If I gained nothing else from participating in the Australian Women Writers Reading and Reviewing Challenge, “Delusions of Gender” by Cordelia Fine would be worth it.
A week or so ago I asked on Twitter for recommendations for science books (for a non-scientist) written by Australian women and Toni Jordan responded with: Cordelia Fine.
She was 100% right.
Nearly 20 years ago I studied sociology at a feminist, Marxist university. I’m pretty much disposed to accept the argument that culture heavily influences behaviour, i.e. I’m on the nurture side of the nature versus nurture debate. So I thought reading “Delusions of Gender” would simply be a matter of nodding as new data supported that view.
Oh boy (pun intended!) was I deluded.
Well-researched, well-argued, wittily written, Cordelia Fine hits hard at the wide spread (and I’d argue, lazy) assumption of biology-as-destiny. The gender implications of that attitude are so deeply imprinted in our culture that we’re often blind to our own behaviours that perpetuate them.
Reading through studies and anecdotes I was shocked out of my complacent assumption that I’m non-sexist, indeed feminist. Far from it. In fact – and this is a rare achievement for a book – it started me re-assessing my life from way back and seeing … well, seeing how often I had lived within gender assumptions and even played to them just because it made life not simply easier, but pleasanter. Fighting the culture we live in isn’t a job for cowards.
I liked how Cordelia quoted “experts” from history on the biologically determined differences between the sexes. The examples show in pitiless detail that their biological determinism was merely supergluing on cultural blinkers. As her argument runs, later decades are likely to look back and have the same response to our use of neuroscience to plaster authority onto scientifically unsupported notions of gender.
It’s depressingly no surprise to realise that where the biologically determined gender differences argument is run (and it runs freely through popular science) it generally supports a cultural power balance in favour of males.
There are many, many examples of our gendered culture in this strongly argued but easily read book. One that has particularly stayed with me is a study (student subjects, not real world HR folk) who flip flopped 180 degrees so that whatever the male candidate’s qualifications and experience, those were what the job required. Hmm.
For me, the scariest part of the book was its assertion that as sexism buries itself deeper, we believe we aren’t sexist but our behaviour (what sneaks out when we’re tired or not monitoring ourselves) shows otherwise – and this implicit sexism has an arguably stronger impact on our self-perception than the overt stuff that we can grasp hold of and challenge.
Read the book – male or female, the impact of culture on your self-perception, and therefore, your life and choices will rock your assumptions of autonomy.
Thanks to my local library for locating a copy of Delusions of Gender for me 🙂