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Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference [Kindle Edition]

Cordelia Fine
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)

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Book Description

“[Fine’s] sharp tongue is tempered with humor. . . . Read this book and see how complex and fascinating the whole issue is.”—The New York Times

It’s the twenty-first century, and although we tried to rear unisex children—boys who play with dolls and girls who like trucks—we failed. Even though the glass ceiling is cracked, most women stay comfortably beneath it. And everywhere we hear about vitally important “hardwired” differences between male and female brains. The neuroscience that we read about in magazines, newspaper articles, books, and sometimes even scientific journals increasingly tells a tale of two brains, and the result is more often than not a validation of the status quo. Women, it seems, are just too intuitive for math; men too focused for housework.

Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men’s and women’s brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men’s and women’s behavior. Instead of a “male brain” and a “female brain,” Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender.

Passionately argued and unfailingly astute, Delusions of Gender provides us with a much-needed corrective to the belief that men’s and women’s brains are intrinsically different—a belief that, as Fine shows with insight and humor, all too often works to the detriment of ourselves and our society.

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

In a methodical and devastatingly effective manner, Fine eviscerates the recent trend in attributing society’s gender-based differences to biology. The sheer girth of her analysis is staggering as she addresses everything from scientific studies going back more than a century to the latest assertions of “Mars and Venus” author John Gray. Fine pivots from studies on gender-based clothing and toys to a discussion of education, and reviews recent Caldecott Award-winning children’s books, noting that one gender is consistently described as “beautiful, frightened, worthy, sweet, weak and scared.” (Guess which one.) Fine also explains how experiments are manipulated to provide desirable results and how results are presented without necessary caveats (such as the fact that men were not part of the study). This is social science at its hard-working best as Fine uses solid references to refute the notion that biology trumps pervasive stereotyping, and offers a sterling rebuttal to agenda research and the lure of pseudo-science. --Colleen Mondor


'Impeccably researched and bitingly funny - both sexes should rejoice at [this] vitriolic attack on - sexism masquerading as psychology.' Evening Standard 'Bold ... Timely and provocative ... [Fine's] well-stocked armoury ... includes extensive research, sharp wit and a probing intelligence, and refuses to be satisfied with the delusional myth-making that often passes for popular science.' Metro 'Fine writes with bravura. She takes no hostages. She rejoices in demystifying the compellingly seductive false colour images provided by the MRI scanners ... a book that sparkles with wit, which is easy to read but underpinned by substantial scholarship and a formidable 100-page bibliography ... every page of Fine's brilliant, spiky book reminds us that science is part of culture and that the struggle against sexism in the neurosciences and the struggle against sexism in society are intimately linked.' Hilary Rose, Times Higher Education Supplement 'Fine invites her readers into a passionate, insightful and often funny discussion about how gender identity is all in the mind, not the brain.' Globe & Mail, Canada 'As Fine argues in this forceful, funny new book, the notion that gender accounts for differences in minds and behavior through some biological, brain-based process is an idea as popular as it is unproven.' Boston Globe 'An irreverent and important book' Washington Post 'Read this book and see how complex and fascinating the whole issue is.' New York Times 'A timely warning against taking too seriously the deluge of books and articles that would have us believe that men are biologically advantaged when it comes to mathematics, racing driving or map reading - and that women are naturally more intuitive and nurturing, so better at childcare and multitasking.' Guardian 'Dr Fine is a brilliant tour guide - making light, fun and engaging work of the research. By debunking the rubbish, this book opens up possibilities for a (slightly) clearer vision of the future. Not to be missed.' 'Men may be from Mars and women from Venus but if you put blokes and sheilas on each other's planet they will work out how to manage - An excellent book that puts the old nature-or-nurture debate in the context of the new science on the way our brains work.' The Australian 'For two millennia women have heard how our brains are too small, our wombs too big, our blood too thin or too cold, or how we are too weak/excitable/nervous (supply your own adjective) to do whatever it is we were thinking of doing. Since the 1970s we have been getting even and getting equal, but just when you thought it was OK to do rocket science, along comes neuroscience to tell us it's all in the hardwiring of our brains, and really, women don't have the connections - and I don't mean the ones in the boardroom. Cordelia Fine's brilliant book Delusions of Gender (Icon) debunks the likes of Simon Baron-Cohen, dressed up in one of his brother's outfits as a mad scientist, waving mobiles at newborn babies to see if the boys are more "interested" than the girls.' Jeanette Winterson, Books of the Year, Guardian

Product Details

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
91 of 105 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A myth-busting, incisive, mind-changing delight August 28, 2010
By Kristin
This is an excellent book. It is witty and absorbing and just about impossible to put down. It is packed with the results of a multitude of studies. It is a myth-busting, incisive, mind-changing delight. It deals with the "delusions" that many people have concerning gender differences, and how these delusions have a powerful (though often unconscious) effect on people's lives.

The central myth that the author confronts is that men and women have widely different sets of ability that are mostly innate, hard-wired, and unchangeable. The author argues that this has not been demonstrated. In fact, it is not even clear that these differences in ability exist.

Take empathy. If you test people's empathy by asking them how empathetic they think they are (and yes, some scientists actually do this), then women test much higher than men. But if you actually test their abilities (by, for instance, asking what emotions are being expressed in a particular face), women do only a tiny bit better than men. And if you design the study to get rid of gender biases (the author shows how researchers do this), then women do no better than men.

Or take the ability to mentally rotate objects in space which, for a long time, has been considered to be necessary for success in math and engineering. Usually men do better than women. But if you fib and tell a group of test-takers that "women perform better than men in this test, usually for genetic reasons," then women perform as well as the men.

