Young children work hard to figure out the codes for "boy or girl" — the first category they are subjected to in our society. Among our wonderful genetic gifts is the ability to change our environment so that our genetic inheritance can be expressed in unprecedented ways. Drawing on more sound but less high-profile research, Fine argues that most gender differences arise within social, cultural and personal environments that influence what hormones we produce and how our genes work. Perhaps Fine is too intent on referencing every argument to move beyond the data, but it is regrettable that she does not go further.
The human brain, female and male, has a remarkable plasticity. Yes, even the incontrovertibly genetic trait of having male or female genitals is environment-dependent: Most studies about people's ways of thinking and behaving find no differences between men and women, but these fail to spark the interest of publishers and languish in the file drawer. Share via Email "Do men and women have similar abilities, desires and needs? Everyone works together to re-inforce social and cultural environments that soft-wire the circuits of the brain as male or female, so that we have no idea what men and women might become if we were truly free from bias. The male brain is predominantly hard-wired for understanding and building systems," writes Professor Simon Baron-Cohen , while the neuroscientist Louann Brizendine describes a "female brain" and a "male brain" forever divided by their genetic destinies. Later in childhood, however, any spotlight on gender is more likely to put a freeze on girls' abilities. In very early childhood boys are at greater risk of jeer pressure if they stray across gender lines; it takes far more courage for a boy to be a "sissy" than it takes for a girl to become an adventurer or even a bully. These men and women, as parents, may perpetuate the myth that her hormones make her the better carer, but research shows that his hormones are equally affected when he holds the baby. In Delusions of Gender the psychologist Cordelia Fine exposes the bad science, the ridiculous arguments and the persistent biases that blind us to the ways we ourselves enforce the gender stereotypes we think we are trying to overcome. Fine draws together research that shows people who pride themselves on their lack of bias persist in making stereotypical associations just below the threshold of consciousness. Perhaps Fine is too intent on referencing every argument to move beyond the data, but it is regrettable that she does not go further. Fine has shown how we distort and impoverish the world we are trying to understand, but not how to use our intelligence to produce new environments, with better outcomes. Gender, however, is in the mind, fixed in place by the way we store information. Outside the womb, social environments continue to shape our brains. Mental schema organise complex experiences into types of things so that we can process data efficiently, allowing us, for example, to recognise something as a chair without having to notice every detail. The oversimplified models of gender and genes that then prevail allow gender culture to be passed down from generation to generation, as though it were all in the genes. Young children work hard to figure out the codes for "boy or girl" — the first category they are subjected to in our society. When school-age children are told that they are being given a test to see how good they would be at mechanics, the girls do less well on the same test than they do if they are told they are being given a test to see how good they would be at sewing. They quickly graduate from being gender detectives to gender enforcement agents. Among our wonderful genetic gifts is the ability to change our environment so that our genetic inheritance can be expressed in unprecedented ways. The eagerness and recklessness with which we devour theories about gender suggest a hungry imagination, waiting to feed on ideas of real substance. Drawing on more sound but less high-profile research, Fine argues that most gender differences arise within social, cultural and personal environments that influence what hormones we produce and how our genes work. Newer, shinier versions take hold every year: The cultural emphasis on female physique undermines the ability to concentrate on other things: This efficiency comes at a cost, because when we automatically categorise experience we fail to question our assumptions. To assume that many complex adult traits are determined at birth is "so last century".
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