Everyone’s talking about the #GoogleMemo, but unfortunately it raises a number of difficult questions that require focused study. In this post, we are going to give you a detailed guide to all of the research that speaks against the idea of biological sex differences in men and women. That is a common, sexist, and ultimately false ideological notion that we need to get rid of through rigorous learning and education. Below is our Syllabus on Sex and Gender Differences to Disprove Sexist Science
First on our list is the book called Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine. This is a major catalog of sexist myths, which Cordelia fine disposes of with ease. Fine sets out to disapprove the widespread belief that men and women are biologically hardwired with different interests, so this is one of the key books that needs to be on any syllabus about sex and gender differences. She engages thoroughly with the scientific literature, not rejecting the biological sex differences out of hand but rather showing how the assumptions are questionable and the scientific testing is fragile. Interestingly, Fine does not venture a strong statement on the possibility that men and women have different interests due to biology, but she focuses on all of the myriad ways in which cultural and social beliefs exaggerate and amplify sex differences. In the first part, she outlines in detail all the ways in which, overt time, gender stereotypes have been reified as reality. She also makes a good point, which is crucial, that science is always been used to justify sexism. This is filled with information that disproves sexist science. So what are the problems with the current research that supposedly shows biological differences in the psychology of men and women? One problem that Fine points out is that the studies often have small samples, which lead to untrustworthy conclusions. These weak and under-supported inferences then get played up in the media far beyond what is warranted by the data. Her main strategy for disproving sexist science is therefore to highlight its overwhelming shortcomings, perhaps more so than any other book on our syllabus on sex and gender differences.
“The tape measures and weighing scales of the Victorian brain scientists have been supplanted by powerful neuroimaging technologies, but there is still a lesson to be learned from historical examples such as these. State-of-the-art brain scanners offer us unprecedented information about the structure and working of the brain. But don’t forget that, once, wrapping a tape measure around the head was considered modern and sophisticated, and it’s important not to fall into the same old traps. As we’ll see in later chapters, although certain popular commentators make it seem effortlessly easy, the sheer complexity of the brain makes interpreting and understanding the meaning of any sex differences we find in the brain a very difficult task. But the first, and perhaps surprising, issue in sex differences research is that of knowing which differences are real and which, like the intially promising cephalic index, are flukes or spurious.” ― Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference
Another crucial book that disproves biological sex differences in the brain is Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. In this book, the author Rebecca Jordan–Young destroys the previous research which purports to show that men and women are born with different brains. In particular, of all the authors on our syllabus on sex and gender differences, this author most ferociously zeroes in on “human brain organization theory,” which suggests that men and women have brains that are differently organized because of evolutionary factors.
“Scientists can test only what they do not take for granted. That can make studying familiar phenomena particularly challenging…This may be especially true of masculinity, femininity and sexuality, because certain ideas abut gender and sexuality are so broadly shared in our culture”
― Rebecca M. Jordan-Young, Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences
Jordan-Young argues that the idea of hormonal sex differentiation in the brain is based on a big mass of unreliable pieces of weak evidence, nothing that should be treated as so solid to warrant macro social conclusions such as the ones that are drawn in media. Jordan–Young’s book is therefore a very important contributor to anti-sexist science, and required reading on any syllabus for social justice activists concerned with patriarchal scientism and disproving biological sex differences.
Next, a real oldie but goodie is Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Routledge Classics) (Volume 36) by Judith Butler. Butler is an absolute legend, you have to love her. This book has been super influential in feminism, women’s studies, queer theory, and intersectional theory and activism more generally. Categories such as woman and man cannot be pinned down because of the way that other cross-cutting factors such as race, sexual orientation, and economic factors make the experience of those categories different for all people. No syllabus on sex and gender differences would be complete without our friend Judy.
Butler proves that the distinction between sex and gender does not hold. A sexed body cannot signal itself as different sexually without cultural gender categories, and the idea that sex comes before cultural factors (which are believed to be only overlaid on top of sex), is disproven in this book. Gender is performance, there’s no solid universal gender basis beneath these always creative performances. There is no concrete sexed body without constructed human categories to interpret it. Therefore what appears to be biological sex differences only comes to our consciousness to a sexist filter. Anyone seeking to study a well rounded syllabus on sex and gender differences will want to study this insight in particular, if they have any chance of disproving sexist science.
“If the immutable character of sex is contested, perhaps this construct called ‘sex’ is as culturally constructed as gender; indeed, perhaps it was always already gender, with the consequence that the distinction between sex and gender turns out to be no distinction at all.”
Another bit of essential reading is The Social Construction of Gender (Gender & Society Reader). This book, edited by Judith Lorber and Susan A. Farrell illustrates how essentialist gender concepts have been disproven through a great deal of research on social constructivism. This is a very convenient handbook of different individual research pieces demonstrating the explanatory utility of the social constructivist approach. This book is a compendium of articles mostly published in the Journal “gender in society”. This should be required reading of any serious student trying to understand the complex reality of the differences between men and women. The overall application of this book is that the causal effect of culture, and how we socially construct each other, is a woefully underestimated explanatory factor in observed differences between men and women, which are incorrectly claimed by scientists to represent biological differences.
Finally, and perhaps the most scientifically advanced and difficult book in our syllabus on sex and gender differences, is the 2003 book by Mary West–Eberhardt, called Developmental Plasticity and Evolution. She argues that environmental plasticity can affect the formation of alternative phenotypes. Using a variety of examples from the animal kingdom, this highly challenging tome shows compelling examples of how changes in the environment can induce changes in phenotype, thereby demonstrating that environmental and cultural factors can play a leading role in genetic evolution.
Phenotypic plasticity enables organisms to develop functional phenotypes despite variation and environmental change via phenotypic accommodation—adaptive mutual adjustment among variable parts during development without genetic change.
This book won a 2003 award for outstanding professional, reference scholarly work, pretty extraordinary contribution made to understanding evolution. Before this book, evolutionary developmentalists would typically look at developmental biology with only a vague understanding of evolution related to morphology and phylogeny, but here she looks at developmental issues as a specialist in evolutionary biology. Coming in at more than 600 pages, when you conquer this book and genuinely understand the interactions between environmental-evolutionary biology, you will really come to see how the notion of innate biologically determined differences between men and women is untenable. This now completes our syllabus on sex and gender differences.