Male and Female Brains

A month-old NYTimes books review talked about a book with the impressive title „Delusions of Gender“ by Cordelia Fine, and tries to make the point that the differences in male and female brain structure and functioning are by no means enough to account for the differences we believe in in everyday life. Which would imply they are culturally shaped, and potentially changeable.

I can’t tell from the review if the book is an addition to the scientific debate — but the debate is much broader than science anyway, with books recurring to biological differences frequent bestsellers in the last years. So a little bit of polemic from the other side won’t hurt, and this polemic is pretty good.

The criticism about the leap of faith from atomic (and in itself disputable) scientific evidence on neurological differences between sexes to different behavior and abilities makes sense:

There are two problems here, Dr. Fine says. First is that several studies have found no difference in hemispheric size in neonates. The supposedly larger female corpus callosum is also in dispute. But even if size difference does exist (as it does in rats), she says, “getting from brain to behavior has proved a challenge.” Given that there may be sex differences in the brain, “what do they actually mean for differences in the mind?”

The problem is, that kind of criticism (rightfully?) applies to most science I know of — there’s always a gap between many isolated experimental results and a large everyday phenomenon to be explained.

Anyway, without trying to prove anything with it, a small recall of the history of biological sex differences is also very insightful:

Experts used to attribute gender inequality to the “delicacy of the brain fibers” in women ; then to the smaller dimensions of the female brain (the “missing five ounces,” the Victorians called it); then to the ratio of skull length to skull breadth. In 1915 the neurologist Dr. Charles L. Dana wrote in this newspaper that because a woman’s upper spinal cord is smaller than a man’s it affects women’s “efficiency” in the evaluation of “political initiative or of judicial authority in a community’s organization” — and thus compromises their ability to vote.

I don’t want to explicitly summon a constructivist perspective here, but it seems obvious that „pure science“ has to be careful to what kind of agenda it provides arguments…

Datum: Montag, 27. September 2010 1:13
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