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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 we read about in magazines, news 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 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. 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.


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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 we read about in magazines, news 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 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. 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.

30 review for Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference

  1. 5 out of 5

    Manny

    This is a remarkably good book, and anyone who's remotely interested in claims that there might be inherent differences in mental function between men and women should read it. It's insightful, carefully researched, well-written and often very funny. And if it doesn't make you change your mind about at least a few things in this area, you are either a remarkably knowledgable person or an incurable bigot. I had read a few books and articles that touched on the subject of inherent gender difference This is a remarkably good book, and anyone who's remotely interested in claims that there might be inherent differences in mental function between men and women should read it. It's insightful, carefully researched, well-written and often very funny. And if it doesn't make you change your mind about at least a few things in this area, you are either a remarkably knowledgable person or an incurable bigot. I had read a few books and articles that touched on the subject of inherent gender differences, and I'm afraid I had swallowed them rather uncritically. Without understanding any of the details, I had absorbed the vague idea that science had now established, with the help of modern neuro-imaging techniques, that there were clear differences between male and female brains. Men had stronger spatial and mathematical skills, and women had stronger verbal and emotional skills, and this all dovetailed sensibly with various biological and evolutionary stories. Fine, who works in psychology and appears to know the literature well, demonstrates that this story absolutely fails to stand up to critical examination. The science of gender differences turns out to be very bad science indeed; it seems that everyone has an agenda, and is willing to do whatever it takes to advance it. Researchers carry out poorly designed experiments with inadequate numbers of subjects, and then draw sweeping conclusions from differences which are not even clearly significant. They look at coarse measures of activation in parts of the brain whose functions are still largely unclear and mysteriously deduce general cognitive principles, relying on the fact that few people know how to interpret a brain scan. In surprisingly many cases, they flat-out lie. I am shocked, though I suppose this just shows how naive I am: I have worked for a long time in Artificial Intelligence, a field that is notorious for overhyping its achievements. Somehow, I had thought these people were better than us, but that does not appear to be true. Having read Fine's masterly demolition job, it is tempting to jump to the other extreme and conclude that there are no inherent differences between male and female minds, and that those differences we see are entirely due to social conditioning. I do not think, however, that that would be true to the deeper spirit of the book. Fine, who comes across as an admirable person, is upfront about the fact that no one is neutral in this debate, and she does not even pretend to be neutral herself; this is indeed one of the things which makes her writing so amusing. She shows how researchers, time after time, have made claims about gender differences which in hindsight have turned out to be utterly absurd. The rational response is to be as skeptical as possible about all such claims, and I will pay Fine the compliment of treating her own arguments with the same skepticism. I am indeed convinced by the way she refutes arguments that women are incapable of performing as well as men on a variety of tasks where they have traditionally been supposed inferior. (The section on the notorious spatial rotation task was particularly startling). But there are, all the same, a number of facts which I do not think are obviously explained inside the framework she describes here. With some misgivings, I will outline what they are. To begin, there is the uncontroversial fact that autism and Asperger's Syndrome are far more common in men than in women. I know a fair amount about this from personal experience; my older son is autistic, and I have spent a large part of my life interacting with chessplayers, computer scientists, mathematicians, and other groups where Asperger's types turn out to be common. It is hard to believe that this is coincidential. The highly-focused, obsessive, narrow Asperger's mindset seems to be a natural fit to these occupations, or more exactly to certain ways of approaching these occupations. I would like to make it clear that I am in no way saying that women cannot be chessplayers, mathematicians or computer scientists: I know many women who are world-class in these fields. But there is a way of doing such things which is characteristically Asperger's/autistic, and hence characteristically male. The clearest and most extreme example I can come up with is inventing a new chess opening. There are several hundred accepted chess openings, and, to the best of my knowledge, none of them have been invented by women. Why is this? Obviously, I don't know, but here are some thoughts. Inventing a chess opening is something that requires a great deal of talent and hard work, but there is something more to it than that, which is hard to pin down: the best description I have seen is in Lev Polugaevsky's wonderful book Grandmaster Preparation , which I have read many times. Basically, inventing an opening is not a useful activity in any normal sense of the word. Most strong chessplayers - most World Champions, even - have never invented an opening. It is not likely to make you more successful competitively, since most new openings are soon refuted and fall into disuse; the rational thing to do from this point of view is to use other people's openings. It is not necessarily very creative. The real reward is that it appeals to a kind of stubbornness. The person who invents the opening goes his own way, against the whole world, just to show that he can. Thinking in this way is a kind of madness that is much commoner in men. It is not so much that women can't do it; it is more that hardly any women can see why they would want to do it, which is entirely sensible. But, somehow, society as a whole seems to benefit from the existence of this small group of people who are willfully different, even if the majority of them have wasted their lives without achieving anything. Chess is a richer and more interesting game because there are all these different paths one can take. So Fine hasn't convinced me that men and women really do think alike at the deepest level; I believe it will be a long time before we understand what's going on there. But she has convinced me that the facile arguments about brain scans proving that women are inherently wired to read emotions but not to understand calculus are utter crap. If you haven't already done so, check out this book. _________________________________ [Postscript, about a year and a half later] I'm glad to say that I might have been wrong about women and chess openings. Looking at Bologan's book on the Chebanenko Slav, it certainly seems like there's a case for a Stefanova Variation; it goes 1. d4 d5 2. c4 c6 3. Nf3 Nf6 4. Nc3 a6 5. a4 e6 6. Bg5 and now Stefanova's trademark reply is 6... a5!?, reaching the following position: Bologan thinks it may be the best move and explicitly mentions former Women's World Champion Antoaneta Stefanova as the person who's done most to help make it respectable; indeed, a quick look at the Chessbase online game database shows that she's defended this position eight times, drawing seven and winning one. One of her opponents was Beliavsky, a previous top 10 player and still very strong. Go Stefanova! Surely others will follow where she has led? _________________________________ [Update, Apr 20 2015] Former World Championship finalist Nigel Short enters the debate: more details here. Despite the fact that my lifetime score against Grandmaster Short is 2-0 in my favor, I would like to make it clear that I in no way consider myself more intelligent than he is. Statistics can be very misleading when taken out of context. _________________________________ [Update, May 30 2015] The Chessbase site today posted another piece on gender differences in chess and academia, "Women in chess: the role of innate-ability beliefs" by Wei Ji Ma. Although the paper is interesting and makes some excellent points, I'm struck by the way the participants in this debate seem to be talking past each other. Ma says early on that... the available statistical evidence indicates that gender differences in achievement are largely or entirely due to differences in participation. But this is exactly what the Howard study quoted by Short claims is not true. I think we need more actual data here. It would be particularly interesting to see the Howard analysis repeated with proper attention paid to obvious sources of bias introduced by the fact that women play disproportionately often against other women. _________________________________ [Update, Feb 2 2016] Nigel Short, whose comments about women and chess have been widely circulated, lost earlier this week to Harika Dronavalli, India, in the third round of the Gibraltar Masters. Despite the fact that GM Harika thoroughly outplayed him and won a good game as Black, it would be premature to draw any sweeping conclusions from a single result. _________________________________ [Update, Apr 15 2017] Hou Yifan, the highest rated woman player in the world, posted a disappointing loss against Vassily Ivanchuk in their recent match. But today she came back strong in the first round of the GRENKE Classic and destroyed Fabiano Caruana, who's currently World #4. She then followed up by beating Meier, a normally very solid German grandmaster, and drawing with World Champion Carlsen. Go Hou! _________________________________ [Update, Apr 19 2017] From a recent interview with chess legend Alexander Morozevich:Between a man and a woman there are differences, and significant ones, but we’re all, first and foremost, people. Can I, simply looking at the notation of a game, say that it was played by a woman? I tried it a couple of times and I didn’t manage – there are no clear differences. In the results, meanwhile, there are differences, and only a few women have so far been capable of playing on the level of the men’s Top 100, and I don’t fully understand why that’s the case. In other intellectual games the proportions are more or less the same, with the very top occupied by men. It would be interesting to do research on that topic. Women in chess have one undoubted advantage: they can play in men’s tournaments, while we can’t play in women’s. I once asked a FIDE official: “Why is there such an injustice?” His answer surpassed all my expectations: “You understand, there’s a World Championship for women and a World Championship for people”. _________________________________ [Update, Aug 2 2017] Hou Yifan just won the Biel Grandmaster tournament, ahead of a field that included a former world champion, a former world championship challenger, and three other players currently in the world top 40. Details here. Nice going, Hou! _________________________________ [Update, Feb 22 2021] The first online world corporate chess championship, which finished yesterday, produced an interesting result. The competition was between four-player teams, and the rules required that every team had to include at least one woman and at least one man. The winning team, from Grenke Bank, consisted of one man and three women.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    Didn't realise Cordelia was Australian - This is a lovely video of her views: http://fora.tv/2010/10/02/Cordelia_Fi... Let’s say you have read a couple of books on the ‘science’ that ‘explains’ the differences between the sexes. So, just what are you likely to have been told? Well, one thing would be that men have brains that are built to be more logical and mathematical than women’s brains (this is due to men’s better spatial rotational abilities that are a consequence of right brain localisatio Didn't realise Cordelia was Australian - This is a lovely video of her views: http://fora.tv/2010/10/02/Cordelia_Fi... Let’s say you have read a couple of books on the ‘science’ that ‘explains’ the differences between the sexes. So, just what are you likely to have been told? Well, one thing would be that men have brains that are built to be more logical and mathematical than women’s brains (this is due to men’s better spatial rotational abilities that are a consequence of right brain localisation) and that this helps to explain why men end up in most of the high status jobs like Engineering or Science, just as their greater aggression ensures they end up President or CEO. But that this comes at a cost – men tend to be more socially dysfunctional – a consequence of their limited ability to use their somewhat larger brains ‘laterally’. This hinders them in their linguistic abilities, men being simply not as fluent as women. But this is okay, because it is women who need to be able to look after kids and do the house work – something how their brains are ordered allows them to specialise in (you know, ‘Darling, did you see where I left my car keys?’). So while men are off hunting and thereby using their aggression to bring home the bacon, women are pacifying the kids with their delightful socialising skills so suited to recognising the emotional needs of others and cleaning the cave. These are the tasks the sexes have separately evolved to perform and while these may not have been the brains we would have chosen for the sexes ourselves so as to make the world more fair – well, look, the world simply isn’t fair. There’s no point getting all PC about this. If evolution and biology have decided that half of the population need to be ‘caring’ rather than ‘logical’, well, all I can say is, ‘poor dears’ – there is about as much point in complaining about women’s innate difference (inferiority is such an ugly word) as complaining that fish are forced to live out their lives in water. Viva la difference. Such ideas (essentially modern day eugenics) are not only peddled by authors of limited intelligence trying to make a quick buck from the enhanced sales such sexist rubbish ensures for their books with titles like Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus or Why Men Don't Have a Clue and Women Always Need More Shoes – but even by people with impressive sounding qualifications who write books called The Female Brain or The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature. Like I said, if you have read some of these books you will either be feeling rather smug at the moment (as if the benefits of having a penis weren’t already ample) or rather annoyed. It can’t be nice for one half of our population to be told they are innately lesser people. But is that really what the latest science does tell us about the differences between male and female brains? Actually, the truth may well surprise you. Recently I wrote on one of Choupette’s reviews that I would love to find a book that explained just how the latest brain imaging technology works. I mean, the idea we have been encouraged to have is that it is all a bit like a video game, or rather a direct window into the brain. No, bugger the brain, a direct window into the mind as it is being constructed by the brain. You lie back in an incredibly expensive piece of machinery (and as the author says, one that uses quantum mechanics for god sake – but she could just as easily have said, and I think even more impressively, that uses anti-matter!) and they get you to think of something or other (solve a maths problem perhaps) and then blobs light up on the parts of your brain that are doing the thinking. How much more proof do you need than that? Thought equals blob equals male superiority. QED No one explains that this isn’t quite ‘real time’ imaging. No one explains that this is averaged difference. No one explains that we don’t really know what to make of these averaged differences, at what level these differences become significant, for example. No one explains that when the brains of dead salmon have been tested sometimes they have shown ‘significant’ emotional responses to visual stimuli. All we get to see are the blobs of colour lighting up – and we assume someone smarter than us has worked out that those blobs mean something significant. You might have been lead to believe that they have done these tests and seen the blobs lighting up and they (by they I mean the guys in white) have seen more blobs firing away in the touchy-feely side of women’s brains and at the same time and with the same stimuli more blobs lighting up in the hard-edged logical sides of men’s brains – so everything still holds true – right? Well, it’s not quite as simply as that. When the author set out to follow up on some of the research that leads to the million sale books of neurosexism mentioned earlier, sometimes that research was found to be somewhat lacking. Did you know that the much quoted (and much relied on) ‘fact’ that women are better able to use both sides of their brain for tasks due to their much more extensive corpus callosum was actually based on research on only fourteen brains and besides which the result from this research (upon which so many sexist assumptions have been based) didn’t even reach statistical significance? The thing that this book shows time and again is just how much edifice can be built on incredibly shaky foundations. Sometimes it shows no foundations at all. Her demolition of just a small section of The Female Brain is worth the price of the book. Surely the fraudulent behaviour of the author of The Female Brain ought to disqualify her for life from being able to write another book – but I see that despite a review in Nature after her first book was printed pointing out the remarkable (in fact, incomprehensible and gobsmacking) weaknesses and down-right misinformation in that book, she was able to publish another on much the same topic called The Male Brain. I cannot begin to tell you how outraged I am about this. Quite simply such work is lying and there should be an appropriate punishment. This book contains a long section on what is becoming a particularly fascinating area of research for me – called stereotype threat. This is detailed in Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions, and I spent the first half of the year reading many of the research papers she discusses here – if I’d read this book at the start of the year, it would have made my life so much easier. Stereotype threat is the remarkable situation where you can take a group of Asian women and prime half of them to think of themselves as women and the other half to think of themselves as Asian and given our stereotypes of both groups, they will perform either better or worse on a maths test depending on how they have been primed. And the more subtle the priming, the more effective the result will be. Merely getting women to tick a box on an exam paper stating whether they are male or female is enough to reduce their potential score. There is a pervasive belief, particularly among middleclass parents, that they already have tried to bring their kids up in a way that is ‘gender neutral’ and it simply hasn’t worked. The only explanation left is that biology ‘will out in the end’ and we should just get used to the idea that gender differences are innate. This book makes a remarkably strong case for the fact that our society is so ‘gendered’ it is simply impossible for anyone to bring up their children in a ‘gender neutral’ way and that really, no one tries. It is like we have ‘half changed our minds’ as she says repeatedly – our conscious minds tell us sexism is wrong, but our actions repeatedly confirm sexism. From before we are born we are constructed as male or female (mothers who are told the sex of their child before it is born imagine boys kick inside them more vigorously than mothers of boys who have not been told the sex of their unborn child). Pinker may joke that only childless people believe in the social construction of gender – but I think it is very hard to argue that gender is not the most reinforced division in human societies. This book is quite simply a must read. There is a remarkable example in the book – a kind of Tiresias moment (Tiresias being a Greek turned into a woman for seven years to settle a bet between the gods) - where a female lawyer undergoes a sex change operation and overhears someone say that he has proven to be much smarter than his sister. I know, I’m always telling you to do this, but do read this book. And if you do remember it is very important to read the notes as you go. For some reason Cordelia Fine has put all of the very best and most interesting information in the book (particularly in the first ten chapters or so) in the end notes.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    A detailed but informal look at the pervasive power of gender stereotypes, backed by science. Sounds good, doesn't it? Not for me, though. My reading of this included International Women's Day; that wasn't intentional, but it felt like undeserved penance for such a day. The 2* rating indicates how interesting and enjoyable this book was for me. Were I rating in purely objective terms, it would be a solid 3* (maybe even 4*, given the importance of the intended message). In a Nutshell Fine debunks t A detailed but informal look at the pervasive power of gender stereotypes, backed by science. Sounds good, doesn't it? Not for me, though. My reading of this included International Women's Day; that wasn't intentional, but it felt like undeserved penance for such a day. The 2* rating indicates how interesting and enjoyable this book was for me. Were I rating in purely objective terms, it would be a solid 3* (maybe even 4*, given the importance of the intended message). In a Nutshell Fine debunks the deterministic views of gender that are often based on brain structure and organisation. She seems to believe there are NO innate differences between the sexes, which is a bit of a stretch to me. However, she clearly shows the impossibility of investigating possible brain differences without overestimating the multiple, and often subtle, effects of culture. You can't raise or measure children in a societal vacuum. She ridicules poorly designed experiments that assume too much from too little, but presents less in her own defence. It was better at giving concrete examples of how research can be misinterpreted (examples below) than it was at revealing anything much about gender. Problems I had with This Book * It doesn't know what it is: it's too self-consciously jokey for a serious text, but with 100 (of ~350) pages being notes, bibliography and index, it's more thorough than one expects in pop-sci. The jovial tone makes it a quick casual read, but the exhaustive references would be more suited to following up with one's own investigation. * It is painfully repetitive. Fine makes good and important points, but she makes the sames ones again and again and again. I've summarised them below. * Fine is angry about bad and misinterpreted research. Such things need pointing out, but sometimes she picks very easy targets (papers by 18th century doctors, for instance), or lays into one or two individuals at excessive length - principally Simon Baron-Cohen and Louann Brizendine. * Conversely, she is utterly sure of her own rightness, even when using anecdotal cases, rather than proper studies to back up her points. She criticises others for lazy stereotyping and in the next sentence suggests that men are not so keen on attending male-dominated conferences because there's less opportunity for sex. I am left unsure how much I trust her or those she criticises. The important points she makes got lost in the haze of my mounting irritation. * It is narrowly about male/female gender roles, rather than the broad spectrum of gender identity, which is what I am more interested in. However, that's a fault of my expectations, rather than the book itself. * I don't feel I learned much. I read plenty of examples of experiments and studies and how to judge their validity, but people like Ben Goldacre have long covered that ground very well. The gender angle was the context of the debunking, but largely confirmed what I already believed. Key Messages Most of these are probably familiar to the sort of people who read a book like this: * Stereotypes: they're pervasive and powerful. Even more so than you think. They start before birth and imbue our life, as self-fulfilling prophesies, however much we try to go against them. Even pre-schoolers extrapolate beyond what they've been told, seeing pointy shapes as inherently more masculine than more rounded ones (like the bouba/kiki effect often used in synaesthesia studies: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bouba/ki...). Gender matters to them, because it's the main social grouping they have, other than adult/child (no geeks, sporty types, arty divisions yet). * Context is all. This applies to most things in life (a crucial consideration in angry online grammar debates!). Where gender is concerned, if we prime people to think of gender (e.g. a maths exam that has a M/F tick box), people are more likely to conform strongly to gendered expectations. * Neuroplasticity: very little behaviour is "hard-wired" in our brains. Even if something is typical, that doesn't mean it's necessary or inevitable. * Look carefully at psychology research: ** Is it testing what it claims to test? Comparisons based on different levels of foetal testosterone use a variety of proxies, of dubious accuracy (the amount found in amniotic fluid, mother's blood, baby's digit length). ** Is there unconscious bias or knowledge in the testers? If testers know the sex of a baby (as they usually will), that may skew how they interact. ** Are the results borne out by the numbers? Just under 50% of women have what Baron-Cohen classes as a female brain. ** Are the assumptions fallacious? When testing toy choice, are the toys really gendered the way the testers assume? Why is a pan "feminine" to a monkey? ** Reporting bias: it's more interesting to report a difference. Studies that fail to find one may not be published. ** Various sorts of brain imaging are sexy. They use expensive equipment to produce scientific pictures. But they don't necessarily show what we think they do. ** Beware of using biology as a fall-back explanation. If a little girl loves pink despite her parents' best efforts to the contrary, surely huge marketing hype and peer pressure are at least as much of a factor as hormones? As for the mother who couldn't understand why her daughter swaddled, cuddled and put to bed her toy hammer - perhaps the reason was that it was always her mother, and never her father, that put her to bed. * Gender-neutral parenting is almost impossible to achieve. Yet until a century ago, it was normal for all under-5s to be dressed similarly (white dresses), and when colours became common, it was strong red or pink for boys and pretty blue for girls. When we read picture books, we tend to use male pronouns for all the unspecified characters, human or animal. Female leads are remarkably rare in junior fiction (none in 42 Dr Seuss!), but although there are occasional tomboys, you never get a "sissy" boy. * There's a glass ceiling for ambitious women, and a glass escalator for men in traditionally female-dominated jobs. * Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar: "When are a few dirty cups a symbol of the exertion of male privilege, and when are they merely unwashed dishes?" * "Having it all never meant doing it all." Gloria Steinem. * Men aren't from Mars and women aren't from Venus. We're probably all from the moon. Smiles Some have enjoyed the humour of this. It certainly raised a couple of smiles for me, but most of the witty asides struck me as rather sarcastic, or just cheap uses of the sort of stereotypes she purports to hate. For instance, when pointing out that the widespread use of strip clubs in corporate hospitality excludes women from important networking, she weakens her outrage imo, by suggesting that female colleagues fake a headache and stay home. I want to end on a positive note, so here are the two best ones: * In a passage explaining that after about 7, children tend to become slightly more flexible in their thinking about gender, she adds that those who don't, end up with successful careers writing books based on rigid gender stereotypes - with a footnote! The footnote says, "This is a joke, rather than a scientific fact." Yep, that really was the second-best one, imo. * Following on from caveats about over-reliance on neuroimaging, Fine cites an empathy study... performed on salmon... that were dead. It produced pretty pictures of brain activity, though! See Also • Bongiovanni and Jimerson's A Quick & Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns, which I reviewed HERE. It’s a comic book that is mainly about non-binary and genderfluid people who don’t identify fully and consistently as either male or female, so prefer non-gendered nouns and pronouns. • Sally Hines' Is Gender Fluid?, which I reviewed HERE. It also has a very youthful, funky format, though not comic book. • Alex Iantaffi and Meg-John Barker’s Life Isn’t Binary, which I reviewed HERE. It starts with sexualities and genders, but goes on to relationships, bodies, emotions, and thinking. Barker likes “they” because “I experience myself as pretty plural”. • Robert Webb's autobiography, How Not to be a Boy, which I reviewed HERE. He cites this book as an influence on his ideas about gender preferences not being innate.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sarah

