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Delusions of Gender: The Real Science behind Sex Differences

4.02  ·  Rating details ·  11,469 ratings  ·  970 reviews
A vehement attack on the latest pseudo-scientific claims about the differences between the sexes. Sex discrimination is supposedly a distant memory. Yet popular books, magazines and even scientific articles increasingly defend inequalities by citing immutable biological differences between the male and female brain. That's the reason, we're told, that there are so few wome ...more
Paperback, 338 pages
Published February 1st 2011 by Icon Books Company (first published February 1st 2005)
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Johanna Berliner It's really neither - while she doesn't touch on trans folks at all, the book is absolutely the opposite of gender essentialist. It's a discussion of …moreIt's really neither - while she doesn't touch on trans folks at all, the book is absolutely the opposite of gender essentialist. It's a discussion of the way that preconceived biases and social cues CREATE difference (or the illusion of difference) between men and women (read: cis men and cis women), rather than a TERFy attempt to essentialize gender (quite the opposite)

Unfortunately she doesn't discuss trans folks at all, though I'd love to read a follow-up discussing the implications of the work for trans folks. There is one chapter called "The brain of a boy in the body of a girl...or a monkey?" which I thought was going to be a cringey chapter about trans kids, but it was actually about young female humans and rhesus monkeys with CAH (congenital adrenal hyperplasia) or atypically high levels of testosterone.

tl;dr - not TERFy, but also not trans inclusive(less)
Kate McKay I would say yes. I read it for my level 4 psychology course so I've been immersed in the field for years, and think it's still in date and still impor…moreI would say yes. I read it for my level 4 psychology course so I've been immersed in the field for years, and think it's still in date and still important to read, as the same "neurosexism" is still prevalent ten years later. (less)

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Jul 13, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who's ever thought about gender differences
Recommended to Manny by: C.
This is a remarkably good book, and anyone who's remotely interested in claims that there might be inherent differences in mental function between men and women should read it. It's insightful, carefully researched, well-written and often very funny. And if it doesn't make you change your mind about at least a few things in this area, you are either a remarkably knowledgable person or an incurable bigot.

I had read a few books and articles that touched on the subject of inherent gender difference
Trevor (I no longer get notified of comments)
Didn't realise Cordelia was Australian - This is a lovely video of her views:

Let’s say you have read a couple of books on the ‘science’ that ‘explains’ the differences between the sexes. So, just what are you likely to have been told? Well, one thing would be that men have brains that are built to be more logical and mathematical than women’s brains (this is due to men’s better spatial rotational abilities that are a consequence of right brain localisatio
A detailed but informal look at the pervasive power of gender stereotypes, backed by science. Sounds good, doesn't it? Not for me, though. My reading of this included International Women's Day; that wasn't intentional, but it felt like undeserved penance for such a day.

The 2* rating indicates how interesting and enjoyable this book was for me.
Were I rating in purely objective terms, it would be a solid 3* (maybe even 4*, given the importance of the intended message).

In a Nutshell

Fine debunks t
Jun 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
I decided to take a break from being girlishly bad at math and reading people's minds with my lady empathizing skills to read this book, and I sure am glad I did. Because it is hilarious. And fascinating. Cordelia Fine goes through all the old lines that I'm sure you've heard a thousand times (I know I have): that men's brains are just better at building stuff and making money while women are just natural nurturers, they just want to nurture the shit out of everything, because FEELINGS. Anyways, ...more
Jan 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone who's read Men are from Mars and Women can't read maps or some other neurosexist book

Things I have never seen*:

1) A male harpist.
Well, alright there was this guy:
Photobucket Pictures, Images and Photos
But in an orchestra?
2)A female bishop in the Church of England
3)A female angler
4)A male nursery school teacher
5)A female truck driver

*I'm not saying they don't exist, and I'm certainly not saying they shouldn't exist, it's just that I've never seen one. Actually number 2 really doesn't exist, which is odd, as women may be ordained in the C of E.