And on it goes. The author shows how subtle cues in our environment affect our identities and thus our behaviors and thus our life course. And how our implicit beliefs are often diametrically opposed to our explicit beliefs and how this can wreak havoc in our societies.
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53 of 61 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The trouble with neuro- (and evolutionary) sexism January 31, 2011
Below is an excerpt from a forthcoming review in Skeptical Inquirer. I am a philosopher of science and former evolutionary biologist, and I highly recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in the biology and social science of gender.

It is nowadays commonly accepted knowledge that there are profound innate differences between genders. I'm not talking about the obvious anatomical ones, but about the allegedly (radically) different ways in which male and female brains work. It seems that at every corner we hear statements to the effect that gender XX or XY is better or more capable or more attracted to a litany of tasks and behaviors, from spatial abilities to mathematics, from aptitude toward science to liking the color pink. When prominent figures -- like former Harvard President Larry Summers -- get in trouble for talking about behavioral gender differences as if they were established facts backed by the power of evolutionary and neuro-biology, a chorus of defenders rises up to decry political correctness and to present the Summers of the day as a valiant fighter for rationality in the face of relativism and demagoguery.

Not so fast, says Cordelia Fine in her Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. Fine is an academic psychologist and freelance writer, and her book ought to be kept side by side with the likes of the (antithetical) The Blank Slate by Steven Pinker, to provide a bit of balance to what has become common and yet largely unfounded knowledge about gender differences. Let us be clear at the outset that nobody is seriously suggesting that genetics and evolution have nothing to do with human behavior, including gendered differences.
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55 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning amount of research August 27, 2010
found this book stunning. All around you see all this stuff about 'Men's brains' and 'Women's brains', and it always struck me as odd that a sex that has, for example, written so much brilliant literature should be deemed semi-autistic, etc etc. So here comes this brilliantly researched book (just take a look at the pages and pages of notes at the end - this author knows her onions backwards and forwards and sideways) - and she points out how shoddy it all is.
And she's funny!
No one will ever again have to sit through a dinner party with some parent going on about how 'I thought that too, but you only have to LOOK at my two children to see there are innate differences... bleh bleh'. She unpicks it all and shows how social pressures are so important and the brain differences that are so often claimed are, essentially, neurotosh, aka neurosexism. I think I shall carry a copy round with me.
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71 of 87 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Engaging, insightful, and flawed December 11, 2010
Delusions of Gender focuses in particular on the brain and media coverage, whereas Brainstorm is a synthetic evaluation of the theory that prenatal exposure to hormones has a long lasting impact in organizing the mind. The former is also much more geared towards the general public. Although both focus a great deal on methodology, Brain Storm is actually focused on the question of the etiology of gender differences, whereas the message of Delusions of Gender is focused on flaws in interpretation and use of neuroscience research.
While I admire Fine's questions, I think she makes some researchers and conclusions out to be more unreasonable than they actually are. She points out that researchers often make much of small studies and highlights two claims that originated in studies with a limited number of participants: the idea that males are more lateralized for language than females and that they have larger corpus callosums. Fine contends that when meta-analyses are done, it becomes apparent that this is not the case. It's not that clear cut. Daniel Voyer conducted a meta-analysis and concluded that there are sex differences in lateralization (Voyer, 1996). Similarly, the corpus callosum claims often depend on how the measurement is done. It's important to take into account study quality as well ( Holloway 1998). She downplays the ambiguity on these questions. Also, even Hyde's Gender Similarities Hypothesis documented sex differences in some language-related skills(Hyde, 2005). Girls outperform boys on standardized reading and writing tests (Program for International Literacy 2006, US Department of Education 1997). Moreover, Fine's discussion of the mental rotation and math relationship does not note some compelling findings that might alter a reader's impression.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars An eye-opener
This book was a total eye-opener. Even as someone approaching the work through a feminist lens, I learned so many new things, and was so gratified to see that someone had done the... Read more
Published 1 month ago by Alanna G. Barrett
5.0 out of 5 stars Insightful, intelligent and witty
Delusions of Gender dispels popular myths (and misinformation) about the biological basis of gender roles. Read more
Published 1 month ago by A. Murphy
5.0 out of 5 stars very interesting!
Non-psychologists told me that they found this book to be dry and repetitive, but if you understand the science it's actually very rich and fascinating. Read more
Published 2 months ago by angiecat
1.0 out of 5 stars Just didn't make sense
This book just wreaked with a pungent and putrid political agenda.

Obviously, anyone with their head on right and who has any understanding of biology and evolution can... Read more
Published 2 months ago by Mike De Freitas
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect
Really, there's nothing more you could want from this book. It has an amazing amount of well presented, thoroughly researched information with thought provoking conclusions about... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Yaline Gonzalez
3.0 out of 5 stars Critique
A great text for beginners in gender, sexuality, or women's studies, but not very relevant to those who are advanced in the subject. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Emily McCarthy
5.0 out of 5 stars "Gender difference is caused by gender inequity, not he other way...
Cordelia Fine offers a savvy retort to the pseudoscience and sexism that fuels "Men Are from Mars; Women Are from Venus.
Published 6 months ago by Eric Gage
5.0 out of 5 stars Required reading for our post-modern age.
Firstly, this book is incredibly academic, reading more like a doctoral thesis in psychology than an actual book. If that appeals to you, awesome. Read more
Published 8 months ago by Amanda DuPriest
5.0 out of 5 stars Should be TEN stars
I love this book. It is intellectually stimulating and cuts through a ton of the gender-based silliness in books like "Mars and Venus. Read more
Published 9 months ago by JOHN SOMMERS-FLANAGAN
1.0 out of 5 stars Horrid Book
Save yourself the trouble. Do not buy this book and do not read it. Your brain cells will thank you.
Published 9 months ago by M. SMith
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