Living in such a hyper-gendered society, it can be hard to believe that gender differences are purely societal. Surely there is a reason girls favour pink and boys blue? Surely men’s brains are just better suited to spatial reasoning and mathematics? There must be a reason for the world to be as polarised and gender biased as it is, mustn’t there?
In her new book, The Gendered Brain, Gina Rippon, an internationally renowned Clinical Neuroscientist and Professor of Cognitive Neuroimaging at the Aston Brain Centre at Aston University, says it may not be that simple. Starting at the beginning, Rippon takes us through the history of humanity’s investigation into gender differences in the brain. From Charles Darwin’s (yes, that Charles Darwin) opinion that women are less evolved and therefore intellectually inferior, and the chilling assertions of Gustav Le Bon that women are “the most inferior forms of human evolution” and “closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man” in the 19th century, we are taken through the dawn of neuroimaging and the “neurotrash” that followed, right up to present day research into whether or not any innate gendered brain differences exist at all.
Rippon works systematically to explain the errors behind many gendered brain myths, and elucidates why they can be so pervasive. By describing faults in experimental methods and the ways in which data has been misinterpreted and statistics mishandled, she makes it abundantly clear which gendered brain arguments don’t stand up to scrutiny, balancing this by pointing out the gender difference findings that may have some merit. She illuminates the pressures researchers face to produce definitive proof of differences where it may not be that straightforward, and the general propensity for mainstream media to grasp onto the most insignificant of findings and present them as the latest scientific breakthrough (for examples of this see the Twitter account @justsaysinmice). Most importantly, this book is written in the clear and easy to understand way of someone who knows exactly what she is talking about, making the somewhat daunting subject of neuroscience accessible no matter the previous knowledge (or lack thereof) of the reader.
This book is a must read for anyone left confused/annoyed by the inconsistent messages we receive about the gendered brain debate, or indeed any brain owner hoping make a bit more sense of the gendered world we are living in.