My friend Emma Bull recommended this book to me. I love it. There is nothing quite as affirming as finding a scientist who does careful research that supports your prejudices.
We’ve all seen (and maybe even read) the popular books that explain how men and women are “fundamentally” different; have different brains; we’ve come across–or seen reference to–neurological proof of this. Fine looks at this “proof” in detail, carefully; she analyzes the data, she looks at the testing methods, she studies the conclusions–and she destroys the whole myth. Beautifully. Entertainingly.
It must be said that the idea of (for lack of a better term) “white male privilege” is also shown to be real, with hard evidence as well as theoretical backing. I can, to be very brief, state that, to me, such arguments as John Scalzi’s recent one get support (much of what she demonstrates clearly applies to non-white, non-hetrosexual men as well as to all women); but, to me, so do my objections to it (to put it another way: this reaffirmed my conviction that prejudice exists and is a major factor in our lives; it did nothing to make me question my hatred of identity politics).
None of which is the beauty of the book.
I have long believed that certain classes of scientists (evolutionary psychologists being the most recent) either understate or overlook entirely that man is above all a social animal; we adapt, we work, we compete, we cooperate as societies, and the social forms we’ve developed for doing so determine, more than anything else, who we are. It is a joy to see this view supported.
She is strongest when she is looking at the methodology of the tests that found men and women have different brains. One of my favorite moments is on page 122. There was a study to determine how much girls chose girlish toys, and boys chose boyish toys. “Interestingly, one of the staples of the boyish toys, the Lincoln Logs construction set, recently had to be replaced because girls liked it so much.” I don’t know what you’d call that, but “science”certainly isn’t the right word.
She goes into brain tests such as PET and fMRI, and discusses what we can and cannot learn from them; and it’s scary how many of the popularizers of “hardwired brain differences” are drawing conclusions from either insufficient data, or data that directly contradict their conclusions. She goes into detail, she makes it clear, and she makes it fun. And there plenty of references for those who want to check her work.
Page 177: “Genes don’t determine our brains (or our bodies), but they do constrain them.” Clear, elegant, and dead on. And then a page later, “As cognitive neuroscientist Giordana Grossi points out, terms like hardwired–on loan from computer science where it refers to fixedness–translate poorly to the domain of neural circuits that change and learn throughout life, indeed, in response to life.”
No, it isn’t “hardwired.” No, it isn’t “innate.” Which means we can change it.