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Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men

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By carefully examining the biological, genetic, evolutionary, and psychological evidence, a noted biologist finds a shocking lack of substance behind ideas about biologically based sex differences. Features a new chapter and afterward on recent biological breakthroughs.


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By carefully examining the biological, genetic, evolutionary, and psychological evidence, a noted biologist finds a shocking lack of substance behind ideas about biologically based sex differences. Features a new chapter and afterward on recent biological breakthroughs.

30 review for Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alok Vaid-Menon

    People attempt to legitimize prejudice against trans people using the rhetoric of biology. The argument goes that “biologically” there are indisputably males and females. This is not scientifically accurate; it is far more complex. This is a continuation of a long history of weaponizing the language of science to justify sexism. Scientific language is used as a sheen to make discrimination seem natural. This is not actual science. The reduction of this biological complexity to establish social h People attempt to legitimize prejudice against trans people using the rhetoric of biology. The argument goes that “biologically” there are indisputably males and females. This is not scientifically accurate; it is far more complex. This is a continuation of a long history of weaponizing the language of science to justify sexism. Scientific language is used as a sheen to make discrimination seem natural. This is not actual science. The reduction of this biological complexity to establish social hierarchy is a political process. Empirical science affirms the natural gender and sexual diversity of our species. Dr. Fausto-Sterling, professor of Biology at Brown University, teaches us that cultural myths about men and women circulate as “biological truths” with no substantive, replicable research to back them up. We continue to have faith in these stereotypes with absolute disregard for biological evidence otherwise. She undergoes a comprehensive survey of biological, genetic, evolutionary, and psychological studies to reveal that “there are very few absolute sex differences and that without complete social equality we cannot know for sure what they are” (269). With no real evidence, 19th and 20th century male scientists “made strong statements about the social and political role of women, claiming all the while to speak for the scientific truth” (8). They argued that men were smarter than women, that women were inherently irrational and incapable of being leaders, that women should not go to school because it would compromise their reproductive systems, and that women should remain at home because they were weaker than men. As women scientists gained access to institutions of higher learning, they continued to debunk this “research” as pseudoscience. It is a cultural choice to conflate “biological” with “reproductive.” Humans have many different biological systems and physiological processes. There is more biological variation among women and men than between them. This means there is likely to be as much or more different between two women’s bodies than between a random man’s body and a random woman’s body. Some women are tall, some men are short, some women build muscle easily, some men do not. “No two differently sexed individuals can be assumed to have different heights, shapes or strengths” (218). This is the reality of biology: we are all distinct and unique, like a fingerprint. Or rather, a brain. Broad over-arching categories like sex and race oversimplify biology by diminishing in-group difference and exaggerating out-group difference. Race and sex are not synonymous with genetic identity. Genes do not automatically determine physical expression. Genes have multiple potential expressions and physical characteristics are produced from a complex combination of an individual’s developmental and environmental history. Challenging gender norms isn’t about denying biology, it’s about rejecting biological essentialism. There’s a difference. Biological essentialism is the idea that human nature and behavior is innate, with no consideration of the role of external factors. It is a “false understanding of biology” (8). Biological essentialism isn’t science, it’s a political project that was created to naturalize inequality. Of course biology shapes behavior, but behavior can also alter biology. The physical structure of our brains and bodies are not just impacted by our genes, but our nutrition, physical contact with other humans, and exposure to trauma and other stimuli. “Genes alone do not determine human behavior. They work under the influence of a set of environments” (71). It’s important that when people seek to justify discrimination on the basis of biology, we learn from history and demand replicable and reputable evidence.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Les

    A brilliant demolition of the bad science behind gender-role-affirming memes like "men have better visual-spacial perception than women". While much of the book looks at work from the late 70s and early 80s, some of the ideas are still "common knowledge" today, and the sort of bad science (or at least bad science reporting) that perpetuates those myths is still being done. A brilliant demolition of the bad science behind gender-role-affirming memes like "men have better visual-spacial perception than women". While much of the book looks at work from the late 70s and early 80s, some of the ideas are still "common knowledge" today, and the sort of bad science (or at least bad science reporting) that perpetuates those myths is still being done.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Zach

