Talking About Neurosexism Nirvana

Carolyn’s Team Pick:

In a talk with the Australian Broadcasting Company, Cordelia Fine discusses how we build social assumptions based on misinterpretations of scientific studies.

“If you thought sexism was a thing of the past, then think again says psychologist and writer, Cordelia Fine. In this often highly amusing talk, she argues that the notion that there is an immutable biological difference between the male and female brain is just another form of sexism: neurosexism. And Cordelia’s on a mission to discredit the science behind it.

After her excoriating attack, Cordelia goes on to warn of the dangers such ideas can have on the path to greater equality between the genders.”

The discussion is based around Fine’s book, Delusions of Gender, which is a pop-science deconstruction of numerous scientific studies and their interpretations that shows how social expectations play a much stronger role in research results than actual research does.

If you haven’t read the book yet (and it came out a year ago so you should’ve), this discussion will make you want to. But the book is really dense, and this talk is only 45 minutes! It’s like Intro to Neurosexism nirvana. You should watch it here:

While Delusions of Gender questions female/male-based biological essentialism, it does not address the difference between sex and gender and has no real discussion of anything outside of the gender binary. Nevertheless, Fine’s discussion reveals some of our cultural scientific illiteracy and just how often science is used to back up pre-existing ideas, and it is definitely worth 45 minutes of your time.

Carolyn Yates was formerly the NSFW Editor (2013–2018) and Literary Editor for Autostraddle.com. Her writing has appeared in Nylon, Refinery29, The Toast, Bitch, Xtra!, Jezebel, and elsewhere. She lives in Los Angeles by way of Montreal and Toronto. Find her on twitter or instagram.

Carolyn has written 953 articles for us.

9 Comments

  1. While I think Ms. Fine’s book has highly perceptive things to say about how science is filtered through cultural assumptions, she’s less than thoughtful when it comes to trans and non-binary peeps. She seems to view her deep perceptions about her own gender concepts as someone who’s burst through the societal bs, yet when it comes to trans people, we’re somehow dupes of repressive and reactionary tropes. Gender is highly complicated. I have huge issues with someone defining it as being purely a socially constructed phenomena (and I have even bigger issues with social structures using it to repress entire groups of people… like women). So, I suppose I feel what Fine is saying is an important piece of the puzzle, but anyone suggesting it’s the whole enchilada is just as reactionary as John Gray.

    • ^Mhm. Judging by her comment to the question “what do you think of gender reassignment?”, it seems that she feels she hasn’t done the research to say what her deconstruction means for trans people.

      In fact, since her science is all about deconstructing the link between sex and gender, it might actually be pro trans in a sense that she asserts that your biological sex has little to do with those things typically associated with gender – what you like to do, what professions you’re good at it, etc.

    • You say “purely socially constructed” as if it means that gender must not be significant BECAUSE it is social. We are essentially social beings, so a phenomena being purely socially constructed is not the same a insignificant. I do think the existence of trans* people and this sort of theory are compatible, although it is a glaring ommission in her argument, and that that sort of invisibility poses problems for trans*people on a wider scale, but surely the ideathat gender is not biological can tally with the idea that someone can be born in the wrong body for their gender. It would pose problems if a substantial portion of the trans* community claims that they were “born this way.” is that a common belief?

  2. interesting video. while I also would’ve liked to see a little more discussion of non-binary gender stuff, I think she’s done some good breaking down of the “science” (and history) behind alleged sex-based neurological differences.

    I’m gonna recommend this to my dad. He’s a neuroscientist but also a feminist who raised two strong daughters, and I think he’d find this interesting.

  3. I just read this and my feeling is that Fine’s argument does not invalidate the “born this way” hypothesis, which most queer identity and politics seems to hold to. Fine is just saying that the idea of being born with a female or male brain is not the answer to questions of choice and queer identity. Choice in personality seems as dubious a concept as choice in neurological architecture and, based on my read, I think Fine would agree. “Neuro-plasticized this way,” doesn’t scan as well, but it’s just as legit.

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