    I decided to take a break from being girlishly bad at math and reading people's minds with my lady empathizing skills to read this book, and I sure am glad I did. Because it is hilarious. And fascinating. Cordelia Fine goes through all the old lines that I'm sure you've heard a thousand times (I know I have): that men's brains are just better at building stuff and making money while women are just natural nurturers, they just want to nurture the shit out of everything, because FEELINGS. Anyways, I decided to take a break from being girlishly bad at math and reading people's minds with my lady empathizing skills to read this book, and I sure am glad I did. Because it is hilarious. And fascinating. Cordelia Fine goes through all the old lines that I'm sure you've heard a thousand times (I know I have): that men's brains are just better at building stuff and making money while women are just natural nurturers, they just want to nurture the shit out of everything, because FEELINGS. Anyways, she takes a closer look at all these claims and experiments and disputes just about every one of them with scientific criticism. And she does it in a way that is sarcastic and witty and readable and interesting. This book mainly focuses on white, middle- to upper-class gender construction and brain research, which makes sense, because most claims about brain sex differences are based on middle- to upper-class white folks. It would be interesting, however, if she wrote a sequel with a wider focus. And occasionally the scientific terms get a tad bit overwhelming, but if you want a readable academic book about neurosexism, you aren't going to find a better, more interesting, more readable book. This book should be on the bestseller list. Everyone should read this. This should be in the waiting room of every maternity ward and in the break room of every public school. I am so glad that I stumbled across this gem of a book, and I can't recommend it highly enough. It's funny and substantive, and that is about the rarest a combination there is.

