Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender explains, in straightforward and humorous terms (it’s very readable for someone with no background in psychology or neurology whatsoever), how pretty much all differences we see between men and women’s behaviour are a result of society and conditioning: nurture, rather than nature; and if differences in our brains do really exist, then we’ll never in our lifetimes know for certain, because brains are really really complicated. Really! It doesn’t really touch on trans or non-binary issues, however she doesn’t pretend they don’t exist either. I hope she’s saving it for another book, because I know I’d read it.
Professor Fine reaches into studies of gender differences, and pulls them apart in a fashion that I found wonderfully therapeutic; a voice of sense and science letting me know that, frankly, I am not broken. As a woman who’s not very touchy-feely, and is very (Maybe obsessively and maybe autistically) interested in making structures and setting things in order, I’ve been aware since I started primary school that I wasn’t really conforming (interestingly, I was unaware – and happier – before this, which after quizzing my parents, I put down to gender-neutral parenting). I was a ‘tomboy’, and upon finding out I was supposed to grow out of it, I was not impressed. Now as an adult… I mean, I’m wearing a skirt right now, and my hair is mostly past my ears, but you probably wouldn’t describe me as femme.
The saga of the Pink Toothbrush
When we were still using plastic toothbrushes, my partner and I would buy them in a packet of three or more, because they’re better value for money. We didn’t care which colour of toothbrush we had, but it’s handy to have a different colours so they don’t get mixed up. We grabbed the next one out of the packet when we needed one, and all was well…
Until he picked a pink one. (It was possibly the last in the packet.)
Every time I went to brush with my green – or was it blue? toothbrush, I didn’t pick up mine – my hand went straight for the pink one. I hardly even like pink! And I really, truly don’t care what colour my damn toothbrush is! Twenty-odd years of being told that I’m a girl therefore I should get the pink one, had me reaching for the wrong toothbrush twice a day like clockwork.
Why not try this at home? you needn’t use toothbrushes. Get a pink thing and a not pink thing that are the same, that you use regularly, that it makes no difference which you’re using – maybe they’re mugs that are the same brand and shape. Decide that the not-pink (or try pink if you were raised as male) is the one you’re going to use, claim it as your own. Than go grab one of the two mugs (or whatever you’re using) the next day. Which one did you pick? Have you managed to throw off the pink-washing? If you have, please do let me know, I’d like to learn how.
Did you know? There’s an amount of effort women put into acting like women that actually distracts us from what we’re doing. If you’re thinking about being female while doing a task, if you’re even just aware of it, you’ll preform it less well, because there’s part of you that’s wondering what everyone else is thinking, whether you’re getting it right, if you’re responding in the right, empathetic and caring way.
Of course, I’m looking for confirmation in reading Fine’s book, looking for something that makes me feel good and proves me right.
In there, you’ll see a good few mentions of Simon Baron-Cohen, who you might have heard of in the news, in one of many features on how his studies [appear to] prove our gendered brains make us different. You’ll see Cordelia dismantle his methods forensically, essentially showing that all the subjects, however young, had already been primed in how to act based on their sex, making many of the studies he’s worked on pretty redundant.
Read the book. It’s great.
You can read a patronising review from Baron-Cohen here.
You can read an article by Fine on why we need Feminism in science here. (it’s free to read if you make an account)
And do check out Professor Fine’s website here: http://www.cordelia-fine.com/.
See my full list of Read More titles with Alchemy Film & Arts here.