Today I Learnt: Male And Female Brains Are Pretty Much The Same
We all have heard of the book, Men are from Mars, women are from Venus. The book talks about relationships and how men and women are different. Over the years, we have come across studies being cited about the sexes having brains that are different. Men have larger brains and women have more white matter and whatnot. Men had a natural aptitude for math and women were more empathetic. These notions have been reiterated in conversations and public discourses. This did not sit well with quite a few people.
Neurosexism is the myth that men and women have gendered brains. In 2017, a Google employee wrote a 10-page memo titled “Google’s ideological echo chamber” stating that the dearth of women in the tech industry was because of biological differences. It got him fired. However, he is not alone when it comes to this thought process. This century-old belief is only a product of bias.
Gina Rippon, the author of The Gendered Brain: the new neuroscience that shatters the myth of the female brain debunks these ideas. She says that the “science” that proved that men and women have different brains was biased, misinterpreted, and over-amplified. For instance, the fact that women have smaller brains is not because they are incapable of a certain intellect but because women generally have smaller skulls than men. Moreover, by the logic, it would not be Elon Musk who would be trying to find life on Mars but an elephant.
There are differences in the brain structure of the sexes but nothing is distinct. There are plenty of overlaps which makes it safe to assume that we are not all that different. Another term that we should be aware of is neuroplasticity. This means that our brains are plastic and mouldable. Our lived experiences help form its structure. A gendered world gives rise to a gendered brain. Since childhood, boys and girls are exposed to different realities. While girls play house, boys build lego structures which in turn make them better at different things like spatial cognition (and driving). Gender roles assumed by each individual makes them good at the things they do. Practice makes perfect.
A gendered world
“The idea of the male brain and the female brain suggests that each is a characteristically homogenous thing and that whoever has got a male brain, say, will have the same kind of aptitudes, preferences, and personalities as everyone else with that ‘type’ of brain. We now know that is not the case. We are at the point where we need to say, ‘Forget the male and female brain; it’s a distraction, it’s inaccurate.’ It’s possibly harmful, too, because it’s used as a hook to say, well, there’s no point girls doing science because they haven’t got a science brain, or boys shouldn’t be emotional or should want to lead, “ said Rippon to The Guardian.
There is no denial that diseases like Alzheimer’s show a predilection to women and the differences are not completely non-existent. But the tunnel-visioned approach that we have endorsed for decades has to go. By differentiating the brain into two, we are duplicitously ignoring transgender, non-binary, and transsexual individuals. Where do they fit in? The yearning for understanding why we are so different is nonsensical. The fact that even science is not devoid of sexism is alarming. We don’t study females enough but that topic is for another day.
Aparna Mammen is an intern with SheThePeople.Tv. The views expressed are the author’s own.