Delusions of Gender Summary

Cordelia Fine

Delusions of Gender

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Delusions of Gender Summary

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Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences (2005), also known as Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference, a work of feminist nonfiction by Cordelia Fine, debunks the idea that men and women have different brains. Nominated for numerous awards, it went on to become a bestseller. Fine, a research associate at the Center for Agency, Values, and Ethics at Macquarie University, Australia, is responsible for the term “neurosexism.” She won the Edinburgh Medal in April 2018 for her professional achievements.

Fine sets out the ways in which we can challenge our own preconceived ideas of gender. By the end of the book, she hopes we understand that there are no mind-based essential differences between the sexes. It should be noted that Fine confines her research to males and females assigned these genders at birth, and as such, there is no direct conversation about transgenderism or other genders.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1, “Half-Changed World, Half-Changed Minds,” looks at how we use science to justify sexism. Part 2, “Neurosexism,” directly challenges studies supporting sex differences. In Part 3, “Recycling Gender,” Fine argues that children grow up in gendered societies; there is currently no such thing as gender-neutral parenting.

By looking at gender from three scientific angles, Fine argues that there are no fundamental differences in how male and females think. The male and female brains are not “wired” differently—at least not in the ways our society says. We will never eliminate neurosexism, or sexism, if we continue to believe in fundamental differences between male and female minds.

In Part 1, Fine says if we’re taught to believe we’re a man or woman, then that’s what we believe we are. When society says that women can’t drive as well as men, or that women are more emotional, we believe these claims. Because of these beliefs, we take on these traits—women believe they aren’t as technically-minded as men, for example, and so they don’t expect to perform well on these tasks.

Fine argues that eliminating gender differences is as simple as changing the way we think. If women believe they are equal to men and just as capable of the same tasks, then they will perform better. Similarly, if men accept that they are equal to women, they will take on more stereotypically feminine attributes, and we will all be far more alike. Suggesting that men or women are any less capable at something purely because of their gender is derogatory; we will never eliminate sexism this way.

In Part 2, Fine discusses a wide range of scientific studies that are based on preconceived ideas and cultural assumptions. She argues that simply manipulating the dynamics changes how women and men perceive their gender-assigned abilities. For example, if we tell women that they can expect to perform well on spatial awareness tests, then they are more likely to perform well. If we tell them that men perform better, then women don’t try as hard, because they expect a disappointing score.

Fine’s point is that existing gender studies are always biased. The studies are never gender-neutral. Fine explains that, since men and women have the same neurological wiring, any scientist who continues to argue differently is sexist and perpetuating a dangerous ideology. Critics of her argument say that, while changing the social variables or the environment will always change the outcome of a test, it isn’t clear that social variables are themselves responsible for anything.

Fine takes the firm view that biology plays no role in differences between the sexes in terms of their minds and brains. Many contemporary scientists disagree with this, but she focuses mainly on studies supporting her own views. Critics have called upon Fine to release a further book in answer to their questions, particularly concerning other genders and transgenderism.

In the third and final part of Delusions of Gender, Fine turns to our society, and how culture makes it impossible to raise children gender-neutrally. It isn’t biology, but social ideas, that influence how our children grow up. For example, although autism typically affects more boys than girls, society is always to blame, not biology. Since left-handedness typically affects fewer girls than boys, this is also because of social environments.

Many critics, again, take issue with Fine’s arguments, because there is compelling evidence available to suggest that biology plays at least a small part in our development. Fine considers some of this evidence, pointing to flaws in their methods or conclusions. For example, she criticizes a study involving newborn babies, because there were signs of a baby’s gender around the room—including congratulations cards. She calls for fresh experiments in controlled environments; many scientists agree that this is necessary.

While many contemporary scientists believe both biology and social environments affect gender and thought processes, Fine takes a very clear view that it is on us to eliminate sexist ideas. If sexist or neurosexist ideas continue—if women continue to perform less well on spatial awareness tests than men—then this our fault as a society.