It's the 21st century, and although we tried to rear unisex children - boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks - we failed. Even though the glass ceiling is cracked, most women stay comfortably beneath it. And everywhere we hear about vitally important "hardwired" differences between male and female brains. The neuroscience that we read about in magazines, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes even scientific journals increasingly tells a tale of two brains, and the result is more often than not a validation of the status quo. Women, it seems, are just too intuitive for math; men too focused for housework.
Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men’s and women's brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men's brains aren't wired for empathy and women's brains aren't made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men's and women's behavior. Instead of a "male brain" and a "female brain", Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender.
Passionately argued and unfailingly astute, Delusions of Gender provides us with a much-needed corrective to the belief that men's and women's brains are intrinsically different - a belief that, as Fine shows with insight and humor, all too often works to the detriment of ourselves and our society.
©2010 Cordelia Fine (P)2012 Audible, Inc.
"[Fine's] sharp tongue is tempered with humor.... Read this book and see how complex and fascinating the whole issue is." (The New York Times)
Family father, neuroscientist, and non-fiction addict.
To what extent are males and females different and to what extent do those differences depend on nature and nature? Though it is not my field of expertise, I have read a fair amount about brain differences between the sexes as well as the resulting behavioral differences. I have read The essential difference by Simon Baron-Cohen, as well as several books by Steven Pinker, who likes to discuss sex differences as and what causes them. I have also skimmed through the wildly popular “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus…” by John Gray (a book that is very unscientific and overrated). If you have also read these books and, like me, believe that there are essential differences between the sexes, then you should read this book. Cordelia Fine takes on John Gray as well as the academic heavyweights, Baron-Cohen (Cambridge University) and Pinker (Harvard), and though I did not think so when I picked up the book, would argue that she comes out on top.
Cordelia Fine did not change my mind completely; I still believe that when you average things, there are differences between the sexes, both regarding the neural architecture and the behavior. I don’t think Cordelia Fine would disagree with this position, but the point of this book is to correct all the wrongs that have been done in the name of (assumed) gender differences. In doing so, Cordelia has provided me with a healthy dose of skepticism about such claims, and she is very convincing in arguing that many of the differences we do see between the sexes are not ‘in our genes’, but rather are due to environmental factors such as socialization and stereotype threat.
Moreover, Cordelia is also stringent in her approach. When she criticizes authors such as Simon Baron-Cohen, she goes back to the studies on which his claims rest and shows why the studies do not support his claims. This is the proper way to criticize scientific publications, but many others still fail to do so. Having said that, Cordelia Fine also frequently uses the less scholarly strategy of sarcasm in the book, so much so that you have to be on guard not to confuse her sarcasm with her actual views. Still, the sarcasm helps spice up the book a little and helps keep the book interesting even while going into such detail (describing the scientific methodology and retaining someone’s attention is usually a challenge).
Fine's argument is basically that often we cannot tell whether a difference in behavior between men and women reflects innate, hard-coded, differences or if that difference is due to either socialization or stereotype threat, i.e. nurture. In the past, we usually have misattributed differences to nature in a way that seems quite preposterous today. People used seriously think that women did not have the constitution to do anything besides rearing children and cooking. Cordelia argues, and I think she is right, that we still do this today, albeit to a lesser degree. For example, she points to many studies showing that girls and women's performance on math tests and mental rotation tests depend to some extent on whether they believe that they are innately inferior, equal or superior on such tasks. Girls who believe that girls are poor in math also get worse results. In other words, it makes a lot of sense to be very careful when asserting that one sex is inferior to the other, no matter which task it is. Again, Cordelia never argues that there are no differences between the sexes, she merely muddies the water for those who claim that such differences are easily detectable and due entirely to nature.
For me, this book was one of those rare books that caused a significant switch in my thinking. The fact that it achieved this while also being entertaining is an impressive feat! I highly recommend this book.
We like to congratulate ourselves often for living in an age of scientific objectivity, unclouded by gender stereotypes of past generations who used science to prove why men are superior to women. Fine, study by study, demonstrates why our self-congratulations is unfounded.
Cordelia Fine presents a balanced and surprisingly fascinating look at the research into the neuroscience and social psychology of purported "hard-wired" gender differences. While her agenda is obvious, her findings are significantly less so. She makes a legitimate effort to be unbiased and look at the relevant questions with critical thought and an eye for detail, and her resulting findings are insightful and nuanced, as well as very approachable. Maria Brendel does a fine job of the reading, and I found that I (who often bogs down in nonfiction) was riveted throughout the book.
Overall five-star rating notwithstanding, the book isn't perfect. Fine can be sarcastic, and sometimes comes off as a bit smug (and I don't think that was all the reader's interpretation). I can see this being off-putting to readers who are already wary of her premise. There are also a few instances in the book where I wished she had elaborated more fully on the studies discussed. When picking studies apart for overlooking details, it does not do to gloss over potentially relevant details oneself.
And it's worth noting that as a woman who has spent the last decade in a traditionally masculine field, I found parts of the book not just personally relevant, but actually kind of stressful and disheartening as I saw several of my own insecurities and patterns of behavior reflected in Fine's research. Fellow female readers, caveat lector.
Nonetheless, I would recommend this, highly. If you are at all interested in the scientific basis for gender differences, read this book. If you are at all interested in the social influences on gender differences, read this book. If you are a woman working in a male-dominated field, or working at all (paid or otherwise), or a man working with women in any field, or a parent considering how best to raise children who embrace diversity and equality, read this book. It has left me with considerable food for thought on all of these topics and more.
Gender is a social construct, it's not something in our genetic code, our epigenome, our brains or elsewhere. Ms. Fine does a fantastic job of exposing the recently fashionable trend of neurosexism as what it is: the same old oppressive pseudoscience that has been recycled for generations. This is a must - listen!
This book is a very thorough, exhaustively researched debunking of the latest pseudoscience and misused brain science that is used to argue that girls are just too emotional and empathic to do math, science and engineering. It's a good book, but I wish it had been more even-handed about how gender assumptions affect men and boys as well.
The book is interesting and full of well thought out research and arguments. The performance definitely adds to the story, it's probably one of the best I've heard. Would definitely recommend this book to friends interested in the topic!
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