Delusions of Gender
Until I read this book, I had delusions about gender. ‘Men are thinkers, women are feelers’ is the compelling yet troubling cliché. But could it be that The Secret to ‘the male or female mind’ is that they are, in fact, exactly the same?
Luminary psychologist Cordelia Fine calls attention to the role that ‘neurononsense’ plays in masking (unscientific) tautologies like ‘women are worse at spatial reasoning because women are worse at spatial reasoning’. ‘Add neuroscience,’ she says, and ‘the same non-explanations suddenly seem much more satisfying:’
Brain scans of the premotor area, known to be involved in spatial relational tasks, indicate that women’s poor performative relative to men’s causes different types of brain responses. This explains the gender difference in spatial reasoning abilities. (Fine’s bold).
Each chapter unravels as beguilingly as a detective novel while Fine expertly probes deeper into studies on amniotic testosterone, child development and ‘the foetal fork’, uncovering a crescendo of cliffhangers on her way into the dark heart of the gender issue. It is literally a psychological thriller.
What is truly perceptive, however, is her observation that ‘we are a nation of half-changed minds’ about gender: we support equality of the sexes and yet we believe that our minds are profoundly different. She shows in this book that there is no scientific proof for the ‘gender hardwiring’ we persist in crediting.
It makes perfect sense to me to stop trawling the subterranean shores of my personality in search of my innate femininity when I’ve always felt myself to be neutral. I enjoy doing many things that are traditionally considered feminine but cannot own that this adjective is ‘innate’. What does ‘innate’ mean anyway? It is language we use to assert that our prejudice is founded in reality.
So why then are we attracted to the idea that humans are divided more than physically by gender? ‘Nurture over nature’ is a familiar inversion, but not when gender is concerned. This being an erotic review, I wondered whether our tenacity about Martians and Venusians is linked with sex. If gendered minds are constructed by society, then sexuality gets space-age: sex is more in the mind than we ever thought. Which leads to the self-congratulatory conclusion that in virtually thumbing through this intellectual-sexual e-zine, you are ahead of the pack. Well done.
Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences by Cordelia Fine; Icon; ISBN 978-184831-163-3; £14.99. Originally appeared in Erotic Review 115