While we’re on the subject of gender bias: One of my pet peeves is when people employ bogus neuroscience or evolutionary psychology arguments to back up gender stereotypes. This is distressingly common, and especially annoying when it only takes a few seconds to think about it and realize that the stereotype in question isn’t even true. Sure, I may know a lot of eccentric people, but I doubt they’re genetic mutants just because they don’t conform to some “Men are from Mars, women are from Venus” scheme. And of course, these kinds of false or socially-constructed stereotypes are one of the major factors driving the gender gap in the sciences.
Thus it was with some dismay that I learned of the recently-released book The Female Brain by Louann Brizendine, which advertises itself thusly:
Brizendine reveals the neurological explanations behind why
• A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000
• A woman remembers fights that a man insists never happened
• A teen girl is so obsessed with her looks and talking on the phone
• Thoughts about sex enter a woman’s brain once every couple of days but enter a man’s brain about once every minute
• A woman knows what people are feeling, while a man can’t spot an emotion unless somebody cries or threatens bodily harm
• A woman over 50 is more likely to initiate divorce than a man
From what I know about neuroscience, it struck me as extremely unlikely that there are “neurological explanations” for these things, even putting aside the fact that most of them aren’t true of people who aren’t lame sitcom characters. It turns out that my skepticism is well-founded: Mark Liberman at the excellent Language Log examined the claims in the book, and found that (despite lots of footnotes) there’s little to no science supporting them. (There’s a collection of links in this post.)
Unfogged’s LizardBreath remarks, “I’ve reached a point with pop-science accounts of how women differ from men, where I firmly assume that any claim that science has shown a physical cause for behavioral differences between the sexes is bullshit.” I’ve been at that point for a while now, too.