  5. 5 out of 5

    ·Karen·

    Things I have never seen*: 1) A male harpist. Well, alright there was this guy: But in an orchestra? 2)A female bishop in the Church of England 3)A female angler 4)A male nursery school teacher 5)A female truck driver *I'm not saying they don't exist, and I'm certainly not saying they shouldn't exist, it's just that I've never seen one. Actually number 2 really doesn't exist, which is odd, as women may be ordained in the C of E. Things I have heard, which I really wish I hadn't: 1)An Austrian mothe Things I have never seen*: 1) A male harpist. Well, alright there was this guy: But in an orchestra? 2)A female bishop in the Church of England 3)A female angler 4)A male nursery school teacher 5)A female truck driver *I'm not saying they don't exist, and I'm certainly not saying they shouldn't exist, it's just that I've never seen one. Actually number 2 really doesn't exist, which is odd, as women may be ordained in the C of E. Things I have heard, which I really wish I hadn't: 1)An Austrian mother who said they weren't going to send their daughter to the academic secondary school, but to a more vocational type school, "Because an education isn't so important for a girl". 2)A sports jock who said that we'd been really unlucky to only have girls. When I looked at him somewhat aghast, he said it was because my husband didn't have anyone to play ball with - well to do real sport with, like football. As Cordelia Fine says in her book, you'd think that girls were born without arms or legs. 3)Daughter number one (now an IT expert, so no great damage done) reporting on the IT class at school: there were 16 in the class, and 15 computers. It was always the two girls in the class who had to share a computer. Every week. Update on January 26th 2015: Libby Lane is being consecrated today as Bishop of Stockport. Well well.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Simon

    Truly a brilliant book. (And laugh-out-loud funny in quite a few places.) It's a book so full of interesting information, it's very tempting to write a review in which one relates one's favorite experiments, factoids, or statistics. But I will (mostly) resist. What I'd like to highlight are two features. We have all heard (and perhaps told) stories like the following. "I wanted to bring up my children in a gender-neutral way, but at a certain point, the boy naturally took to smashing up trucks an Truly a brilliant book. (And laugh-out-loud funny in quite a few places.) It's a book so full of interesting information, it's very tempting to write a review in which one relates one's favorite experiments, factoids, or statistics. But I will (mostly) resist. What I'd like to highlight are two features. We have all heard (and perhaps told) stories like the following. "I wanted to bring up my children in a gender-neutral way, but at a certain point, the boy naturally took to smashing up trucks and the girl naturally took to worshipping pink princess paraphernalia. So I guess these things must be innate after all." This phenomenon is known to sociologists as the "biology as fallback" position. In one particularly grating and smug riff on this theme, Steven Pinker is quoted as saying: "there is a technical term for people who believe that little boys and little girls are born indistinguishable and are molded into their natures by parental socialization. The term is 'childless'." And Fine goes on to comment: "The frustration of the naively nonsexist parent has become a staple joke. An all but obligatory paragraph in contemporary books and articles about hardwired gender differences gleefully describes a parent's valiant, but always comically hopeless, attempts at gender-neutral parenting" (190-1). But then Fine tells us about the Bems, psychologists who, in the 1970s, decided to try gender-neutral parenting seriously. And what a lot it involved. They would doctor all their children’s books, whiting out beards, lengthening hair, and adding breasts to some of the illustrations (no doubt to rectify the fact that in the illustrations of children’s books, even today, males are represented at a ratio of 2:1 relative to females – oops, a factoid just slipped out!), “deleting or altering sections of the text that described females or males in a sex-stereotyped manner” (215), and so on. They also taught their children only to allocate people to a gender on the basis of their anatomy and reproductive functions. (In an amusing story, the 4 year old son decided to wear barrettes in his hair to kindergarten. He tried to correct his classmate’s misconception by saying that he wasn’t a girl because he had a penis, not a vagina. The other boy retorted “Everyone has a penis, but only girls wear barrettes.”) As Fine points out, the moral of this story is not to elicit admiration (or contempt) for the Bems, but to illustrate just how hard it is to raise a child in a gender-neutral way. The best efforts of the comically frustrated liberal parents who find their kids acting according to stereotype do not show that differences in gender behavior are innate. As Fine describes, gendering of children is ubiquitous in the culture, and intense to an almost unimaginable degree. Not even the Bem children could avoid it altogether. And children are acutely sensitive to the multiple instructions they receive, in the very air they breathe, about how to conform to their genders. (Children randomly assigned at preschool to a ‘red’ group or a ‘blue’ group, and wearing the appropriate colored T-shirts to school each day, after three weeks, with no further reinforcement, will find themselves conforming to what they take to be the norms for their respective groups. One needs little imagination to see how much more intrusive the pressures on gender conformity will be, even if the parents are like the Bems.) This brings me to the second point I want to emphasize. A host of brain researchers now present themselves as radical iconoclasts because they claim that the evidence of fMRIs, etc. prove that there are innate differences between male and female brains, forcing them to buck the prevailing norms of political correctness, in the starry-eyed gender-neutral utopias of which they would so much love to believe. Boo hoo! As Fine’s book makes amply clear, science has always alighted on the newest thing – brain size, spinal chord strength, nerve fragility, energy-sapping ovaries – to show why gender inequalities (that always accord greater status and power to men) are natural. Seen in this light, fMRIs are just the latest fad. Of course, that doesn’t prove that the claims made about what they show are false. Fine has plenty more to say about how shoddy a lot of the research is, how biased the interpretations of it, and so on. But this history is certainly salient enough that anyone presenting themselves as providing scientific evidence for gender differences in psychology and behavior risks looking somewhat ridiculous. And it places a burden on such researchers to be doubly careful about extrapolating from their results. This is even more true in light of the fact that the existence of the claims made for what brain scans show itself influences how well people perform. In tests, women do less well at male-stereotypical tasks when asked to read some ‘scientific’ claims about women’s innate inferiority in such tasks than if asked to read something else first. These irresponsible and popular interpretations of neurological evidence (neuro-bollocks as they have been called) do not just support the status quo; they reinforce it. Fine’s book packs a huge punch. In a funny and easy-to-read way, she explodes so much neuro-bollocks, she ought to get a prize for it.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    If I had a dollar for every time someone friend requested me on Goodreads because of my gender ("a guy who reads? wow!") I would probably have enough money to buy a new Kindle. As a male who loves books and aims for a career in clinical/counseling psychology - a more and more female-dominated field - part of me has always wondered whether I just lack the typical "male" brain. Are girls biologically geared toward the humanities and males toward the hard sciences? Do women really empathize more th If I had a dollar for every time someone friend requested me on Goodreads because of my gender ("a guy who reads? wow!") I would probably have enough money to buy a new Kindle. As a male who loves books and aims for a career in clinical/counseling psychology - a more and more female-dominated field - part of me has always wondered whether I just lack the typical "male" brain. Are girls biologically geared toward the humanities and males toward the hard sciences? Do women really empathize more than men because of their brain chemistry? Cordelia Fine offers a clear answer: no. In Delusions of Gender, she unravels the myth that we can chalk up gender differences to our neurology. With a keen and unrelenting eye, she examines scientific theories and misconceptions, like the role testosterone plays in the fetus. She dedicates a large portion of the book to knocking down neurosexism. In recent years several individuals have boasted about experiments that use fMRI and PET scans to detect differences in the brain; Fine makes sure to reveal the flaws associated with those studies and why we should be skeptical of the conclusions they espouse. Instead of relying on faulty science, Fine approaches gender differences from a psychological and sociological perspective. As a psychology major, I loved her incorporation of self-fulfilling prophecy and stereotype threat, such as including a study about how women who had to check a gender box (either "male" or "female") performed worse on an exam than women who took the test without marking their gender. The section about gender-neutral parenting stood out to me too. It's not enough to just offer our children toys stereotypically associated with the opposing gender, especially when gender distinctions arise so soon. Highly recommended for those interested in feminism, neuroscience, psychology, or gender studies. In contemporary society we often cling to claims made by people with scientific backgrounds, even though some of those claims have no legitimate support. I didn't go into too much depth about all of Fine's arguments in this review, but she invested a laudable amount of effort into Delusions of Gender: the book has about 100 pages of citations, and her writing conveys her passion as well.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kaethe Douglas

    Let me boil the book down for the busy reader: whenever someone* chooses to ignore all the documented evidence of discrimination in favor of just-so stories about biology, in order to keep right on discriminating, you can take their evidence as having all the validity of the presenter's good intentions to end discrimination. Sorry, that was a long and awkward summation. In justice to the book, I'd prefer to be pithy, funny, and understandable. Fine has tackled an immense and largely thankless tas Let me boil the book down for the busy reader: whenever someone* chooses to ignore all the documented evidence of discrimination in favor of just-so stories about biology, in order to keep right on discriminating, you can take their evidence as having all the validity of the presenter's good intentions to end discrimination. Sorry, that was a long and awkward summation. In justice to the book, I'd prefer to be pithy, funny, and understandable. Fine has tackled an immense and largely thankless task. First, she's read all those awful gender-essentialist pop psych books**, for which she should receive medals, cookies, and probably hazard pay. Next, she's actually gone through all the books and articles making claims about how neurobiology is gender destiny. That task involved a lot of the work of Simon Baron-Cohen, who among other things publishes on autism in a sexist and really annoying way. Then she went through the references of these many works and actually looked at the studies, to show where they were bad, and more often, where they just plain don't say what the authors claim they do. Finally, she puts it all together, along with research from many other areas, in a way that is dryly amusing, occasionally snarky, but I think probably very clear even for those who don't read medical journals for work.*** A sample which amused me: So let us, with healthy skepticism, summarize all of this as clearly as we can. Nonexistent sex differences in language lateralization, mediated by nonexistent sex differences in corpus callosum structure, are widely believed to explain nonexistent sex differences in language skills. Confused? We've only just begun. It's brilliant and authoritative and she loathes bad science reporting just as much as I do, so of course I love it. But I recommend it to others who might be curious about the topic, as well as those who enjoy seeing bad science thoroughly mocked. *Lawrence Sumner, for example **Men Can't Be Bothered to Be Nice, Women Can't be Taught to Be Smart and the like. ***I do, so I'm just guessing what the non-scientist would think. Library copy. Israeli study shows that blinding math tests lowers boys' grades and raises girls', just as blinded auditions changed orchestras. Just to be clear: It is not possible to find biological determinants of gender, because gender is learned social behavior, and, as such, varies significantly between social groups and over time.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Zanna

