Sarah can “identify and anticipate what [her husband] is feeling—often before he is conscious of it himself.” Like the magician who knows that you’ll pick the seven of diamonds before it’s even left the pack, Sarah can amaze her husband at whim, thanks to her lucky knack of knowing what he’s feeling before he even feels it. (Ta-DA! Is this your emotion?) Sarah is neither a fairground psychic nor the somewhat irresponsible owner of a futuristic brain wave interpreting machine. She is simply a woman who enjoys the miraculous gift of mindreading that, apparently, is bestowed on all owners of a female brain:
‘Maneuvering like an F-15, Sarah’s female brain is a high performance emotion machine—geared to tracking, moment by moment, the non-verbal signals of the innermost feelings of others.’
Sarah is just one of the many curious characters who populate lay science books about gender. She can be found in Louann Brizendine’s book The Female Brain, one of several recent popular and influential books arguing for fundamental and ‘hard-wired’ differences in male and female psychology.
Unfortunately, scientific accuracy and commonsense are often casualties in the ugly rush to cloak old-fashioned sexism in the respectable and authoritative language of neuroscience.
These are the opening sentences in a piece by philosopher Cordelia Fine. She's responding to the recent wave of literature that attempts to parse sexist hunches in the language of neuroscience, pretending that there's science to prove that the stereotypes are really "hardwired sex differences" when the science we have says just the opposite.
Full text, entitled "Will Working Mothers' Brains Explode? The Popular New Genre of Neurosexism." with citations available here.
I'm so sick of seeing the sort of articles and books Fine writes about.
Take for example, this NY Times article which was among the most emailed of the week when it was released. The article explores Leonard Sax's new book "Why Gender Matters" which asserts that female teachers (who according to him are "soft spoken" *) bore boys with their gentle tones. In fact, according to Sax, boys would be doing much better in grade school if we could just get them away from all the soft and pretty girly stuff that grade school is apparently inundated in -- 'coz the boys need a cool, steely room where they're encouraged to draw pictures of people kicking each other to really learn. Riiiiight.
It's been my hope since I started this blog to produce a series of posts debunking these sorts of claims and laying out the science the way it really is. It's just a matter of finding the time. Until then, I'm glad Fine has the ball rolling.
* Somebody should let all those ham-fisted (and strong voiced) ladies who taught me grade school know about this.