Delusions of Gender
|Delusions of Gender:
How Our Minds,
Society, and Neurosexism
|Subject||Sex and intelligence|
|Published||2010 (W. W. Norton & Company)|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover and Paperback)|
Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference is a 2010 book by Cordelia Fine, written to debunk the idea that men and women are hardwired with different interests. The author criticizes claimed evidence of the existence of innate biological differences between men and women's minds, as being faulty and exaggerated, and argues that cultural and societal beliefs contribute to commonly perceived sex differences.
In the first part of the book, "'Half Changed World', Half Changed Minds", Fine argues that social and environmental factors strongly influence the mind, making many conclusions about innate gender differences dubious. She also discusses the history and impact of gender stereotypes and the ways that science has been used to justify sexism.
In the second part of the book, "Neurosexism," Fine criticizes the current available arguments and studies supporting sex differences in the mind, focusing on methodological errors and logical gaps. For an example, she explains weaknesses in the work done by a student of Simon Baron-Cohen that has been widely cited (by the Gurian Institute, by Leonard Sax, by Peter Lawrence, and by Baron-Cohen himself): one and a half day-old babies were tested for preference in sequence rather than being given a choice; were tested in different viewing positions, some horizontal on their backs and some held in a parent's lap, which could affect their perception; and the sex of the subject was known to the tester at the time of the test.
In the third part of the book, "Recycling Gender," she argues that the use of faulty science to justify gender stereotypes can negatively impact future generations.
In the UK, the book received positive reviews in Nature, The Independent, The Times Literary Supplement, New Scientist, Metro and The Belfast Telegraph. The Guardian and London Evening Standard each chose it as a Book of the Year. It was Book of the Week in Times Higher Education.
Delusions of Gender received positive reviews in the United States in Science, The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, Newsweek, Jezebel and Kirkus Reviews. Publisher's Weekly chose it for a starred review and as a Pick of the Week.
More positive reviews came from Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, The Globe and Mail, Socialist Worker, Out in Perth, The Fat Quarter, Erotic Review, The F Word, Counterfire, Neuroskeptic (at Discover magazine). Ms. magazine and Elle singled the book out for their readers.
- 2013 Warwick Prize for Writing, shortlist
Baron-Cohen reviewed the book in The Psychologist. In it, he responded to Fine's criticisms of the studies in which he had been involved and criticized the book as "fusing science with politics," writing, "Her barely veiled agenda, in this long, scholarly book, is to show that any sex difference found in humans can be made to vanish!" Fine responded in a published letter to The Psychologist, stating "The thesis of my book (no veils required) is that while social effects on sex differences are well-established, spurious results, poor methodologies and untested assumptions mean we don’t yet know whether, on average, males and females are born differently predisposed to systemizing versus empathising."
Diane Halpern, whose paper "The Science of Sex Differences in Mathematics and Science" is also criticized by Fine in Delusions of Gender, reported mixed feelings about the book, arguing that it was "strongest in exposing research conclusions that are closer to fiction than science...and weakest in failing to also point out differences that are supported by a body of carefully conducted and well-replicated research."
McCarthy and Ball (2011) reviewed the book in the journal Biology of Sex Differences. They acknowledged that "Prompting laypeople to adopt a more critical view of overly simplistic views of complex data sets is a goal any scientist can support, and for that we applaud (Fine's) efforts." However, their overall review is not positive, and they note that Fine's book presents an oversimplified and seriously distorted characterization of neuroscience as applied to the study of sex differences. They expressed disappointment that Fine's book "...can be vexing in the ways the scientific study of sex differences in brain and behavior is portrayed and (how) the current state-of-the-art is presented."
I would certainly recommend both the books reviewed here to feminists: they are well-informed, well- argued and (for science books, perhaps unusually) well-written interventions in what I would consider (though I hate having to) one of the most important debates in current sexual politics. 
Fine is an academic psychologist who previously authored A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives. She decided to write Delusions of Gender after she discovered that her young son was taught at school that boys were not as good at empathizing as girls. Stunned by this experience, Fine critically scoured the relevant scientific literature. Her analysis of this data should be required reading for every neurobiology student, if not every human being. 
I can't tell you how delightful this book is - the humor, the rigor, the insouciance and the accessibility are all perfect. I am so glad that Cordelia Fine has tackled all the new reports of hard-wired sex differences that continue to come out. It is needed, and it is great for students and others to have something more up to date than my own Myths of Gender. 
Cordelia Fine has a first-rate intellect and writing talent to burn. In her new book, Delusions of Gender, she takes aim at the idea that male brains and female brains are 'wired differently,' leading men and women to act in a manner consistent with decades-old gender stereotypes. Armed with penetrating insights, a rapier wit, and a slew of carefully researched facts, Fine lowers her visor, lifts her lance, and attacks this idea full-force. Whether her adversaries can rally their forces and mount a successful counter-attack remains to be seen. What's certain at this point, however, is that in Delusions of Gender Cordelia Fine has struck a terrific first blow against what she calls 'neurosexism. 
Dr Gabrielle Ivinson, Cardiff University:
Fine has written a powerful, clear and scholarly rebuke of the growing genre of ‘popular’ pseudoscientific accounts of sex difference. This is where the book’s strength lies. Her scathing and very well informed attack is conducted with wit and humour making what ought to be a heavy read into a veritable page-turner.
- Fine, Cordelia (2010). Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference. W. W. Norton. pp. 112–115. ISBN 978-0-393-34024-2.
- "Delusions of Gender". Cordelia Fine. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- Winterson, Jeanette (November 26, 2010). "Books of the year". The Guardian (Guardian News and Media). Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- Urwin, Rosamund (November 25, 2010). "The books we loved in 2010". London Evening Standard (Evening Standard). Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- Rose, Hilary (September 30, 2010). "Book of the Week: Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences". THE: Times Higher Education (TSL Education). Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- Bouton, Elizabeth (August 23, 2010). "Peeling Away Theories on Gender and the Brain". The New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
- Herbert, Wray (September 12, 2010). "'Delusions of Gender' argues that faulty science is furthering sexism". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
- Vergano, Dan (August 8, 2010). "Neuroscience or 'Neurosexism'? Book claims brain scans sell sexes short". USA Today (Gannett). Retrieved August 23, 2013.
- Bennett, Jessica (September 1, 2010). "'Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference'". Newsweek (Newsweek/Daily Beast). Retrieved August 23, 2013.
- North, Anna (September 1, 2010). "5 Myths About The Female Brain". Jezebel.com (Gawker Media). Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- "Book Review: Delusions of Gender". Kirkus Reviews (Nielsen Business Media). June 15, 2010. Retrieved August 24, 2013.
- The Psychologist, November 2010
- McCarthy, M. M., & Ball, G. F. (2011). Tempests and tales: challenges to the study of sex differences in the brain. Biology of Sex Differences, 2(4), 1-5.