    I really think all educators need to read this book. Fine's target is the new gender essentialism, the reconstructed sexism that attempts to put women back in their traditional roles as 'unbenders of husbands' brows' and caregivers to children, and to keep them out of politics, mathematics and the sciences, by asserting that they are fitted for their place by essential female abilities and incapacities. In 1869 the philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his book The Subjection of Women, was severe on I really think all educators need to read this book. Fine's target is the new gender essentialism, the reconstructed sexism that attempts to put women back in their traditional roles as 'unbenders of husbands' brows' and caregivers to children, and to keep them out of politics, mathematics and the sciences, by asserting that they are fitted for their place by essential female abilities and incapacities. In 1869 the philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his book The Subjection of Women, was severe on this fallacy, but like a zombie it just keeps getting up, backed by the bad-science fad of the day. 'Neurosexists' are advising school-leaders to adjust their teaching for gender differences, and with the threat of 'empathy-based math' looming Fine felt she must call a halt. She selects some choice quotes to show us how little the new sexism differs from the old (this is a very funny book), then proceeds to dismantle it with a three-pronged attack. First, she explores the construction of gender and explains aspects of the present inequality from her perspective in social psychology. She quotes trans woman Jan Morris who describes her former competence in matters of car-reversing and bottle-opening evaporating after her transition in the face of others' assumptions about her. The power of stereotyping is not to be ignored; Fine quotes study after study to show how strongly most people, whether consciously or not, associate women with empathy and caregiving, and men with maths, science and power, and how priming gender affects subsequent thinking and performance. Simply reminding a candidate that she is a woman drastically reduces her score on a maths test, demonstrating an effect called 'stereotype threat' which is amazingly easy to remove - including an introduction to a test telling participants that 'in ten years of data-gathering, no gender-related performance difference has been found' dramatically boosts the performance of women and girls. Cross-cultural comparisons also prove instructive, making nonsense of ethnocentric gender assumptions. Fine explores how stereotypes and the lack of role models work against women in the workplace and in education. This section is more broadly relevant to racial, social class, disabled, LGBTQ etc representation and the double bind problem of administrators appointing people like themselves on one side, and aspirations being damped by the invisibility of marginalised groups on the other. CVs with female names are rated lower and receive fewer responses than identical ones with male names. Fine also indicts sexist work practices such as entertaining clients in strip-clubs. Stereotypes also operate in the home, where men are conditioned to believe themselves incompetent (the hunter brings home the the carcass and collapses to stare into the fire) unless jar-opening brawn or plug-wiring brains are required. Fine demonstrates that men are very competent parents. Even rat-dads, with no hormone-tampering, are readily able to raise perfectly adjusted rat-kids. Surveying the data, Fine finds very scant evidence for the assumption that women are more empathic than men; there is no magical female ability to read people's thoughts, and slight differences in young children could easily be due to parents talking more to infant girls. The evidence for male superiority in mathematical/analytical tasks is also thin, restricted to performance at mentally rotating 3D objects. Even this could be due to more exposure to active toys, and in any case hardly constitutes an excuse to exclude women from the workplace. Fine is hilarious when exposing the loaded survey questions that have been used to find gender differences. Research makes it very clear that people will rate themselves higher or lower on abilities stereotyped to or against their gender, especially when that aspect of their identity has been primed. The search for gender-determined ability differences continues with a painstaking survey and critique of the popular literature enthusiastically claiming they exist and the neurological and psychological research which has supposedly found them. Fine is incisive in her discussion and criticism of studies around the effect of testosterone, including play differences, but she is damning when it comes to the shocking dishonesty and misrepresentation employed by 'neurosexist' popular 'science' books. Oh, and if you don't manage to read this book, please take it from me here and now, that anyone trying to persuade you of a gender difference on the basis of pictures from brain scans is to be scornfully ignored. The final section deals with how children are socialised to perform gender. Many parents assume they are providing gender-neutral parenting and 'fall back' on a biological explanation when their little girls demand pink dresses and dolls. Fine shows just how far parents have to go to eliminate the pressure to perform gender by recording the hilarious experience of the Bem family, forced to such lengths as denying that they knew the gender of friends, and erasing beards from picture books. How can a preference for pink be genetic? In Victorian times, it was a male colour, while girls wore tranquil Virgin-Mary blue. Fine demonstrates with survey after survey and study after brilliant study that gender roles are pushed on us by our culture, not our chromosomes. 'As neurophysiologist Ruth Bleier put it over two decades ago, we should "view biology as potential, as capacity and not as static identity. Biology itself is socially influenced and defined; it changes and develops in interaction with and in response to our minds and environment, as our behaviours do. Biology can be said to define possibilities but not determine them; it is never irrelevant but it is also not determinant"'

  10. 4 out of 5

    Marshall

    This nature vs. nurture debate is getting old. This book argues against the claim that women and men have different brains and that this difference causes women to be significantly better or worse at some things and men significantly better or worse at others. As far as I knew, few legitimate scientists today make this claim, which is clearly sexist and would justify discrimination, so I was pretty surprised and somewhat skeptical to discover this immense sexist contingent among brain scientists This nature vs. nurture debate is getting old. This book argues against the claim that women and men have different brains and that this difference causes women to be significantly better or worse at some things and men significantly better or worse at others. As far as I knew, few legitimate scientists today make this claim, which is clearly sexist and would justify discrimination, so I was pretty surprised and somewhat skeptical to discover this immense sexist contingent among brain scientists and psychologists, some of whom are women. I've heard of some of them. Steven and Susan Pinker were clearly misrepresented. Others, such John Gray, aren't even scientists. This book spends most of its pages presenting psychological studies showing that people are suggestible, that messages from the culture can influence one's confidence and feeling of belonging, even their very identity and personality, and that this can impact their abilities to perform or their interest in a subject. All this does is show that society can influence people, not that brain differences can't. Many of the studies in this book seem legitimate and factual. Some of it was pretty persuasive and really made me think. But the presentation of these studies often seemed to exaggerate them. For example, after discussing subtle ways social cues and whether one feels they belong can influence people to prefer and perform differently, all very reasonable, the book concludes: "A few words to the effect that a Y chromosome will serve in your favor, or a sprucing up of the interior design, is all that it takes to bring about surprisingly substantial changes in career interest. Having seen what effect on career interests a simple, brief manipulation in the lab can have, one can't help but wonder at the cumulative influence of that giant, inescapable social psychology lab known as life." Wait, so there were some findings of subtle influence in a lab, and so the book's conclusion, based only on "one can't help but wonder" is that only "a few words" is "all it takes" for "substantial changes in career interest" in life? That's a huge exaggeration of the findings. It's also pure speculation based on ideology, not facts based on evidence. Actually, it seems pretty sexist to claim that women are so flimsy and suggestible. It sounds suspiciously like the "delicate flower" argument of traditionalists. Be careful what you say to girls, lest you crush their fragile little spirits! I know it would take a hell of a lot more than "a few words" to talk me out of my dreams. Here's another gem: "This anecdote suggests a workplace environment that tolerates a deep disrespect for women." Mmm, anecodotes suggesting deep things. Now there's some seriously rigorous research. Sometimes she's clearly reaching. Like when she talks about a study that found gender differences in babies who are only one day old. She claims this study was flawed because there could have been some socialization that happened in that one day since their birth. An argument this book uses over and over again is: scientists were wrong before. I can almost hear "neener neener" behind the words. So what? Scientists are wrong all the time. That's how science works. Being wrong isn't cause for dismissal in science. That's what ideology does. Being wrong in the past does not imply claims in the present are false. This is called the continuum fallacy, and it's usually employed by pseudoscience cranks like creationists and global warming deniers. Consider the facts that are not in dispute. We know that humans are a sexually dimorphic species. Men and women are physically different. They have different reproductive systems and different physical proportions. We know that sexual selection is a part of the evolutionary process, and we know that males and females have had vastly different selective pressures, which have manifested as different mating behaviors in all other dimorphic species. So this theory that all of gender psychology is socialized is extremely tenuous. It does not square with what we know about evolution. All that is required to falsify it is evidence of only one difference. It only takes evidence of one innate psychological difference between men and women to prove that there is at least SOME difference. Once that is established, then it's only a question of which differences are genetic and how significant they are. Since that is all that is required, and since this theory is based more on presuppositions from feminist ideology than evidence-based, the easiest way to disprove it is to offer one piece of evidence that coincides with mainstream feminist ideology, so they cannot possibly dispute it. I will do that now: Most psychologists now agree that sexual preference is, at least in part, an innate psychological characteristic. Homosexuality is innate in some individuals. For the rest of us, men are innately attracted to women and women are innately attracted to men. On average, there is a vast difference between men and women as to which gender they find sexually appealing. You cannot socialize children to be gay, so there is no reason to deny gays the right to marry, and it's abusive to try to socialize young homosexuals to be heterosexual. This is a position most feminists take very strongly, and it's clearly an innate psychological difference between men and women. The exception is lesbian feminism. This is the position that sexual orientation is socialized, and that lesbianism is a choice and therefore a legitimate political act. However, this form of feminism is extremely contentious within the movement, as it opens the door for homophobia. Oh, and then you have difference feminism, complete with their own quack psychologists such as Carol Gilligan who claim that, yes, there are innate differences between men and women, but that women's "way of knowing" is superior to men's. I wonder why this wasn't one of those sexist psychologists, with talk of brain differences between men and women, to be debunked in this book. Strange, that. It seems fallacious gender research gets a free pass as long as it's sexist in the right direction. Indeed, this book seems to be on board with difference feminism in the chapter, "Backwards and in High Heels" (i.e. everything a man can do, a woman can do better, in spite of all society does to limit her, that's how bad ass she is.) This isn't science. It's reasoning based on what's politically expedient and expecting reality to conform to that. If there are innate differences, then she should just say so and stop equivocating. Then we can get on to the more interesting discussion of how much difference is innate, and how significant those differences are. It may very well turn out that women are superior to men, but they can't simultaneously be better and the same. The sad thing is, this book is very interesting and insightful in so many other ways, in outlining some ways human behavior is socialized. It could very easily have been a valuable part of that discussion. Why can't that be enough? The intellectually honest position would have been to admit that there is much we still don't understand about human psychology, and the evidence so far seems to indicate that there is at least some difference between the psychology of men and women, but that it is the belief of the author that these differences are not hugely significant, and that socialization also plays a major role. If that's all she did, I'd have trusted this book so much more. As it stands, I find myself dubious even of claims that sound reasonable. Advice for the author: check your ideology at the door and let the evidence speak for itself, rather than trying to exaggerate or stretch it to fit into your worldview. Oh, and knock off all the outrage. How you feel about what scientists discover has no bearing on the merit of their research. It only discredits your presentation of it by making readers suspicious of confirmation bias and emotional reasoning. It feels less like science and more like propaganda. At best, it is merely distracting. If you like this book, please read The Blank Slate. It will show you a completely different side of this issue.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    Cordelia Fine, a psychologist, decided to write this book after discovering her son's kindergarten teacher "reading a book that claimed his brain was incapable of forging the connection between emotion and language." The first section of the book was slow reading for me. Fine engages in occasional snark, which was a little tiresome, followed by a lot of discussion of studies in which subjects are either told or not told statements about gender and then asked to perform certain tasks, to see if a Cordelia Fine, a psychologist, decided to write this book after discovering her son's kindergarten teacher "reading a book that claimed his brain was incapable of forging the connection between emotion and language." The first section of the book was slow reading for me. Fine engages in occasional snark, which was a little tiresome, followed by a lot of discussion of studies in which subjects are either told or not told statements about gender and then asked to perform certain tasks, to see if a focus on gender impairs their abilities. For example, one group of girls is told that boys do better than girls on math tests, and that scientists believe this difference is innate. Another group is told that boys and girls perform the same on math tests. Both groups then take a math test. The girls in the second group perform better. Once through this psychological study-filled section and a glimpse back into our anti-feminist past and our female-executives-who-still-do-most-of-the-housework present (which, in fairness, will be necessary reading for some), Fine moves on to the field of neuroscience. She debunks the notion of the brain's "hardwired[ness]," a concept borrowed from computer science, which "translate[s] poorly to the domain of neural circuits that change and learn throughout life," constantly adapting to a person's environment and experiences. In addition to the really bad popular literature on gender difference (see John Gray, and Louann Brizendine's The Female Brain), which she analyzes, there's a lot of really bad science. Poorly conducted studies with flawed methodologies, too-small studies, confusion of correlation with causation. Some scientists have been known to extrapolate conclusions that their own studies did not determine. Shockingly, the media often compound the problem with poor reporting and cluelessness about junk science. Then, there's the kind of important issue that studies which fail to find gender differences tend not to get published, while the minority that do, do. I personally was quite alarmed at the quantity and quality of conclusions being drawn from brain scans, where it seems like the technology has outpaced researchers' ability to understand it in any truly meaningful way. Chapters 12-13 address real vs. spurious results in brain imaging, the limitations of culling insights into psychological function from brain imaging, and the risks of "reverse inference," e.g., "the amygdala was activated so that means our participants were fearful." Fine argues that gender is one of the first lenses through which babies and toddlers learn to view the world and discriminate among different choices. Once they know what gender they belong to, their ideas about it and their choices become more fixed. At 17 months, boys and girls in one study were equally interested in playing with dolls, tea sets, brushes, combs, and blocks; four months later girls had increased their doll play while boys had decreased it. Belonging to a group - such as a gender group - is a powerful motivator to stay within that group and adhere to its norms. "Four year old children will play for three times as long with a xylophone or balloon if it is labeled as being for their own sex rather than for children of the other sex," notes Fine. Gender norms are reinforced all around the child: none of Dr. Seuss's 42 books has a female lead in its central story; a study of 41 Caldecott winners and runners-up from 1984 to 1994 "found that female characters were most commonly described as beautiful, frightened, worthy, sweet, weak, and scared, while male characters were big, horrible, fierce, great, terrible, furious, brave, and proud." Even where parents make efforts toward gender-neutral parenting, peer influence is unavoidable, and a child's peers are often the most constant reinforcer of gender boundaries. A boy who chose to wear barrettes to school was reminded by other children that barrettes are for girls. A study of preschoolers found that boys who wouldn't play with dolls at school would play with them at home, where the peer group wasn't present to enforce the "rules." Children learn from TV commercials which genders are supposed to play with what toys, but when researchers replaced the boys in a Playmobil Airport Set ad with girls, first and second graders were twice as likely to believe that the toy was intended for girls as well as boys. Fine quotes a researcher, Emily Kane: "...[B]ecause gendered preferences often appear to develop despite their best efforts, parents often assume that they must come from within the child: the biology-as-fallback position." Kane "suggests that the rapidity with which highly educated and privileged parents fall back on biological explanations reflects their position at 'the vanguard of a limited sociological imagination.'" Fine isn't arguing that there aren't any gender differences; she's pleading for better science and a clearer understanding of how biology and environment interact. Her writing is clear and unjargoned, though amply sourced and footnoted, and her arguments are admirably sane. ----------------------------------------------------------- I wish I had the edition with the doll on the cover. Won in Giveaway; review to come. Soon I shall be reading this "vehement dismantling of the latest pseudo-scientific claims about the differences between the sexes."

