Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine, W. W. Norton Norton, NY, 2010; 338 pages, ISBN 978-0393340242, paperback $16.95.

How many hardwired differences are there between male and female brains, and what does the totality of scientific research in this field reveal?  These are important questions since books and studies claiming that traditional gender roles and norms are the result of inborn differences in the male and female brain are influencing educational, social and political policy without much examination – largely because they confirm what many people wish to believe. Findings that support gender differences often appear in the media, while studies that show no gender difference generally are not publicized. By carefully examining the scientific literature in neuroscience and psychology, the author debunks almost all the claims of popular science that hardwired differences between the sexes are significant and that stereotyped gender relations are the natural instinctive response to such inborn differences.  She argues and provides evidence that almost all gender differences in abilities and relationships are created and maintained by culture realities and attitudes.  Data from many studies demonstrate how very pervasive and influential society and cultural expectations are on the attitudes and actions of both children and adults, most powerfully on an unconscious level.  She shows convincingly that cultural messages are so pervasive and strong that it is little wonder that parents who try in a casual way to raise children outside these norms often fail to do so, and then feel this failure justifies gender stereotypes as innate (I know that's how I reacted to my son's behavior as a young child, before reading this book).

One chapter of particular interest, "Brain Scams," goes over the evidence given in several popular books (John Gray's Why Mars and Venus Collide, Michael Gurian and Barbara Annis' Leadership and the Sexes, and Louannn Brizendine's The Female Brain) as well as the work of some proponents of different education schemes for each sex based on brain differences. With the books, she looked up every citation to examine the scientific studies on which the books' theses were based and found that very often the study did not back the finding it was supposed to support, and she sometimes found that the research citation had been made up altogether. Another interesting feature is her inclusion of scientific "findings" from earlier periods which were used to justify the status quo of gender roles and male superiority, findings which today are obviously completely unscientific and culturally self-serving.

While not a light read, this book is valuable in explaining the scientific research about gendered brain differences.  It shows how little evidence there is for justifying the gender inequalities seen around the world on the grounds of hardwired neurological differences. – Sarah Belle Dougherty

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