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Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference Hardcover – August 30, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews

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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


“Fine turns the popular science book formula on its head. Chapter-by-chapter, she introduces ideas about innate differences between the sexes… and then tartly smacks around studies supposedly supporting them.” (Dan Vergano - USA Today)

“Cordelia Fine’s thorough (and funny!) Delusions of Gender punches a giant hole in the idea that women's brains are somehow ‘hardwired’ for nurturing and domesticity.” (Anna North - Jezebel.com)

“[Fine] effectively blows the lid off of old tropes… Weaving together anecdotes, dense research and quotes from numerous experts, she offers a well-balanced testament to the many ways in which cultural rules inform behaviors often mistaken as organic to our brains, as opposed to learned… [An] informative and often surprising study.” (Kirkus Reviews)

“Starred Review. With a fabulous combination of wit, passion, and scholarship, Fine demolishes many of the common theories offered to explain the construction of gender in contemporary society…. She shows that the fact that we spend our lives in environments that promote gender differentiation makes those differences nothing more than self-fulfilling prophecies. This marvelous and important book will change the way readers view the gendered world.” (Publishers Weekly)

Delusions of Gender takes on that tricky question, Why exactly are men from Mars and women from Venus?, and eviscerates both the neuroscientists who claim to have found the answers and the popularizers who take their findings and run with them… [Fine] is an acerbic critic, mincing no words when it comes to those she disagrees with. But her sharp tongue is tempered with humor and linguistic playfulness… [R]ead this book and see how complex and fascinating the whole issue is.” (Katherine Bouton - The New York Times)

“In Delusions of Gender Cordelia Fine does a magnificent job debunking the so-called science, and especially the brain science, of gender. If you thought there were some inescapable facts about women’s minds―some hard wiring that explains poor science and maths performance, or the ability to remember to buy the milk and arrange the holidays―you can put these on the rubbish heap. Instead, Fine shows that there are almost no areas of performance that are not touched by cultural stereotypes. This scholarly book will make you itch to press the delete button on so much nonsense, while being pure fun to read.” (Uta Frith FBA, FMedSci, FRS; Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London)

“Cordelia Fine has a first-rate intellect and writing talent to burn. In her new book, Delusions of Gender, she takes aim at the idea that male brains and female brains are ‘wired differently,’ leading men and women to act in a manner consistent with decades-old gender stereotypes. Armed with penetrating insights, a rapier wit, and a slew of carefully researched facts, Fine lowers her visor, lifts her lance, and attacks this idea full-force. Whether her adversaries can rally their forces and mount a successful counter-attack remains to be seen. What’s certain at this point, however, is that in Delusions of Gender Cordelia Fine has struck a terrific first blow against what she calls ‘neurosexism.’” (William Ickes, author of Everyday Mind Reading: Understanding What Other People Think and Feel)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 338 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; 1 edition (August 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393068382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393068382
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #803,180 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Hardcover
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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Format: Hardcover
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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