    Biology is not a one-way determinant but a dynamic component of our existence. A surprisingly funny (in a totally snarky way) attack on both positivist essentialism and the idea that science could exist in a political vacuum.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ronald Lett

    An excellent overview and deconstruction of several often cited studies. Beyond the specific studies cited, it offers great extensive analysis on how the methodology of experiments can be both purposefully and unknowingly biased if they are not carefully designed. Citation of older studies especially is problematic when the language and words used have different intrinsic definitions. Although this book is a little older, and has some outdated ideas in the area of neuroscience (which has recentl An excellent overview and deconstruction of several often cited studies. Beyond the specific studies cited, it offers great extensive analysis on how the methodology of experiments can be both purposefully and unknowingly biased if they are not carefully designed. Citation of older studies especially is problematic when the language and words used have different intrinsic definitions. Although this book is a little older, and has some outdated ideas in the area of neuroscience (which has recently exploded with data and new models), it is still well worth the read. This dialogue continues in Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference and Brainstorm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences, which have more up-to-date, but slightly different, discussions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Belenen

    Written by a medical doctor, Myths of Gender explores studies on 'gender', focusing on the medical aspects. Fausto-Sterling discusses genes, hormones, brain differences, animal behavior, homosexuality, and how science affects society. Succinct, objective, and fascinating. Written by a medical doctor, Myths of Gender explores studies on 'gender', focusing on the medical aspects. Fausto-Sterling discusses genes, hormones, brain differences, animal behavior, homosexuality, and how science affects society. Succinct, objective, and fascinating.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    Fausto-Sterling challenges the assertions of certain brain scientists and geneticists (among others), and offers a history of scientific misconceptions based on biology. Her main argument is that these gender myths are used to defend or protect the status quo.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Tons of evidence, plus some sharp insight into the weakness of many "studies" on gender difference. Fausto-Sterling dissects commonly held beliefs, neatly comparing what's produced as evidence, but also things that "experts" on gender difference spout from their perches in academia and media. The writing is frequently dry and didactic, but readable. Occasionally, however, Fausto-Sterling shifts into a more conversational or even sardonic tone, and that's when the book comes alive. Tons of evidence, plus some sharp insight into the weakness of many "studies" on gender difference. Fausto-Sterling dissects commonly held beliefs, neatly comparing what's produced as evidence, but also things that "experts" on gender difference spout from their perches in academia and media. The writing is frequently dry and didactic, but readable. Occasionally, however, Fausto-Sterling shifts into a more conversational or even sardonic tone, and that's when the book comes alive.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Aubri

    It was an interesting read and the author made many good points about research and methods used to enforce our "age old" myths about gender. My only complaint is the book's age; some of the content is outdated. I'd be very interested to read an updated version with commentary regarding new research. It was an interesting read and the author made many good points about research and methods used to enforce our "age old" myths about gender. My only complaint is the book's age; some of the content is outdated. I'd be very interested to read an updated version with commentary regarding new research.

  9. 4 out of 5

    kylajaclyn

    This book is crushingly hard to get through, but I had to for the sake of my Sociology of Women class. I understand what Fausto-Sterling is trying to do here - proving that the "differences of biology" between men and women are tenuous at best - but this book is so steeped in science and theories and that sort of talk that I often fell asleep. I am more interested in the differences between men and women from a psychological and women's studies point of view. Not that the sociological should be This book is crushingly hard to get through, but I had to for the sake of my Sociology of Women class. I understand what Fausto-Sterling is trying to do here - proving that the "differences of biology" between men and women are tenuous at best - but this book is so steeped in science and theories and that sort of talk that I often fell asleep. I am more interested in the differences between men and women from a psychological and women's studies point of view. Not that the sociological should be ignored, I'm just praying that the rest of the books we have to read are far more interesting than this one. If you are a biology fiend and love dense scientific talk then this book won't be a problem for you. But I like a little entertainment with my education... or at least more philosophical and easier language to swallow. I didn't have any "aha!" moment because this book was just fact after fact. I think Malcolm Gladwell always manages to make science fascinating... but Fausto-Sterling? Not so much with this one.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Miranda Sofe Nelson