  12. 5 out of 5

    notgettingenough

    18 Sept 2013 Update: some stories reading Karen's review brought to mind from my childhood.... http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpres... ---------------------------------------------- My mother spent a year or so teaching at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, one of the posh boys schools, at a time when women didn't do that (perhaps they still don't?). It was the early seventies and she was a huge hit with the boys - big tits and sexy legs - and the teachers - big tits, sexy legs...arrhh, no, I mean 18 Sept 2013 Update: some stories reading Karen's review brought to mind from my childhood.... http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpres... ---------------------------------------------- My mother spent a year or so teaching at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, one of the posh boys schools, at a time when women didn't do that (perhaps they still don't?). It was the early seventies and she was a huge hit with the boys - big tits and sexy legs - and the teachers - big tits, sexy legs...arrhh, no, I mean great mind, they all admired her mind no end. They admired the way it went all the way up to her breasts. I mean the top of her head. All the way up there. One of the reasons she left was because they were all so very kind to her. 'Monica,' they'd kindly say to her, 'you don't have to bother going to staff meetings.' The fact that she protested and insisted she wanted to go to staff meetings was of no avail. It is one of those things, isn't it? Nobody wants to go to staff meetings, every man there must have rather envied the idea that femininity could excuse her, and yet my mother had to insist on her innate right to go to the darn things. To be fair, my mother's the exception, one of those who really did like doing stuff like that, a trait I have most certainly neither inherited nor acquired. So she left and went to Methodist Ladies College, the posh girls equivalent. At some point two of the kind male teachers from PAC happened to be visiting MLC, so she took them to the staff room for a cuppa. Afterwards she washed her cup and said to them 'If you are wondering why I don't wash yours, I happen to believe that men are just as good as women at washing up.' 'Oh, better,' said one of them to her, 'Much better.' And that is pretty much the point of this guide to the literature on the brain differences between men and women. If there were some reason why men suddenly thought that washing teacups was a desirable occupation, there would be an academic redefinition of the brain to fit this. In fact for now it is the other way around. The desirable occupations in life, the ones that are seen as the plums, must be taken up by men rather than women because they have the right brain composition. Depending on how good your sense of humour is, it is either discomforting or hilarious to discover that neuroscience is not above redefining what is 'necessary' depending on how their business of deciphering the brain develops. This explains the choice of word in the subtitle - neurosexism - but it is the sort of thing that irritated me as I read this - I don't like the current style of pop science where impartiality is a positive defect. It's like there is something going on which we might call 'extreme pop science'. You have to outdo the last writer in outrageousness. But while I was aghast at some of the ways she put things, I imagine the reader at large would not have noticed, let alone taken umbrage. Fine probably thinks it was acceptable to do so because all that mattered was getting her very important point across. I couldn't disagree more. Her material spoke for itself, the relentless mass of it which she brings to bear. She didn't need to be spurious on top of it. She should have left that for her publicly disgraced subjects. As it is, by waving the flag of her partiality - which she somehow attempts to do whilst claiming that this is the issue with the other side - right in our faces, she left me wondering if she is as trustworthy as she wants to be. Having the longest bibliography in the world doesn't cut the mustard if the reader is left gasping at the shamelessness with which she prejudicially discusses her data. Take this, for example: rest here: http://alittleteaalittlechat.wordpres...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Saafir Evada

    I like nothing better than to discover that I was completely and utterly mistaken about something. The deeper the rotten belief sits, the more satisfying the pop when it is wrenched out. This book changed my mind in ways few books ever do. I had a cavalier belief that psychological differences between men and women were "innate" and "biological." I had no idea how scant the evidence was for this idea. I highly recommend this book. I like nothing better than to discover that I was completely and utterly mistaken about something. The deeper the rotten belief sits, the more satisfying the pop when it is wrenched out. This book changed my mind in ways few books ever do. I had a cavalier belief that psychological differences between men and women were "innate" and "biological." I had no idea how scant the evidence was for this idea. I highly recommend this book.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Alissa Thorne

    Warning: ranty. I was hoping for a balanced examination of the scientific evidence of biological/brain gender differences or the lack thereof. What I got was, firstly a heavy handed review of the sociological and cultural explanations for gender differences in society, and second a condescending and clearly biased review of the scientific evidence for biological/brain gender differences as an explanation for cultural gender differences. I did learn some interesting things. One study showed a clear Warning: ranty. I was hoping for a balanced examination of the scientific evidence of biological/brain gender differences or the lack thereof. What I got was, firstly a heavy handed review of the sociological and cultural explanations for gender differences in society, and second a condescending and clearly biased review of the scientific evidence for biological/brain gender differences as an explanation for cultural gender differences. I did learn some interesting things. One study showed a clear gender prejudice in hiring for engineering roles. Identical resumes were sent to companies with only a change in the name being obviously female versus obviously male, and the male resumes had a higher response rate. A theme throughout the book was the relationship of self-identification and social grouping--basically the influence that feeling that "people like me" has on our self-image, and in turn our actions, behavior, aptitude. A simple example is the study in which female college students were asked if they were interested in pursuing engineering studies, but in differing environments. One environment featured a classic geek decor, while the other featured a more preppy decor. The female students were about equal to the male students in positively responding to the idea of studying engineering in the preppy lab, while response rate dropped when asked surrounded by D&D and candy wrappers. (This seems much broader than a gender issue to me, but it's a gender book, so ok.) When it came to the potential non-social influences though... bias and condescension, oh my! (I think the narration made this particularly cringe-worthy--the sneer when describing a competing theory, or the pompus and self-important voice used when quoting an opponent were particularly off-putting.) In a study showing evidence in favor of biological explanations for gender differences in behavior, the author would (rightly) lambaste the study for using self-reports valid evidence. Then pages later, in a study intended to offer an alternate explanation would be a phrase like, "Mothers of infants report..." Peppered throughout the book, most often on opening chapters, were arguments that amounted to: "Here's an obviously incorrect or invalid argument that would horrify modern readers with current data." --some sexist dude from 100 years ago "Here's a current hypothesis regarding gender differences that deserves further study." --some modern scientist See how they're the same! Obviously the modern scientist is wrong because their hypothesis bears some surface similarities to someone from a different time who held beliefs we know to be untrue! While I did learn that there was little or no valid evidence for some of the biological gender differences that I had previously heard touted, it was hardly a review of what differences are known to exist. This was most obvious when the author mentioned in passing that one known gender difference--smaller brains of females versus males--results in extensive structural differences in the brain. And that this most likely served to make the genders more similar, as the different structures achieved different things in the same way. Such a key piece of data and the huge assertion must be backed by chapters of exposition of the evidence and detailed critique of the studies backing it--in short, the same treatment given to any other hypothesis in the book, right? In a book about how gender based brain differences may impact gender behaviors, surely the fact that there is allegedly structural brain differences will be examined in detail. And the hypothesis that these differences may work to achieve gender similarities will be backed by multiple studies, each carefully critiqued, right? No, this statement was simply made, and then passed right on by. I'm glad I forced myself through this book--you can still learn a lot from a biased account. But man, it was tough to get through.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship

