We live in a gendered world, where we are ceaselessly bombarded by messages about sex and gender. On a daily basis, we face deeply ingrained beliefs that sex determines our skills and preferences, from toys and colors to career choice and salaries. But what does this constant gendering mean for our thoughts, decisions and behavior? And what does it mean for our brains?
Drawing on her work as a professor of cognitive neuroimaging, Gina Rippon unpacks the stereotypes that surround us from our earliest moments and shows how these messages mold our ideas of ourselved and even shape our brains. By exploring new, cutting-edge neuroscience, Rippon urges us to move beyond a binary view of the brain and to see instead this complex organ as highly individualized, profoundly adaptable and full of unbounded potential.
Rigorous, timely and liberating, Gender and Our Brains has huge implications for women and men, for parents and children, and for how we identify ourselves.
|Publisher:||Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.80(h) x 0.90(d)|
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[from] Chapter 1: Inside Her Pretty Little Head—the Hunt Begins
Women . . . represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and . . . are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. —Gustave Le Bon, 1895
For centuries, women’s brains have been weighed and measured and found wanting. Part of women’s allegedly inferior, deficient or fragile biology, their brains were at the heart of any explanation as to why they were lower down any scale, from the evolutionary to the social and the intellectual. The inferior nature of women’s brains was used as the rationale for frequently proffered advice that the fairer sex should focus on their reproductive gifts and leave education, power, politics, science and any other business of the world to men.
While views about women’s capabilities and their role in society varied somewhat over the centuries, a consistent theme throughout was “essentialism,” the idea that differences between female and male brains were part of their “essence,” and that these brains’ structures and functions were fixed and innate. Gender roles were determined by these essences. It would be going against nature to overturn this natural order of things.
An early version of this story starts, but unfortunately does not end, with a seventeenth-century philosopher, François Poullain de la Barre, bravely questioning the alleged inequality of the sexes. Poullain was determined to have a clear-eyed look at the evidence behind the assertion that women were inferior to men, and was careful not to accept anything as true just because it was how things had always been (or because some appropriate explanation could be found in the Bible).
His two publications, On the Equality of the Two Sexes: A Physical and Moral Discourse in Which Is Seen the Importance of Undoing Prejudice in Oneself (1673) and On the Education of Women, to Guide the Mind in Sciences and Manners (1674), show a startlingly modern approach to issues of differences between the sexes. Poullain even tries to show how women’s skills can be equated with those of men; there’s a charming section in his treatise on sexual equality where he muses that the skills required of embroidery and needlework are as demanding as those required to learn physics.
Based on his studies of findings from the then new science of anatomy, he made a startlingly prescient observation: “Our most accurate anatomical investigations do not uncover any difference between men and women in this part of the body [the head]. The brain of women is exactly like ours.” His close examination of the different skills and dispositions of men and women, boys and girls, drew him to the conclusion that, given the opportunity, women would be just as capable of benefiting from the privileges which were then only offered to men, such as education and training. For Poullain, there was no evidence that women’s inferior position in the world was due to some biological deficit. “L’esprit n’a point de sexe,” he declared: the mind has no sex.
Poullain’s conclusions were strongly against the prevailing ethos; at the time of his writing, the patriarchal system was firmly entrenched. The “separate spheres” ideology, with men fit for public roles and women for private, domestic ones, determined a woman’s inferiority, necessarily subordinate to her father and then to her husband, and physically and mentally weaker than any man.
It was downhill all the way after that. Poullain’s views were largely, to his disappointment, ignored when they were first published (at least in France), and had little impact on the established view that women were essentially inferior to men, and would be unable to benefit from educational or political opportunities (which was, of course, a self-fulfilling prophecy, as they were not, with notable exceptions, given access to education or political opportunities). This remained the prevailing view throughout the eighteenth century, with little attention to it as a matter worthy of debate.
Table of Contents
Introduction: Whac-A-Mole Myths xi
Sex, Gender, Sex/Gender or Gender/Sex:
A Note on Sex and Gender xx
Chapter 1: Inside Her Pretty Little Head— the Hunt Begins 3
Chapter 2: Her Raging Hormones 25
Chapter 3: The Rise of Psychobabble 45
Chapter 4: Brain Myths, Neurotrash and Neurosexism 72
Chapter 5: The Twenty-First-Century Brain 103
Chapter 6: Your Social Brain 120
Chapter 7: Baby Matters— To Begin at the Beginning (Or Even a Bit Before) 145
Chapter 8: Let’s Hear It for the Babies 169
Chapter 9: The Gendered Waters in Which We Swim—The Pink and Blue Tsunami 198
Chapter 10: Sex and Science 235
Chapter 11: Science and the Brain 262
Chapter 12: Good Girls Don’t 282
Chapter 13: Inside Her Pretty Little Head—a Twenty-First-Century Update 309
Chapter 14: Mars, Venus or Earth?—Have We Been Wrong About Sex All Along? 327
Conclusion: Raising Dauntless Daughters (and Sympathetic Sons) 346