“Woman has her range of duties, and her special functions, as man has his; and I would like to see each find his own place in his own level.”
Sir Edward Braddon (Tasmania, Free Trade) House of Representatives, 23 April 1902.
It well known that men don’t listen. Women, of course, can’t read maps. Women have smaller (possibly fluffy, certainly pink) brains that are great at empathising but bad at hard things, like maths and concentrating. Men can do complicated thinking but can’t do emotions because their brains consist of steel wool surrounding a solid block of logic. We can’t help it. It’s just the way our brains have been wired.
A lot of books would have you believe that there is an inevitable gap between the genders, vast and unbridgeable – well, unless you read the book, of course. Books, magazines and even scientific articles often cite immutable biological differences between the male and female brain as the reason. Men are doomed to be shuffling Neanderthals, incapable of understanding communication more subtle than a club to the head, women are irrational shrews who must trick and cajole men into commitment before they accidently burn the cave down.
For those of you who find yourselves bristling at the blanket generalisations about both genders epitomised by books such as Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus (or, as a friend of mine calls it, Men Are From Mars, Women Suck My… well, you can fill in rest yourself) here’s a tonic for what ails you.
Dr Cordelia Fine is an academic psychologist, writer and researcher at Melbourne University, and her new book Delusions of Gender is a rebuttal to all the latest pseudo-scientific claims we hear on a daily basis about the differences between the sexes being based in the brain. Challenging “neurosexism” – as it has come to be known – she argues that by thinking of the genders as intractabily different, serious and unjustified obstacles are being placed in the paths of children’s devopment. Critiquing the bad science and methodology of many claims and drawing on the latest research in developmental psychology, neuroscience, and social psychology, she puts forward a very convincing case for the mind’s malleability, and for society to be mindful of this plasticity.
It may sound like she’s swimming against the tide of opinion, but that’s exactly what she wants to do. She was inspired to write the book by the amount of “bad science” already out there, as she explained in an interview with Salon.
It began when I read a parenting book that claimed that hard-wired sex differences meant that girls and boys should be parented and taught differently. When I looked at the actual studies being used as evidence, I was really shocked by how badly the neuroscientific findings were being misrepresented. I saw the same thing going on in other popular books about gender, and when I looked, I was surprised to discover how little convincing evidence there was that, for example, the male brain is hard-wired to be good at understanding the world and the female brain is hard-wired to understand people.
We have two copies of Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine to giveaway. To win, we want you to tell us what people say about your gender that really gets your goat. Entries close at 5pm on Monday 1 November, so feel free to call up your most sexist “everybody knows” acquaintance or co-worker and get them to hold forth at length, safe in the knowledge that this time, when you brain explodes in fury, you could be winning a book out of it.