    We’ve all encountered those pop science books, the ones that claim “hardwired” differences between male and female minds. Cordelia Fine has seen them too, but instead of simply accepting their assertions because they sound scientific, she delved into the research, tracking down the studies that purportedly establish these claims, as well as the substantial body of research showing quite the opposite. The result is this book. It is not pop science – there is nothing dumbed-down about it, and Dr. We’ve all encountered those pop science books, the ones that claim “hardwired” differences between male and female minds. Cordelia Fine has seen them too, but instead of simply accepting their assertions because they sound scientific, she delved into the research, tracking down the studies that purportedly establish these claims, as well as the substantial body of research showing quite the opposite. The result is this book. It is not pop science – there is nothing dumbed-down about it, and Dr. Fine’s points are supported by extensive research, included in the endnotes and bibliography – but nor is it dry, academic material. It is aimed at the intelligent reader who may or may not have a science background; I do not, but found the book fascinating, clear, and well-organized, with strong, logical analysis of the research and even a few moments of humor. There is a strange tendency to view differences in current achievements between men and women as proof of inherently different abilities. This was true even in the 19th century, when women lacked the educational tools and the freedom to even begin to compete. Regardless of that small detail and the fact that gender roles in society continue to change, there are always those who claim that whatever women are achieving at the moment is the absolute biologically-determined limit. Now that we have at least officially achieved equality, some writers continue to make the same claims, conveniently setting aside differences in expectations, role models, and differing social demands on women’s time (women still do the bulk of the housework – even when they’re employed and their male partners are not!). This book deals with three main areas of gender research, to see what has actually been proven. First, tweaking the environment can eliminate gender differences in test performance: tell women before a test that they as good at math as men, and they will be; tell them they’re biologically limited, and they fall behind. Show a commercial featuring women behaving in stereotypical ways before a math test, and women’s performance goes down. On a test in mental rotation of objects, tell participants that it predicts ability in fields such as engineering and navigation, and men do much better; say it predicts ability in clothing design and interior decoration, and men’s scores go down. On the other hand, remind participants that women are supposed to be better at empathizing than men, and they’ll do better at recognizing emotions. Women report more empathetic ability than men do, but in in real-life situations, no gender differences in mind-reading have been found. Women will respond to an ethical dilemma in more caring ways than men after an exercise forcing participants to think about gender, but both genders will respond in the same way after non-gender-related exercises. In other words, emphasizing gender makes us more stereotypical; it reminds us how we are supposed to behave and what our strengths and weaknesses should be. And if a simple reminder right before a test can alter performance, how much more growing up in a world with constant reminders of gender? Second, the book takes on brain research that has been used to “prove” inherent differences between men and women. We should approach this research with a healthy dose of skepticism, for several reasons. This field is still experimental, tends to use very small sample sizes, and the actual studies often show much less than (or something completely different from) what pop science authors claim. (In one particularly egregious example, an author drew gender differences from a study with only female participants.) But the unsuspecting public tends to take as immutable fact anything labeled “brain science,” even if the results aren’t borne out in observed human behavior. Nevertheless, every generation seems to have its own pseudoscientific theories for why women are inferior, whether it’s that women’s smaller bodies or energy-sapping ovaries prevent sustained mental activity, or that men use one brain hemisphere at a time while women use both (a theory that will presumably be revised based on research showing that interaction between the hemispheres is associated with strong math abilities). Third, there’s the section on gender development in children. Many parents, finding that their daughters love princess costumes and their sons toy trucks without need for parental encouragement, conclude that these differences must be hardwired. But unless your children consume no media and interact with no one outside the family, it’s impossible to prevent their picking up on societal expectations, and kids are always searching for information about how the world works and how to categorize themselves within it. That’s leaving aside unconscious differences in the way parents (and researchers) treat children: for instances, studies have found mothers talking more to baby girls than baby boys, and underestimating girls’ crawling abilities while overestimating boys’. One can see, then, how all of these areas work together to create continuing perceptions of different abilities. As the author puts it: “So far, the items on that list of brain differences that are thought to explain the gender status quo have always, in the end, been crossed off. But before this happens, speculation becomes elevated to the status of fact, especially in the hands of some popular writers. Once in the public domain these supposed facts about male and female brains become part of the culture, often lingering on well past their best-by dates. Here, they reinforce and legitimate the gender stereotypes that interact with our minds, helping to create the very gender inequalities that the neuroscientific claims seek to explain.” And I’ve only scratched the surface of the information found in this book. Definitely a must-read for anyone interested in gender (and with the possible added benefit of reducing your own stereotypical behavior!).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Jenny Schwartz

    Nearly 20 years ago I studied sociology at a feminist, Marxist university. I’m pretty much disposed to accept the argument that culture heavily influences behaviour, i.e. I’m on the nurture side of the nature versus nurture debate. So I thought reading “Delusions of Gender” would simply be a matter of nodding as new data supported that view. Oh boy (pun intended!) was I deluded. Well-researched, well-argued, wittily written, Cordelia Fine hits hard at the wide spread (and I’d argue, lazy) assumpti Nearly 20 years ago I studied sociology at a feminist, Marxist university. I’m pretty much disposed to accept the argument that culture heavily influences behaviour, i.e. I’m on the nurture side of the nature versus nurture debate. So I thought reading “Delusions of Gender” would simply be a matter of nodding as new data supported that view. Oh boy (pun intended!) was I deluded. Well-researched, well-argued, wittily written, Cordelia Fine hits hard at the wide spread (and I’d argue, lazy) assumption of biology-as-destiny. The gender implications of that attitude of so deeply imprinted in our culture that we’re often blind to our own behaviours that perpetuate them. Reading through studies and anecdotes I was shocked out of my complacent assumption that I’m non-sexist, indeed feminist. Far from it. In fact – and this is a rare achievement for a book – it started me re-assessing my life from way back and seeing … well, seeing how often I had lived within gender assumptions and even played to them just because it made life not simply easier, but pleasanter. Fighting the culture we live in isn’t a job for cowards. I liked how Cordelia quoted “experts” from history on the biologically determined differences between the sexes. The examples show in pitiless detail that their biological determinism was merely supergluing on cultural blinkers. As her argument runs, later decades are likely to look back and have the same response to our use of neuroscience to plaster authority onto scientifically unsupported notions of gender. It’s depressingly no surprise to realise that where the biologically determined gender differences argument is run (and it runs freely through popular science) it generally supports a cultural power balance in favour of males. There are many, many examples of our gendered culture in this strongly argued but easily read book. One that has particularly stayed with me is a study (student subjects, not real world HR folk) who flip flopped 180 degrees so that whatever the male candidate’s qualifications and experience, those were what the job required. Hmm. For me, the scariest part of the book was its assertion that as sexism buries itself deeper, we believe we aren’t sexist but our behaviour (what sneaks out when we’re tired or not monitoring ourselves) shows otherwise – and this implicit sexism has an arguably stronger impact on our self-perception than the overt stuff that we can grasp hold of and challenge. Read the book – male or female, the impact of culture on your self-perception, and therefore, your life and choices will rock your assumptions of autonomy.

  17. 4 out of 5

    David

    This is not what I'd call a "popular science" book -- it's aimed at an intellectual audience with some understanding of science and a willingness to deal with academic language. That makes it less accessible than a lot of the talk show-fodder books it's debunking, like all those ridiculous "Why Men Are Insensitive Horndogs Who Suck at Housework (Surprise! It's Biology!) and Women Are Born Loving Ponies and High Heels" books. Fine takes on pretty much the entire field of neuroscience, or rather, This is not what I'd call a "popular science" book -- it's aimed at an intellectual audience with some understanding of science and a willingness to deal with academic language. That makes it less accessible than a lot of the talk show-fodder books it's debunking, like all those ridiculous "Why Men Are Insensitive Horndogs Who Suck at Housework (Surprise! It's Biology!) and Women Are Born Loving Ponies and High Heels" books. Fine takes on pretty much the entire field of neuroscience, or rather, that segment of the field that's publishing books claiming that men and women are hardwired to act like sitcom characters. Her conclusion (which she argues convincingly with thorough deconstructions of one study after another, and/or how that study was reported) is that a lot of what people think has been "proven" -- that the language centers in a woman's brain are more closely tied to the emotion centers than those of a man, that boys demonstrate greater aptitude for spatial manipulation, that boys think with their left-brain and girls think with their right-brain, that toddlers "naturally" exhibit gendered behavior regardless of efforts to raise them in a gender-neutral manner -- is simply false, or at least, far from proven. I found this a very balanced entry in the nature vs. nurture debate. Contrary to the characterizations of some of her critics, Fine is neither strident nor ignorant of the science. She's a feminist, to be sure, and she gets a bit snarky with some of the more ridiculous modern claims of gender essentialists (and is a bit too fond of making a point by leading with a particularly egregious howler from a hundred years ago), but she isn't trying to wish away innate sex differences, nor claiming that everything is a social construct. However, anyone who reads this and remains unconvinced that there's a whole lot of socialization going on in both your right-brain and your left-brain will probably not be convinced by any other mountain of evidence.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Alex

    It can be incredibly frustrating to argue against someone who is convinced by the idea of preformed gender roles in society because they feel that "scientists have proven that male/female brains are different" and that to think otherwise somehow flies in the face of common sesne. Gender roles in society are supposedly natural and pre-ordained and we should learn to like them and love them. It's so easy to believe in the myth and Cordelia Fine does an excellent job of outlining why this is a myth It can be incredibly frustrating to argue against someone who is convinced by the idea of preformed gender roles in society because they feel that "scientists have proven that male/female brains are different" and that to think otherwise somehow flies in the face of common sesne. Gender roles in society are supposedly natural and pre-ordained and we should learn to like them and love them. It's so easy to believe in the myth and Cordelia Fine does an excellent job of outlining why this is a myth and why the scientific methodologies and experiments behind studies that supposedly prove that men and women are inherently different are so often flawed. She's done her research thoroughly and come up with good counters to the conclusions of popular experiments, and what's more she writes with confidence and persuasiveness both scientifically and sociologically putting forth plenty of alternative reasons as to why Women might be seen as more caring, or why that female baby supposedly reared in a gender neutral fashion is still reaching for pink barbie dolls to play with. Skeptically you could argue that Fine has an agenda, but then her argument that male scientists and popular writers on gender also have an agenda and I think it's pretty fair to get all sides of this story. Tjere were a few moments where I felt that Fine was less inclined to talk deeply about the conclusions of studies that seemed to support her viewpoints althouh this may in part be to keep the writing fluid and readable, since neuroscience can be a damn boring topic. Thankfully her wit, sarcasm and brisk pace stop the book from ever getting dry. Ultimately, too, she's not concluding that there's absolutely nothing in these scientific studies, merely that the work being done doesn't warrant such massive conclusions being drawn. I'm certainly convinced of that.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Deborah Ideiosepius

    My last Australian book of 2019; this was a brilliant, non fiction review, analysis and occasionally refutal of the science between gender differences. It was really interesting to me because I do not often follow science pertaining to gender differences, I think most of it is a steaming pile of hose apples and I get annoyed by people doing obviously bad science. In that way this book was perfect for me as it addresses a lot of bad science and I loved the erudite, witty way in which the author cr My last Australian book of 2019; this was a brilliant, non fiction review, analysis and occasionally refutal of the science between gender differences. It was really interesting to me because I do not often follow science pertaining to gender differences, I think most of it is a steaming pile of hose apples and I get annoyed by people doing obviously bad science. In that way this book was perfect for me as it addresses a lot of bad science and I loved the erudite, witty way in which the author critiques them. There is a lot of explanation and buildup on the ways in which, historically, science has manipulated social thought into believing that the genders are different. Fine then links the historically patriarchal sexism of our culture to the more modern discipline of neuroscience and shows how this science is also being used to reinforce the 'just so story' of why females are different from males. It was very interesting very easy to read stuff and while it is a subject that is difficult to address lightheartedly and with humour the author does so most excellently. Now, for those of my friends who are more inclined to read popular science (or even no science) but are interested in this book: Do not be intimidated, it is beautifully written and accessible to any reader. The ways in which the scientific experiments are described are all very simple, adequate but basic. Fine is more interested in describing why something in a study went the way it did, rather than going over the science behind the research. In many ways that is a good thing, as quite a bit of the so called 'research' is so bad it is horrific. Now I will admit, this book is basically making points I have always believed, so it was very much preaching to the converted. However, I was impressed by the detail and depth of the research done in order to demonstrate why much of the science 'proving' that little girls are 'hardwired' to like pink dresses and Barbie dolls is nonsense. I was also delighted to find a person who actually works in that field, who shares my dislike for the term 'hardwired' which I have always though to be utterly unsuited to descriptions of organisms, however suited it might be to a smartphone. Anyway, great book which gives a fascinating, accessible look at the poor science of modern gender segregation, it is far more easy to read and much more fun than I had any expectations of. I do recommend, most especially to those of us who wishfully wish for a society of equals in which 'war of the sexes' is a distant memory. To end this review, I am going to quote the last paragraph from the book - because I enjoyed it so much. If you too like the quote; read the book. If you disagree with it; read the book. Are you getting the point that I feel you might want to read this book? "Our minds, society and neurosexism create difference. Together, they wire gender. But the wiring is soft, not hard. It is flexible, malleable and changeable. And, if we only believe this,it will continue to unravel."

