The New Neuroscience that Shatters the Myth of the Female Brain
By Gina Rippon
Published: 28 February 2019
Review by Jen Antrobus (@abookishscientist on Instagram)
As a scientist, I belong to a field that for a long time has traditionally been male dominated. Even when I was in high school, it used to be ‘fact’ that the boys were better at maths and science than the girls, who did better in topics like English and history.
For a long time, science was seen as something that women simply couldn’t do. Their brains weren’t designed for academia and education, they were designed for mothering and family matters. ‘The female brain’ wasn’t as evolved as ‘the male brain’ – that’s what people thought.
In The Gendered Brain, Gina Rippon promises to take on the myth of the female brain and tackle the stereotypes about males and females that are present from birth. Do girls actually have an innate preference for the colour pink, dolls and tea sets, while boys prefer blue things, footballs and toy soldiers? To what extent do the sex hormones, which have different levels in males and females, affect our brains? And what about those people who are neither male nor female? Gina Rippon discusses these topics and many more in a meticulously researched manner in The Gendered Brain.
Rippon takes us through the history of research into ‘gendered brains’, from the famous ‘missing five ounces’ of the female brain, differences in connections between the brain hemispheres, and hormonal differences trying to justify why women are biologically inferior to men. Not only does she talk us through this research, she methodically debunks it, proving that the science is, at its essence, wrong.
The results are biased, and more often than not the experimental design was completely flawed.
She discusses how the invention of modern neuroimaging techniques shaped the field, and the emergence of newer fields such as social cognitive neuroscience. The main idea running through the chapters surrounding children’s brains in particular, suggests that, rather than innate differences in the brain, it is actually ‘pink-or-blue’ stereotypes that influence many behaviours.
The Gendered Brain is a fantastic book. Gina Rippon writes so well that even I – as someone with no knowledge of neuroscience whatsoever – could easily understand the more technical parts. It’s a hugely important read, highlighting why these stereotypes need to be dismantled, and is so rich with information.
Jen’s rating: 10/10
A huge thank you to Jen for writing this wonderful book review! Follow Jen for reading inspiration, interesting #ScienceSaturday posts and inspiring introductions to leading Women in STEM every Wednesday!