Title: Gender Mosaic: Beyond the Myth of the Male and Female brain (review copy)
Authors: Daphna Joel with Luba Vikhanski
Genre/Themes: Non Fiction, Science, Biology, Genetics, Gender, Sex, The Brain
Blurb from Goodreads
With profound implications for our most foundational assumptions about gender, Gender Mosaic explains why there is no such thing as a male or female brain.
For generations, we’ve been taught that women and men differ in profound and important ways. Women are more sensitive and emotional, whereas men are more aggressive and sexual, because this or that region in the brains of women is smaller or larger than in men, or because they have more or less of this or that hormone. This story seems to provide us with a neat biological explanation for much of what we encounter in day-to-day life. But is it true?
According to neuroscientist Daphna Joel, it’s not. And in Gender Mosaic, she sets forth a bold and compelling argument that debunks the notion of female and male brains. Drawing on the latest scientific evidence, including the groundbreaking results of her own studies, Dr. Joel explains that every human brain is a unique mixture — or mosaic — of “male” and “female” features, and that these mosaics don’t map neatly into two categories.
With urgent practical implications for the way we understand ourselves and the world around us, Gender Mosaic is a fascinating look at the science of gender, sex and the brain, and at how freeing ourselves from the gender binary can help us all reach our full human potential.
Gender Mosaic is an extremely measured and accessibly written exploration into the myths that surround the concept of there being two separate types of brain, i.e. a male and a female brain.
The book aims to dispel the idea of binary gender indicating how it is purely a societal construct and using peer reviewed research explains why gender and sex should not be assumed to be implicitly linked.
“Sex refers to the biological features that go with having male or female genitals and gender to the social features.”
And what the book discusses is the ingrained societal implications there are when sex differences are used to justify inequalities of gender by illustrating how that in modern society we no longer use biological comparisons to justify racism but yet perceived sex differences between that of the mythological male brain and the mythological female brain are still used to invalidate the status of women.
It is already an accepted fact that sex is only one of many factors that can determine the morphology of the brain. Numerous other factors such as living conditions, nurturing, drug exposure and other types of stress interact with the effects of sex when it comes to shaping the brain. For example, stress is a key factor implicated in many brain pathologies.
To counter the argument that the brains of men and women are somehow wired differently based on current societal behaviours and practices, the book asks the question of how can we truly determine whether a behaviour or brain pattern is either learned or innate as from birth children are treated differently according to their genitalia…
Take these minor examples: boys don’t cry, girls must be ladylike, boys are encouraged to play more sport whereas girls engage in more handicrafts…
That’s not to say that there aren’t members of a particular sex who prefer to play sport over engaging in handicrafts. But when the options are removed and certain traits are more encouraged in one binary type gender over the other then it creates the illusion of a binary gender divide and becomes increasingly difficult to ascertain the degree to which the differences between male versus female brains, cognitive abilities etc. are affected by these external or epigenetic factors.
“By placing kids into emotional straitjackets of gender, we raise power-disabled girls and emotion-disabled boys.”
What the book proposes, with the backing of much peer reviewed research from numerous scientific studies, is that gender patterns in the brain should be thought of as a mosaic. The book does not claim that there are no sex differences in the brain but instead argues that…
“because of the interactions between sex and so many other factors, the effects of sex – that is, of being female or male – mix up in a unique way in the brain of each individual.”
There is a complex set of interactions between genes, hormones and the environment and these lead to unique brain morphologies for each individual and therefore do not differentiate based on a person’s genitalia alone. Thusly we are all different and each person is made up of a mosaic of differing features leading to endless personality mosaics.
This is an incredibly fascinating read and the book obviously goes into a lot more detail than I have in my review. What is incredibly refreshing is that this book reads without political agenda and is all based purely on scientific research and fact. But what is best about this book is that it is written in a most accessible style. Even those with little to no scientific background will easily be able to follow this wonderful book as the science and research behind the gender mosaic theory is distilled into easy to understand analogies and simplified examples.
Earlier this year I also read the book The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon which also explores (and explodes) the myth of the female brain and would definitely recommend this over that to anyone with no scientific background as this is a much easier to comprehend book with a more approachable reading style.
I highly recommend this book to anyone looking for a quick and concise yet immensely informative read into the science behind sex and gender.
Also a must read for anyone with an interest in gender politics as this book, though not political itself, would provide a fantastic introduction into the research that has gone into the science behind the political movement.
Gender is a system that assigns meaning to sex, but our gender is not a reflection of our sex. Gender is one of the prisons within which we live. Gender divides the world into things for males and things for females. And if we want things that are not on our side, we are punished by society. In the world I envision, there is no gender. There is only sex. Humans with female, male, or intersex genitals are free to choose from all that this world has to offer. Some will choose only dolls, others will choose only balls, many will choose both. Whatever you love and do, if it’s appropriate for humans, it is appropriate for you.
I was invited to read an e-copy of this book by the publisher, Little, Brown and Company, in exchange for an honest review. All quotations used are from my eARC copy and need to be finalised against the published copy.
Expected publication: September 17th 2019