Things I have heard, which I really wish I hadn't:

1)An Austrian mothe
Truly a brilliant book. (And laugh-out-loud funny in quite a few places.) It's a book so full of interesting information, it's very tempting to write a review in which one relates one's favorite experiments, factoids, or statistics. But I will (mostly) resist. What I'd like to highlight are two features.

We have all heard (and perhaps told) stories like the following. "I wanted to bring up my children in a gender-neutral way, but at a certain point, the boy naturally took to smashing up trucks an
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If I had a dollar for every time someone friend requested me on Goodreads because of my gender ("a guy who reads? wow!") I would probably have enough money to buy a new Kindle. As a male who loves books and aims for a career in clinical/counseling psychology - a more and more female-dominated field - part of me has always wondered whether I just lack the typical "male" brain. Are girls biologically geared toward the humanities and males toward the hard sciences? Do women really empathize more th ...more
Let me boil the book down for the busy reader: whenever someone* chooses to ignore all the documented evidence of discrimination in favor of just-so stories about biology, in order to keep right on discriminating, you can take their evidence as having all the validity of the presenter's good intentions to end discrimination.

Sorry, that was a long and awkward summation. In justice to the book, I'd prefer to be pithy, funny, and understandable. Fine has tackled an immense and largely thankless tas
Mar 11, 2021 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, 2021
Fine made many valid points and backed them by research and studies. She didn't shy away from providing names in the scientific field and contradicting their findings.

However, the book got repetitive and at one point I just wanted to be done. Interesting sure but that's about it. The audiobook didn't help, the voice quality wasn't very good, not sure if the issue is from my audio or the real thing. It sounded too recorded. The voice also became kinda robotic without being actually that?

While I
Aug 23, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favourites, stem, feminism
I really think all educators need to read this book. Fine's target is the new gender essentialism, the reconstructed sexism that attempts to put women back in their traditional roles as 'unbenders of husbands' brows' and caregivers to children, and to keep them out of politics, mathematics and the sciences, by asserting that they are fitted for their place by essential female abilities and incapacities. In 1869 the philosopher John Stuart Mill, in his book The Subjection of Women, was severe on ...more
This nature vs. nurture debate is getting old.

This book argues against the claim that women and men have different brains and that this difference causes women to be significantly better or worse at some things and men significantly better or worse at others. As far as I knew, few legitimate scientists today make this claim, which is clearly sexist and would justify discrimination, so I was pretty surprised and somewhat skeptical to discover this immense sexist contingent among brain scientists
Oct 06, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cordelia Fine, a psychologist, decided to write this book after discovering her son's kindergarten teacher "reading a book that claimed his brain was incapable of forging the connection between emotion and language."

The first section of the book was slow reading for me. Fine engages in occasional snark, which was a little tiresome, followed by a lot of discussion of studies in which subjects are either told or not told statements about gender and then asked to perform certain tasks, to see if a
18 Sept 2013 Update: some stories reading Karen's review brought to mind from my childhood....



My mother spent a year or so teaching at Prince Alfred College in Adelaide, one of the posh boys schools, at a time when women didn't do that (perhaps they still don't?). It was the early seventies and she was a huge hit with the boys - big tits and sexy legs - and the teachers - big tits, sexy legs...arrhh, no, I mean
Alissa Thorne
Warning: ranty.

I was hoping for a balanced examination of the scientific evidence of biological/brain gender differences or the lack thereof. What I got was, firstly a heavy handed review of the sociological and cultural explanations for gender differences in society, and second a condescending and clearly biased review of the scientific evidence for biological/brain gender differences as an explanation for cultural gender differences.

I did learn some interesting things. One study showed a clear
Saafir Evada
I like nothing better than to discover that I was completely and utterly mistaken about something. The deeper the rotten belief sits, the more satisfying the pop when it is wrenched out.

