Monday 31 October 2011

Book review: "Delusions of Gender" by Cordelia Fine

There is an idea in popular science -- and in real science, for that matter -- that male and female brains are hardwired for different tasks. So we end up with books like "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" and "Why Men Don't Listen and Women can't read Maps".

Unfortunately, it's bollocks.

Or at least, that is Fine's hypothesis, and she makes a very convincing case for the supposedly-hardwired differences being learned in childhood. If I had to pick out just one quote that sums up the idea, it would have to be this:

One child believed that men drank tea and women drank coffee, because that was the way it was in his house. He was thus perplexed when a male visitor requested coffee.

The book is divided into three sections. In the first, Fine points out that the mind can be influenced by the subtlest of signals. (For instance, mentioning that women tend to perform worse in an assessment, or even having subjects tick a "male" or "female" box before taking a test, can influence the result.) In the second, she picks apart "neurosexism" -- the use of pretty coloured brain images to lend a veneer of legitimacy to old-fashioned confirmation bias and prove points that aren't even really there. And in the third, she explains how a continuous drip, drip, drip of gender stereotypes into impressionable young minds leads to the formation of associations that persist into adulthood.

239 pages of main text are followed by a further 98 pages of reference material which include acknowledgements, authors' notes, annotations for each chapter, a full bibliography and a comprehensive index.

Published by Icon Books. ISBN 978-184831220-3. RRP £8.99. ****

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