Saturday, May 7, 2011
Book Review: Delusions of Gender by Cordelia Fine
My skepticism is largely due to my own life experiences of, for lack of a batter term, being a blue girl in a pink world. Despite my mother's best efforts to mold me in her own image (stereotypically feminine extrovert), I am resolutely just like my father (brainy and introverted, with a dash of a number of friends insisting over the years that I'm a dude trapped in a girl's body)-- despite my own failed efforts to conform to the expectations of my mother and those around me. As a child, I hated tea parties and playing dress-up, preferring to read books , and as an adult, it takes serious bribery and/or threats to induce me to wear a dress and heels, and I practically never wear makeup. Obviously, I still spend much of my free time reading.
People like me, who don't readily conform to gender norms for whatever reason, encounter a lot of judgment and friction in their lives. It's caused me a lot of stress and anxiety; at the end of the day, nobody likes being treated like a weirdo because of their honest personal preferences. My mother's continual exhortations to be more like my sister (remember how I've said we're polar opposites?) really did a number on me, too. It took me a long time to accept who I was and stop trying (and failing!) to adhere to societal standards of What Women Are Like and just be myself. That journey has taken me a lot of places, and I've read a number of books on the subject over the years to try to make sense of my life and experiences. My women's and gender studies minor was an invaluable part of the process, as it taught me to think critically about the whys of social expectations and the ways in which they feed into entrenched societal paradigms.
Delusions of Gender provides an excellent debunking of both the bad science that leads to the publishing of Mars/Venus-type books that is easy for laypeople to understand. Though I have a decent background in the social sciences, I nevertheless found Fine's explanations of the way that studies ought to be conducted (versus the way that they actually are) very illuminating and learned quite a bit. Beyond explaining the studies, Fine delves into the meat of the science behind them, making a compelling argument that we simply know too little about how the brain works to be making grand, sweeping statements about intrinsic characteristics of men and women, especially considering what the stakes are. Fine provides a great deal of evidence that much human potential is being lost to these antiquated notions, and that ideas of what men and women (and boys and girls!) are capable has more to do with culture than biology. Her often humorous takedowns of pop-science writers and journalists (along with shoddy researchers themselves) who propagate bad and misleading science are quite enjoyable in addition to being very informative.
Everyone should read this. 5 out of 5 stars.