This book changed my mind in ways few books ever do. I had a cavalier belief that psychological differences between men and women were "innate" and "biological." I had no idea how scant the evidence was for this idea.

I highly recommend this book.
Emma Deplores Goodreads Censorship
We’ve all encountered those pop science books, the ones that claim “hardwired” differences between male and female minds. Cordelia Fine has seen them too, but instead of simply accepting their assertions because they sound scientific, she delved into the research, tracking down the studies that purportedly establish these claims, as well as the substantial body of research showing quite the opposite. The result is this book. It is not pop science – there is nothing dumbed-down about it, and Dr. ...more
Jenny Schwartz
Mar 16, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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) assumpti
This is not what I'd call a "popular science" book -- it's aimed at an intellectual audience with some understanding of science and a willingness to deal with academic language. That makes it less accessible than a lot of the talk show-fodder books it's debunking, like all those ridiculous "Why Men Are Insensitive Horndogs Who Suck at Housework (Surprise! It's Biology!) and Women Are Born Loving Ponies and High Heels" books. Fine takes on pretty much the entire field of neuroscience, or rather, ...more
Jun 07, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
It can be incredibly frustrating to argue against someone who is convinced by the idea of preformed gender roles in society because they feel that "scientists have proven that male/female brains are different" and that to think otherwise somehow flies in the face of common sesne. Gender roles in society are supposedly natural and pre-ordained and we should learn to like them and love them.

It's so easy to believe in the myth and Cordelia Fine does an excellent job of outlining why this is a myth
Kara Babcock
Pink is for girls and blue is for boys, and that’s just the way it is, right? Girls like nurturing toys and boys like toys that involve motion or action, and don’t even bother trying to change those habits—they’re ingrained at birth, yeah? Doubtless you’ve heard these and other stereotypes and claims about the biological origins of sex differences. In some cases, such as the pink/blue divide, you might already be aware of the history of the phenomenon, including the fact that the colour assignme ...more
Deborah Ideiosepius
My last Australian book of 2019; this was a brilliant, non fiction review, analysis and occasionally refutal of the science between gender differences.

It was really interesting to me because I do not often follow science pertaining to gender differences, I think most of it is a steaming pile of hose apples and I get annoyed by people doing obviously bad science. In that way this book was perfect for me as it addresses a lot of bad science and I loved the erudite, witty way in which the author cr
Aug 11, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned, feminism
A spirited debunking of the perennial claims that women are different (and usually, it so happens that this difference is in truth inferiority) from men because SCIENCE. It is both amusing and infuriating to read how sexist scientists and journalists try angle after angle, and when one is debunked (say, no, brain size does not actually matter), they find another, even more dubious claim.

This is not a book without faults. Firstly, the author veers to the verbose side, and secondly, the book pays
Barbara (The Bibliophage)
Cordelia Fine is a scientist, feminist, and a mom. Her book debunks studies that purport to be solid science, but ultimately just support gender stereotypes. She discusses how gender neutral parenting is nearly impossible in today’s society. And how this, along with neuroplasticity, mean that brains cannot possibly be hard-wired by gender. (Neuroplasticity = brain’s ability to change.)

Many more details in my review at TheBibliophage.
The Crimson Fucker
God damn! This book actually changed the way I see the world!! I shall do it justice with a worthy review! Just way till I get my hands on a computer!
Many of the general ideas presented in this book were familiar to me: claims of true neurological basis for differences between the sexes are bunk; areas in which people seem to be 'deficient' are often socially created rather than biological; current conceptions of binary gender essentialism must be abandoned. However, for all that the conclusions Cordelia Fine drew were hardly surprising to me, reading this book had a significant impact. It felt almost like an out of body experience, to read a ...more
Jul 08, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Cordelia Fine attempts to refute the popular idea that men and women have an innate neurological difference which results in different brains. I read this book after "The Essential Difference" by Simon Baron-Cohen. I recommend reading them in that order because Fine's book refutes many of the points made in Baron-Cohen's.