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kara Babcock

    Pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and that’s just the way it is, right? Girls like nurturing toys and boys like toys that involve motion or action, and don’t even bother trying to change those habits—they’re ingrained at birth, yeah? Doubtless you’ve heard these and other stereotypes and claims about the biological origins of sex differences. In some cases, such as the pink/blue divide, you might already be aware of the history of the phenomenon, including the fact that the colour assignme Pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and that’s just the way it is, right? Girls like nurturing toys and boys like toys that involve motion or action, and don’t even bother trying to change those habits—they’re ingrained at birth, yeah? Doubtless you’ve heard these and other stereotypes and claims about the biological origins of sex differences. In some cases, such as the pink/blue divide, you might already be aware of the history of the phenomenon, including the fact that the colour assignments used to be reversed. Nevertheless, like any area of science, pseudoscience has set up shop in the study of gender, bolstered by media’s intense desire to seize on anything that has the patina of advanced, hi-tech science even when the results come from flawed research. Delusions of Gender is a thorough debunking by Cordelia Fine of scientific studies and scientific posturing regarding what we know about the biological (and particularly, neurological) differences between sexes. Fine basically wants to restore the reader’s doubt and uncertainty, challenging us to be a little more sceptical and critical of what we read and hear. She isn’t making the claim that sex and gender are entirely social constructs with no biological influences. Rather, her thesis is that the scientific study of sex and gender is still fraught with uncertainty, and we really don’t know as much as some people claim we know. There are a few reasons for this: firstly, although our technology for studying the brain has advanced considerably, we’re still a long way off from understanding it; secondly, it seems like people doing these studies are really vulnerable to spurious correlations; thirdly, the biological influences on sex and gender are complex because they interact with cultural conditioning in ways that are difficult to replicate reliably in a lab. Somehow, Fine manages to distill this into a 250-page book, and it mostly works. She does a good job of wading through recentish (from my perspective, given that this book is verging on a decade old) research and writing, picking apart arguments and debunking theories. She links these ideas to much older ideas about sex and gender. And she provides some guidance to the layperson in terms of how we can approach learning about sex and gender, from a scientific perspective, in the future. In Part 1, “'Half-Changed World,' Half-Changed Minds”, Fine catalogues the sex differences seen in modern society (mostly American, though often her homeland of Australia and sometimes the unhelpfully nebulous “West” in general). She reviews the standard gaps in workforce distribution, in pay, in equity of housework and other caring labour. This part is interesting but perhaps the least memorable, in my opinion, particularly if you’re not someone who needs much convincing of the inequities that exist owing to one’s gender. Perhaps the most interesting chapter was “XX-clusion and XXX-clusion”, in which Fine discusses the difficulties of defining gender in any concrete biological sense. This seems particularly topical given absurd rumblings from the US government about defining gender in law. Again, I was already well aware of a lot of what Fine said in thsi chapter, but she lays it out clearly. Part 2, “Neurosexism”, is where the book really starts to come into its own. This is where Fine tackles claims about differences between “male” and “female” brains. This whole part is valuable because she talks specifics, right down to the study and the scientists conducting them. Laypeople (myself included) often put a lot of stock into scientific results that come from what appear to be more rigorous or “hard” experiments, like MRI scans, as contrasted with a “soft” experiment like a psychological study. This is a bias that’s really hard, at least in my experience, to counteract. So it’s well worth my time to check that bias by being reminded of all the ways in which scientists (who are human, and therefore faulty) can draw faulty conclusions from these types of experiments. Fine challenges the shallow understanding most people have of the links between testosterone and masculinity; she points out that animal behaviour (even primate behaviour) can’t always be used as an analogy for unsocialized human behaviour, etc. This section is just a great reminder in general that science is a human process, and like any human process, is prone to error and a good tonic against thinking of science as this black box that we put experimental data into and get facts about the world out of. The final part, “Recycling Gender”, is where Fine provides some opinion and analysis of the state of the field. She basically says: we don’t really know a lot about gender, and it’s really hard to test, and I’m not going to tell you there are no biological differences between sexes—but can we please stop falling back on this explanation because we think gender-neutral parenting is futile? She points out that gender-neutral parenting often seems to “fail” (as in, kids still adopt gender stereotypes) because no matter how good the parents are at being neutral (and they usually aren’t as good as they think), the rest of our society is still hella stereotypical, and, you know, most families end up being part of society. I like the inclusion of this part in the book, because it encourages readers to consider how we actually apply scientific discoveries to our lives. That being said, this part of the book is probably the most scattered of the three and the least interesting from a scientific perspective. Delusions of Gender endears itself to me because, at the end of the day, Fine is basically saying we need to stay skeptical of claims that appear to be scientific on the surface but, if you scratch that surface, reveal supposition. Beyond its subjects of sex and gender, this book encourages critical thinking about doing science, and that is something that is sorely needed in society today. Lastly, although I have long been interested in gender and thinking more deeply about it, this book definitely got me thinking about gender along different tracks. While I already knew much of what Fine explains or alludes to, I learned more things and even had my own unconscious biases checked at some points. And really, that’s what I want from a pop science book!

  21. 4 out of 5

    Marta

    A spirited debunking of the perennial claims that women are different (and usually, it so happens that this difference is in truth inferiority) from men because SCIENCE. It is both amusing and infuriating to read how sexist scientists and journalists try angle after angle, and when one is debunked (say, no, brain size does not actually matter), they find another, even more dubious claim. This is not a book without faults. Firstly, the author veers to the verbose side, and secondly, the book pays A spirited debunking of the perennial claims that women are different (and usually, it so happens that this difference is in truth inferiority) from men because SCIENCE. It is both amusing and infuriating to read how sexist scientists and journalists try angle after angle, and when one is debunked (say, no, brain size does not actually matter), they find another, even more dubious claim. This is not a book without faults. Firstly, the author veers to the verbose side, and secondly, the book pays almost no attentions to people outside the gender binary - a serious flaw and one that Cordelia Fine would do well to repair in any further editions. Still, I found it interesting, well-researched (the author has a knack for presenting scientific research in an accessible way, even if the empiricist in me would prefer more hard data - but bibliographical information provided is exceptional!), and even enlightening about the subtle and non-subtle ways gender stereotypes permeate our entire social world - and why is that not a good thing. I especially recommend it to parents interested in gender-neutral parenting, women in male-dominated professions, and everyone interested in the fascinating ways our biases inform scientific research (both with regards to interpretation as well as planning experiments themselves).

  22. 4 out of 5

    Barbara (The Bibliophage)

    Cordelia Fine is a scientist, feminist, and a mom. Her book debunks studies that purport to be solid science, but ultimately just support gender stereotypes. She discusses how gender neutral parenting is nearly impossible in today’s society. And how this, along with neuroplasticity, mean that brains cannot possibly be hard-wired by gender. (Neuroplasticity = brain’s ability to change.) Many more details in my review at TheBibliophage. Cordelia Fine is a scientist, feminist, and a mom. Her book debunks studies that purport to be solid science, but ultimately just support gender stereotypes. She discusses how gender neutral parenting is nearly impossible in today’s society. And how this, along with neuroplasticity, mean that brains cannot possibly be hard-wired by gender. (Neuroplasticity = brain’s ability to change.) Many more details in my review at TheBibliophage.

  23. 5 out of 5

    The Crimson Fucker

    God damn! This book actually changed the way I see the world!! I shall do it justice with a worthy review! Just way till I get my hands on a computer!

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kogiopsis

    Many of the general ideas presented in this book were familiar to me: claims of true neurological basis for differences between the sexes are bunk; areas in which people seem to be 'deficient' are often socially created rather than biological; current conceptions of binary gender essentialism must be abandoned. However, for all that the conclusions Cordelia Fine drew were hardly surprising to me, reading this book had a significant impact. It felt almost like an out of body experience, to read a Many of the general ideas presented in this book were familiar to me: claims of true neurological basis for differences between the sexes are bunk; areas in which people seem to be 'deficient' are often socially created rather than biological; current conceptions of binary gender essentialism must be abandoned. However, for all that the conclusions Cordelia Fine drew were hardly surprising to me, reading this book had a significant impact. It felt almost like an out of body experience, to read about these studies and then look at similar cases in my own life and, all of a sudden, to be able to see the strings. This is probably what Neo felt like when he learned to see the Matrix. It's disorienting. I read this book on a road trip with my parents, and I'm sure they wish I hadn't because I would not shut up about it. Partly, that's because I couldn't really process it without talking about it and applying it; partly, that's because my mom is a teacher and my dad is an engineer and I feel like the things I was learning from Cordelia Fine are intimately applicable to their work and dealing with other people. That's probably true of most people, though; but since one has direct impact on how confident students feel speaking in her courses and the other interacts with younger engineers, this seemed very relevant. I think I've probably brought the book up once a week since, too. The one concept that sticks with me the most is that of stereotype threat. Simply put, stereotype threat describes an effect when someone, being aware that a group they are part of is believed to have a certain capability, changes the way they approach that task. (For instance, women who are reminded of the stereotype that women are bad at math perform worse on math tests.) I had to set the book aside when I read that, because it explained so much about things I've struggled with: when you're under stereotype threat, your brain switches from trying to achieve success to trying to avoid failure, making you less innovative and confident, and slowing you down in completing the task. It's a feeling of being stifled, being trapped, that I've experienced a lot more than I'd like to, and finally having an explanation for it is clearing up a lot in my life. I wound up taking a star off of my rating for this book for two reasons - one, Fine's very binarist, cis-normative handling of gender erases or ignores trans* people, and while I see the rhetorical reasoning for that given the book's argument, it's still a weakness; and two, while she dissected research that she disagreed with very thoroughly, I found myself wondering if the studies she cited would stand up to a similar level of scrutiny. Given the nature of the book, I assume her research was thoroughly done, but there's still a distinct rhetorical strategy to the final work and I couldn't stop wondering if that had shaped the results presented.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    Cordelia Fine attempts to refute the popular idea that men and women have an innate neurological difference which results in different brains. I read this book after "The Essential Difference" by Simon Baron-Cohen. I recommend reading them in that order because Fine's book refutes many of the points made in Baron-Cohen's. Fine makes a good case that many of the differences we see in gender could readily be traced back to cultural or sociological phenomena, and that it is too early to declare tha Cordelia Fine attempts to refute the popular idea that men and women have an innate neurological difference which results in different brains. I read this book after "The Essential Difference" by Simon Baron-Cohen. I recommend reading them in that order because Fine's book refutes many of the points made in Baron-Cohen's. Fine makes a good case that many of the differences we see in gender could readily be traced back to cultural or sociological phenomena, and that it is too early to declare that brain differences in men and women are innate. She does an excellent job of pointing out the flaws in many of the studies cited by the other side. This book is a much-needed dose of caution in the rush to say men and women just are innately different. She does a great job of reminding us that the reinforcement for gender roles is all around us in ways we can't even see. One weakness in the book is that she doesn't adequately address the cross-cultural studies. If gender-based tendencies in brains are not inherent, then how come some appear in cultures world-wide? What are the chances that such diverse cultures would have developed similar gender roles if they do not have some biological basis?

