Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain

Ah the pendulum swings back in refuting the last 30 years of misogynistic backlash to trying to convince people that male brains and female brains are inherently different.

I have been down on the whole idea of gender and boy brain/girl brain for a long time because I see that argument as being one step from an argument that this the reason men are superior and should rule over women.

I view gender as a social construct that is for the most part learned rather than innate.  There are certain innate elements but what really creates gender is a magnification of it.  There is an interesting quote from Jan Morris:

Jan Morris, the historian, travel writer and male-to-female transsexual, saw this implicit stereotyping firsthand: “The more I was treated as a woman, the more woman I became. ”

From The New York Times:

Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain

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

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

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

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

These days gender inequality is commonly explained by neurological differences, most popularly the notion that the surge of testosterone that occurs in the eighth week of fetal development affects the relative size of the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and of the corpus callosum, the bundle of neurons that connects the two. In the 1980s Norman Geschwind proposed that the surge results in a smaller left hemisphere for males, leaving them with greater potential for right-hemisphere development, which, as he put it, results in “superior right-hemisphere talents, such as artistic, musical, or mathematical talent.” In female brains the hemispheres are more collaborative, explaining women’s superior verbalizing skills.

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One Response to “Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain”

  1. tinagrrl Says:

    We still get Vogue magazine. Once in a while we see an issue that is interesting and it tends to be cheaper to subscribe than to buy the two issues we want.

    Just today I said — no more Vogue — I know some of the photography is amazing, I realize how interesting it can be — at the same time, looking at some of the ads today, I realized how it just reinforces the very worst aspects of “gender” — gender that is shoved down our throats — “This is the way to look. This is the way to dress, or attempt to dress. This is the latest ‘makeup trend’.”.

    It’s all about adopting the “current look”, as dictated by the “fashionistas”, the “fashion police”, the “guru’s of fashion”, and those that market the latest “new thing”.

    The ad that just got to me was the back cover from Lancome. “French Coquettes — fall 2010 color collection by Aaron De Mey”. The two absolutely beautiful young women look unreal. They look like flawless plastic dolls Hi-grade plastic, bur plastic nonetheless. Totally unreal, less than human.

    Are we back to the 1950’s again? Are we back to women being set up as plastic playthings, with nothing but their “looks”? Do the current “rules of gender” require women to be mindless playthings — as imagined by some of the current “fashion gurus” — most of whom seem to dislike women as people?

    It’s time for a counterattack by real women — young, old, rich and poor.


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