    Some good information, a little bit research heavy for my taste (I do better with philosophy than fact, sometimes) but it was well written and persuasive. However, I think the nature vs. nurture debate, in any sense, is an impossible question to properly study. And even if we could find accurate information swaying one way or the other, does answering this question really help us? Part of being human involves the natural desire to fight your nature, to progress and become better. And if you beli Some good information, a little bit research heavy for my taste (I do better with philosophy than fact, sometimes) but it was well written and persuasive. However, I think the nature vs. nurture debate, in any sense, is an impossible question to properly study. And even if we could find accurate information swaying one way or the other, does answering this question really help us? Part of being human involves the natural desire to fight your nature, to progress and become better. And if you believe that, what does it matter if women are biologically handicapped when sexism is a morality issue worth fighting to overcome?

  11. 4 out of 5

    Haris Zofos

    More Fausto-Sterlings in this world, please

  12. 4 out of 5

    Scott

    Fascinating that Fausto-Sterling picks about a hundred different scientific 'female inferiority/male-dominated society' claims and just devastates them, showing their problem-riddled studies with details about their neglect to noticing sociological bias and variables. It was a WEE bit science-y, though. My main issue is that it doesn't come off as a book to sway anyone who would be thinking differently and reads like a biology textbook half the time, with pages of completely unnecessary factual Fascinating that Fausto-Sterling picks about a hundred different scientific 'female inferiority/male-dominated society' claims and just devastates them, showing their problem-riddled studies with details about their neglect to noticing sociological bias and variables. It was a WEE bit science-y, though. My main issue is that it doesn't come off as a book to sway anyone who would be thinking differently and reads like a biology textbook half the time, with pages of completely unnecessary factual explanation every chapter.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Caitlin

    This book is, as they say, an oldie but a goodie - still shockingly relevant. Fausto-Sterling dives into the nitty-gritty of the biology of gender - what it is and what it isn't - which reveals the sociology of science, how science can be biased and flawed. A really good read for anyone wanting a better understanding of gender. This book is, as they say, an oldie but a goodie - still shockingly relevant. Fausto-Sterling dives into the nitty-gritty of the biology of gender - what it is and what it isn't - which reveals the sociology of science, how science can be biased and flawed. A really good read for anyone wanting a better understanding of gender.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Orpheus

    An interesting historical look at gender science. It really provides a window into some of the large questions of the 1980's. It is interesting to see what we have learned since then, and what people have known is wrong for 40 years which is still perpetuated in society. Again if you're looking for recent science, try a more recent book. But for the 1980's this is pretty good. An interesting historical look at gender science. It really provides a window into some of the large questions of the 1980's. It is interesting to see what we have learned since then, and what people have known is wrong for 40 years which is still perpetuated in society. Again if you're looking for recent science, try a more recent book. But for the 1980's this is pretty good.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Jaden

    Very interesting book to read. It seemed very "textbook" at times, but the author does a wonderful job of throwing in snarky comments from time to time and elegantly shooting certain theorie down. This is the kind of book that I would suggest you only read if you have a genuine interest and some background in the topic. Very interesting book to read. It seemed very "textbook" at times, but the author does a wonderful job of throwing in snarky comments from time to time and elegantly shooting certain theorie down. This is the kind of book that I would suggest you only read if you have a genuine interest and some background in the topic.

  16. 5 out of 5

    nicole

    she's fun, funny, and smart. she's fun, funny, and smart.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Jim

    Excellent! Review coming soon...

  18. 5 out of 5

    William

    Utter rubbish...

  19. 4 out of 5

    Amy Greenwell

  20. 4 out of 5

    Melissa Gibson

  21. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Moga

  22. 5 out of 5

    Dayana Acevedo-Rios

  23. 4 out of 5

    Intentionally

  24. 5 out of 5

    Jason

  25. 5 out of 5

    Caitlin

  26. 4 out of 5

    Joan van der Wereld

  27. 5 out of 5

    Pj

  28. 4 out of 5

    Athena

  29. 4 out of 5

    Daisy

  30. 4 out of 5

    Paul

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