how little convincing evidence there was that, for example, the male brain is hard-wired to be good at understanding the world and the female brain is hard-wired to understand people.

Why are people so intent on misrepresenting the differences between the male and female brain?

We look around in our society, and we want to explain whatever state of sex inequality we have. It's more comfortable to attribute it to some internal difference between men and women than the idea that there must be something very unjust about our society. As long as there has been brain science there have been misguided explanations and justification for sex and inequality — that women's skulls are the wrong shape, that their brain is too small, that their head is too unspecialized. It was once very cutting-edge to put a brain on a scale, and now we have cutting-edge research that is genuinely sophisticated and exciting, but we're still very much at the beginning of our journey of understanding of how our brain creates the mind.

Read the whole interview.

Gender gap a scientific myth, says psychology expert

Cordelia Fine book explodes experts' consensus of major differences between male and female brains hardwired at birth

Amelia Hill

cordelia fine psychologist

They are the questions that have troubled – and antagonised – men and women for generations: why can't females read maps, why can't males multitask, and why do girls like Barbies while boys prefer guns?

But claims that men are naturally analytical and competitive while women are compassionate and nurturing are, according to a new book, based on bad science – and, at worst, are "monstrous fictions".

Dr Cordelia Fine, author of Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference, says there is no convincing evidence that our brains are hardwired according to gender, and no such thing as "biological destiny".

"Avid readers of popular science books and articles about gender may well have formed the impression that science has shown that the path to a male or a female brain is set in utero, and that these differently structured brains create essentially different minds," says Fine, whose book is published in the UK this week.

"These cultural lores, which in popular hands can become nothing short of monstrous fiction, are standing in the way of greater sex inequality – just as measures of skull volume, brain weight and neuron delicacy did in the past".

Read the whole article.

Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain

Published: August 23, 2010

“Delusions of Gender” takes on that tricky question, Why exactly are men from Mars and women from Venus?, and eviscerates both the neuroscientists who claim to have found the answers and the popularizers who take their findings and run with them.

Jeanette Ortiz-Burnett/The New York Times

The author, Cordelia Fine, who has a Ph.D. in cognitive neuroscience from University College London, is an acerbic critic, mincing no words when it comes to those she disagrees with. But her sharp tongue is tempered with humor and linguistic playfulness, as the title itself suggests. Academics like Simon Baron-Cohen and Dr. Louann Brizendine will want to come to this volume well armed. So would Norman Geschwind if he were still alive. Popular authors like John Gray (“Men are from Mars”), Michael Gurian (“What Could He Be Thinking?”) and Dr. Leonard Sax (“Why Gender Matters”) may want to read something else.

Sometimes all it takes is their own words, as in this example from Dr. Brizendine’s 2007 book “The Female Brain”: “Maneuvering like an F-15, Sarah’s female brain is a high-performance emotion machine — geared to tracking, moment by moment, the nonverbal signals of the innermost feelings of others.” Is Sarah some kind of psychic? Dr. Fine clarifies: “She is simply a woman who enjoys the extraordinary gift of mind reading that, apparently, is bestowed on all owners of a female brain.”

Experts used to attribute gender inequality to the “delicacy of the brain fibers” in women ; then to the smaller dimensions of the female brain (the “missing five ounces,” the Victorians called it); then to the ratio of skull length to skull breadth. In 1915 the neurologist Dr. Charles L. Dana wrote in this newspaper that because a woman’s upper spinal cord is smaller than a man’s it affects women’s “efficiency” in the evaluation of “political initiative or of judicial authority in a community’s organization” — and thus compromises their ability to vote.

Read the whole review.

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