Selling the ‘battle of the sexes’

Slate has just finished an excellent five-part series on two recent books which have attempted to paint men and women as vastly different in mind, brain and behaviour by exaggerating the science of sex difference.

The books in question are Louann Brizendine’s The Female Brain and Susan Pinker’s The Sexual Paradox.

Both have been influential because the authors write from an explicitly feminist angle, and both claim to be drawing on the latest neuroscience, suggesting that they’re overthrowing the mushy political correctness of “everyone is the same”.

The Slate series pulls no punches though, saying “Ultimately, the evangelists aren’t really daring to be politically incorrect. They’re peddling one-sidedness, sprinkled with scientific hyperbole.”

Of course, there are cognitive differences between men and women, but the punchline of almost all sex difference research is that the extent of the difference between any two individuals, be they male or female, tends to vastly outweigh the average difference between the sexes.

Furthermore, while some of these books suggest the differences are innate many studies have found the differences change markedly over time and are influenced by cultural or social factors.

The series is well-researched, easy to digest and looks at the areas of communication, empathy, maths ability and development during childhood. It’s also accompanied by a three-part video discussion, which tackles similar issues.

Slate have been doing a great job of getting some accessible, level-headed neuroscience out there recently, and this is another great example. Good work science writer Amanda Schaffer.

Link to Slate series on ‘The Sex Difference Evangelists’.

2 thoughts on “Selling the ‘battle of the sexes’”

  1. I disagreed with the first sentence of that the Slate article: “If there’s one question we never tire of, it’s whether men and women speak or feel or think in fundamentally different ways” – so didn’t read on.

  2. Speaking from a psychological perspective, I don’t think there’s any question that men and women are exposed to different social environments. Just stop and observe any typical social situation.
    There are different roles for the sexes in North American culture, and if you have any confidence at all in the fact that culture and environment impact the mind then you won’t have any trouble accepting the fact that a male brain is trained differently than a female brain.
    The question of whether they are “vastly” different, or whether they differ in “intelligence” or aptitudes are another matter entirely.

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