Beyond Neurosexism: Is It Possible to Defend the Female Brain?

  • Bluhm R
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Over the past few years, the popular science book market has been flooded with books that purport to explain the characteristics of women and of men (as well as the way that these characteristics influence their relationships) in terms of differences in the female and male brains. This genre of pop neuroscience draws on a large body of research that looks for sex differences in neuroanatomy, endocrinology, and physiology and attempts to link these differences to psychological and behav-ioral differences. Cordelia Fine describes this genre as 'neurosexism'; I propose in this chapter to look more closely at whether and how such sexism occurs. I will argue that what is marketed as self-help ultimately reinforces current, gendered, social practices by reinforcing the stere-otypical traits associated with women and with men. Feminists have had good reason to be wary of the sex difference research upon which these popular books are based. A number of feminist scientists and science studies scholars have criticized the motivations, methods, and conclusions of this research, as well as the biological determinism that often underlies it. Historically, research on biological sex differences has been taken to identify 'natural' and, some conclude, immutable differences between women and men, and these differences have been used to argue for the corresponding naturalness of traditional gender roles. Yet in contemporary society, we recognize that traditional gender roles are far from immutable, which would seem to suggest that the biological determinism and gender essentialism promoted by such sex difference research has been successfully refuted. A closer look at the pop neuroscience described above reveals that these ideas are alive and well, though the political message drawn from 'natural' sex differences has changed-at least on the surface. Although the title of one book R. Bluhm et al. (eds.), Neurofeminism




Bluhm, R. (2012). Beyond Neurosexism: Is It Possible to Defend the Female Brain? In Neurofeminism (pp. 230–245). Palgrave Macmillan UK.

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