Fine makes a good case that many of the differences we see in gender could readily be traced back to cultural or sociological phenomena, and that it is too early to declare tha
DNF @20%.

This wasn't exactly bad, in the sense that its subject is both interesting and important. It's the execution that doesn't do it for me at all.

Namely, I had trouble with the prose which I found rather stiff despite Fine's efforts at humour. I wouldn't complain about it if this was an unapologetically academic text with stiff language throughout, but the random insertion of jokes was jarring to me.

Fine makes great points. And then she makes them again. And again. And again. And I don't fe
I’ve been meaning to review this book for ages, but whenever I attempt to write something, I’m lost at what to include and what to leave out. All of it was so important in shaping my understanding of gender and I don’t know how to write a review convincing enough to get other people to read it. That being said, I’ve raved about this book to enough friends to know that it’s made an impact on me, and so I will sit down and attempt this for the fifth time and hope that I will finally be able to get ...more
Aug 21, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Delusions of Gender is an enjoyably acerbic and eloquent takedown of evolutionary psychologists and their neuroscientist collaborators—those practitioners of Bad Science, whose work is often repeated uncritically in tabloid newspapers or used to shape educational curricula. Cordelia Fine examines a number of supposedly scientific studies, together with the books and newspaper articles which have popularised them for a general audience (Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus and their odious ilk ...more
Oct 04, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Just when it looked like neuroscience was justifying our current worldview that innate differences are somehow “hardwired” into the brains of little boys and little girls author Cordelia Fine comes along and checks out the scientific studies. What she exposes and describes in detail are poorly designed experiments, blind leaps of faith and convoluted circular reasoning. In scientists!

According to what Fine uncovered we have mutable brains, continuously influenced and changed by our cultural env
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Cordelia Fine (born 1975) is a Research Associate at the Center for Agency, Values and Ethics at Macquarie University, Australia, and an Honorary Research Fellow at the Department of Psychological Sciences at the University of. Melbourne, Autsralia. Her previous book, 'A Mind of Its Own' was hugely acclaimed and she was called 'a science writer to watch' by Metro. ...more

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When author Amor Towles published his second novel, A Gentleman in Moscow, in 2016, everything changed.   Towles’ first novel, Rules of...
33 likes · 4 comments
“As has been long observed, men are people, but women are women.” 24 likes
“In the statistical gargon used in psychology, p refers to the probability that the difference you see between two groups (of introverts and extroverts, say, or males and females) could have occurred by chance. As a general rule, psychologists report a difference between two groups as 'significant' if the probability that it could have occurred by chance is 1 in 20, or less. The possibility of getting significant results by chance is a problem in any area of research, but it's particularly acute for sex differences research. Supppose, for example, you're a neuroscientist interested in what parts of the brain are involved in mind reading. You get fifteen participants into a scanner and ask them to guess the emotion of people in photographs. Since you have both males and females in your group, you rin a quick check to ensure that the two groups' brains respond in the same way. They do. What do you do next? Most likely, you publish your results without mentioning gender at all in your report (except to note the number of male and female participants). What you don't do is publish your findings with the title "No Sex Differences in Neural Circuitry Involved in Understanding Others' Minds." This is perfectly reasonable. After all, you weren't looking for gender difference and there were only small numbers of each sex in your study. But remember that even if males and females, overall, respond the same way on a task, five percent of studies investigating this question will throw up a "significant" difference between the sexes by chance. As Hines has explained, sex is "easily assessed, routinely evaluated, and not always reported. Because it is more interesting to find a difference than to find no difference, the 19 failures to observe a difference between men and women go unreported, whereas the 1 in 20 finding of a difference is likely to be published." This contributes to the so-called file-drawer phenomenon, whereby studies that do find sex differences get published, but those that don't languish unpublished and unseen in a researcher's file drawer.” 17 likes
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