17 June 2012

Book review: Delusions of Gender (2011), by Cordelia Fine, ****

Synopsis

A vehement attack on the latest pseudo-scientific claims about the differences between the sexes. Sex discrimination is supposedly a distant memory. Yet popular books, magazines and even scientific articles increasingly defend inequalities by citing immutable biological differences between the male and female brain. That's the reason, we're told, that there are so few women in science and engineering, so few men in the laundry room - different brains are just better suited to different things. Drawing on the latest research in developmental psychology, neuroscience, and social psychology, Delusions of Gender powerfully rebuts these claims, showing how old myths, dressed up in new scientific finery, are helping perpetuate the sexist status quo. Cordelia Fine, a cognitive neuroscientist with a sharp sense of humour and an intelligent sense of reality' (The Times) reveals the mind's remarkable plasticity, shows how profoundly culture influences the way we think about ourselves and, ultimately, exposes just how much of what we consider 'hardwired' is actually malleable. This startling, original and witty book shows the surprising extent to which boys and girls, men and women are made - and not born, empowering us to break free of the supposed predestination of our sex chromosomes.


Review

I found this book interesting as a further reading in my series on the eternal conundrum of man/woman relationship. This book emphasizes the environmental influence on the development of man and woman, whereas other books looked at the psychological dimension (like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus") or at the biological evolutionary aspect (like "Why Men don't Listen and Women Can't Read Maps") of the differences between genders.

Put it another way, what these books purport to be hardware differences, Fine argues are only software differences, the result of education, upbringing, societal influences. Without these external conditioning there is no scientifically measurable difference in the brains of man and woman.

In my view the theory developed in this book does not necessarily contradict those of the other, hardware oriented, books. I came away persuaded both are at work and relevant. I also came away persuaded that it does not make a whole lot of difference, for practical purposes: I believe in equal rights between the genders, and so obviously we must strive for equal opportunity. That will probably not result in equal attitudes, equal predispositions, or equal approaches to problem solving. Or maybe, in time, it will. We'll see. For the time being it is clear that the most important thing is to be aware of existing differences, whether hardware or software. Pretending they don't exist can only be harmful to man/woman relationships and counterproductive to our effort to overcome discrimination.






No comments:

Post a Comment

Click here to leave your comment. All comments are welcome and will be published asap, but offensive language will be removed.