Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine

delusions of gender

The purpose of this book is to prove that men are not in fact from Mars and women are not from Venus. Fine suggests that all of the scientific studies done by neuroscientists and the like are biased to begin with and really do not prove anything at all. I chose this book for the Las Vegas Non-Fiction Book Club. I have been thinking about gender differences a lot lately. I am 26 weeks pregnant at the time of writing and the most commonly asked questions is “do you know if it is a boy or a girl?” I do know, but I often wonder quite how much difference it makes.

I like this book, and I like Fine, she is clever, sarcastic and funny. I am mostly in agreement with what she is saying, but I do wonder quite how much she is not saying. This book presents only one viewpoint. There are no parts where she says “…and on the other hand…”

I find it amazing and disturbing how much time and effort has been devoted to proving that males and females are hard-wired to be very different. I do not see an advantage to being told from a young age that I should behave a certain way because of the way my brain functions. Lucky for me I was not. So, why have all these people been trying to prove that the sexes are born to be so very different?

The first two parts of the book are taken up with explaining all the various complicated studies of brain function. Fine trashes all of the findings. She says that they are all biased by society and do not conclusively prove a ‘hard-wired’ difference in any case. I have no trouble believing this one, but I think some people want to believe that we are ‘hard-wired’ to be different. A man who does not want to do the housework will claim that having a penis means that his eyes just don’t see dirt in the same way (and anyway, us girls need to clean up to get a good old boost of oxytocin), or a man who is poor at communicating will say that he does not have the empathising skills women do so cannot discuss his feelings well with his children. I tried to think of an example where these stereotypes can be used to benefit women but I struggled. Fine gives examples of the woman who earns more than her male partner who still comes home and does all of the housework and childcare. Now, that I can relate to.

So, how do men and women end up so different? Because, and obviously there are many exceptions, we generally do. Generally speaking, there are more women in nursing and teaching, for example, and more men in engineering and computer programming. Fine spends considerably less pages explaining what does make us different than she does explaining what does not. So, if it is not nature, then it must be nurture. She gives interesting examples of parents who have attempted to raise their children in gender-neutral households, and explains how and why they are doomed to fail.

Fine gives examples of some historic ‘scientific’ reasons why women should not be given the vote back when our ancestors were fighting that fight for us. That is what gives me hope. Women have only been allowed out into the world of work, science and politics for a few generations, so this book is just a snapshot of where we are now. In a few more years the gender balance will have shifted a little more and I hope that these ‘neurosexist’ (as Fine calls them) studies will also be thrown out, along with the theory that a smaller brain means that women are not as intelligent, not just physically smaller.

I enjoyed this book, but I would also very much enjoy a book that puts forward the opposite argument in such an entertaining and direct manner. But perhaps there aren’t any.

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