  26. 5 out of 5

    Nefeli

    DNF @20%. This wasn't exactly bad, in the sense that its subject is both interesting and important. It's the execution that doesn't do it for me at all. Namely, I had trouble with the prose which I found rather stiff despite Fine's efforts at humour. I wouldn't complain about it if this was an unapologetically academic text with stiff language throughout, but the random insertion of jokes was jarring to me. Fine makes great points. And then she makes them again. And again. And again. And I don't fe DNF @20%. This wasn't exactly bad, in the sense that its subject is both interesting and important. It's the execution that doesn't do it for me at all. Namely, I had trouble with the prose which I found rather stiff despite Fine's efforts at humour. I wouldn't complain about it if this was an unapologetically academic text with stiff language throughout, but the random insertion of jokes was jarring to me. Fine makes great points. And then she makes them again. And again. And again. And I don't feel like I'm actually learning anything. Lastly, I have to fault my own expectations because I thought I was going to read a book that acknowledged gender identity as well as gender stereotypes but so far I haven't seen anything of the sort. Granted, it might come up later. But I'll likely never know.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Deema

    I’ve been meaning to review this book for ages, but whenever I attempt to write something, I’m lost at what to include and what to leave out. All of it was so important in shaping my understanding of gender and I don’t know how to write a review convincing enough to get other people to read it. That being said, I’ve raved about this book to enough friends to know that it’s made an impact on me, and so I will sit down and attempt this for the fifth time and hope that I will finally be able to get I’ve been meaning to review this book for ages, but whenever I attempt to write something, I’m lost at what to include and what to leave out. All of it was so important in shaping my understanding of gender and I don’t know how to write a review convincing enough to get other people to read it. That being said, I’ve raved about this book to enough friends to know that it’s made an impact on me, and so I will sit down and attempt this for the fifth time and hope that I will finally be able to get the right words out. Delusions of Gender is split into three sections, all of which argue the same thing: there are no discernible neurological differences between males and females. But society, our minds, and badly designed scientific experiments have made us believe that there are. I have no background in cognitive psychology or neuroscience, so I picked this up as a beginner, and worried that I wouldn’t be able to understand the more technical parts. As it turns out, Cordelia Fine has an accessible writing style and is able to take complex concepts and explain them in relatively simple terms, so I never found myself lost or confused. I may have slightly benefited by preceding this book with David McRaney’s You Are Not So Smart, which explained “priming” to me – a concept mentioned heavily in Delusions of Gender, and a concept everyone should be familiar with. Priming, by the way, is the way our minds are affected by subtle changes in our surroundings. These changes in surroundings, which would seem insignificant to you and me, can affect our brains so drastically that they seep into our performance on tasks and our perceptions of reality. For example, if a girl who is just about to write an exam is told that girls normally perform worse than boys on this type of exam, then her brain will be primed to do worse, regardless of her actual skill level. Similarly, if she is told that girls normally perform better than boys on this type of exam, then she will do better, regardless of her skill level. We have been primed by society to perform according to our genders, and this process starts early. The continuous nature of this priming, which comes to us in the form of advertisements, television programs, teachers, school peers, and even our parents, has led to a cycle of self-confirming “biological certainties,” such as “girls are better than boys at communication” and “boys are better than girls at math”. The more we are taught these differences, the more we perform according to them. The more we perform according to them, the more we believe in biological differences between genders. The more we believe in biological differences between genders… you get the picture. It’s fascinating, and shocking, and phrased a whole lot better by Cordelia Fine. When you take this theory and expand it on a mass level, it makes sense why people think women and girls aren’t good at math, science, sports, and other typically “male” things and why their behaviors normally align with these gendered expectations. In the next section of the book, Fine carefully rebuts the many scientific experiments and studies that claim to prove the inherent differences between male and female brains. Scientists and the public have used these experiments for decades to support their sexist claims about girls and women, but Fine is here to tell us that those experiments had small sample sizes, flimsy experiment designs, and other glaring holes that should make us all question their scientific authority. Each claim she makes in this section is backed up by solid research, and all her sources are outlined in the endnotes and bibliography, which together span about 80 pages. She also provides counter-studies along the way to disprove these experiments, all of which help drive her initial point home. At the end of this section, she points to a mass study, or meta-analysis, that puts together data from thousands of participants from various studies investigating the same question, and showed that, when using a large sample size (as opposed to the small ones normally used in these experiments), most of the trends that scientists have claimed to find on gender differences turn out to be statistically insignificant, and therefore unsupported by science. Fine also points to the important concept of neuroplasticity, or how our brains are constantly being shaped by external factors, such as our social environment and experiences: “where else but in the brain would we see the effects of socialization or experience?” As such, it isn’t as simple as making X discovery about the female brain and then making Y pronouncement about “hardwired” gender differences. Our brains are malleable and heavily influenced by external factors, which, more often than not, are working against us, and these factors need to be honestly discussed by scientists who enter into this field of work. All in all, I have benefited greatly from this book. It has reshaped the way I think about gender, and has made me much more wary of oft-repeated statements on “gender differences” and “female psychology”. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in gender, science, neuroscience, or even just in a good book on psychology, because it’s well written, funny, and highly informative.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jaylia3

    Just when it looked like neuroscience was justifying our current worldview that innate differences are somehow “hardwired” into the brains of little boys and little girls author Cordelia Fine comes along and checks out the scientific studies. What she exposes and describes in detail are poorly designed experiments, blind leaps of faith and convoluted circular reasoning. In scientists! According to what Fine uncovered we have mutable brains, continuously influenced and changed by our cultural env Just when it looked like neuroscience was justifying our current worldview that innate differences are somehow “hardwired” into the brains of little boys and little girls author Cordelia Fine comes along and checks out the scientific studies. What she exposes and describes in detail are poorly designed experiments, blind leaps of faith and convoluted circular reasoning. In scientists! According to what Fine uncovered we have mutable brains, continuously influenced and changed by our cultural environment. Besides being thought provoking—it may make you rethink a lot of your beliefs—this book is both funny and well written.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Scribble Orca

    How gratifying to find authors who know their stuff, have the necessary tools to analyse and critique, and who take the time to pick holes in the commercial follies of these pseudo-scientific wanna-be-never-could-so-better twist-everything-to-please-myself-and-make-a-fast-fbuck-simultaneously authors. Should dovetail quite nicely with Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn. How gratifying to find authors who know their stuff, have the necessary tools to analyse and critique, and who take the time to pick holes in the commercial follies of these pseudo-scientific wanna-be-never-could-so-better twist-everything-to-please-myself-and-make-a-fast-fbuck-simultaneously authors. Should dovetail quite nicely with Sex at Dusk: Lifting the Shiny Wrapping from Sex at Dawn.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Beth (bibliobeth)

    In my other, non-blogging life, I work as a scientist and every so often you’ll see a review popping up on my blog about a non-fiction book I’ve read that has more than likely been science-y. I’m also a firm believer in gender equality and women’s rights so Delusions of Gender seemed like the perfect mix of science and feminism which encouraged me to pick it up. I found it to be a fascinating read which I learned a lot from and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the differences be In my other, non-blogging life, I work as a scientist and every so often you’ll see a review popping up on my blog about a non-fiction book I’ve read that has more than likely been science-y. I’m also a firm believer in gender equality and women’s rights so Delusions of Gender seemed like the perfect mix of science and feminism which encouraged me to pick it up. I found it to be a fascinating read which I learned a lot from and would highly recommend it to anyone interested in the differences between our two genders. The book is divided into short chapters with intriguing titles such as “Why You Should Cover Your Head with a Paper Bag if You Have A Secret You Don’t Want Your Wife to Find Out,” “Sex and Premature Speculation,” and “Gender Detectives.” With titles like these you may want to read this book already but let me assure you that the author backs up the humour in her writing with clear facts, possible theories and very strong evidence that lends a note of seriousness into why exactly we still have gender inequality in a modern, 21st century society. You’d think we’d have come a long way in achieving more rights for women since say, the nineteenth century yet consider this point that the author makes in the introduction. An English clergyman called Thomas Gisborne wrote a manual called “An Enquiry into the Duties of the Female Sex,” and noted that things such as legislation, political economy and the conduct of government should be assigned to men as they have “the powers of close and comprehensive reasoning, and of intensive and continued application.” Whereas, females enjoy “powers adapted to unbend the brow of the learned, to refresh the over-laboured faculties of the wise, and to diffuse the enlivening and endearing smile of cheerfulness.” Ladies, I hope you are extremely insulted right now. But then Fine encourages us to move forward 200 years and look at The Essential Difference written by Simon Baron-Cohen, a Cambridge University psychologist who states “the female brain is pre-dominantly hard-wired for empathy. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems.” Hmm… sounds pretty much the same thing as what Gisborne was trying to say in the nineteenth century? Throughout the book, Cordelia Fine investigates how different males and females really are. Are we all so hard-wired into our gender that there is no wiggle room in terms of qualities we should possess? Is it really a man’s world? Is it absolutely pointless for a woman to even consider a top level management job as it requires stereotypically more aggressive characteristics that for a woman is considered unattractive? I did enjoy the way that the author discredits work carried out by Baron-Cohen, and theories from the author of A Female Brain, Louann Brizendine that seem to want to put males and females in their own little boxes. For example, the assumption that a woman can use more areas of the brain than a man i.e. multi-tasking, was an experiment based on only 14 brains and the conclusions weren’t even statistically significant? In this way, a lot of experiments dealing with differences between the sexes have used just a few subjects, or made scientific “guesses,” depending on what their own stereotypical views were. This is a brilliant and fascinating book, injected with a little bit of wit and sarcasm which I always appreciate in a non-fiction book and which I think is needed when dealing with this subject which can sometimes be a little bit touchy. I don’t think Baron-Cohen or Brizendine will be amongst her fans if they ever read it but I really enjoyed the way she picked apart neurosexism and shone a light upon the shadier areas of gender research. Oh, and you don’t need to be a scientist to read or enjoy this, it’s very accessible without being patronising. Please see my full review at http://www.bibliobeth.com

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