Sunday, December 26, 2010

[book review] Cordelia Fine - Delusions of Gender

I zoomed through Delusions of Gender this week, in an attempt to get it read and reviewed before I go away. I found this book a really interesting read. Delusions of Gender is a take-down of evolutionary psychology theories, and does it in an easily readable, well-referenced way. This was a fast read, at just over 200 pages it didn't take too long, and it was engaging and interesting, and though I think it's a good read, ultimately there was a level of intersectionality that was missing for me that I think limits it.

The book opens with an analysis of priming which I liked. It looked at the way priming is used in general, and as a way to trigger a response against stereotype (for example, wording that is used to prime women to be more empathic is appropriately worded to have a similar impact on men). It looked at social expectations, and how those expectations create a motivation gap. From this, Fine explored the ways the ideas behind the motivation gap can create ability gaps.

I really enjoyed this stuff on priming. I've not done a huge amount of reading on this stuff, so it was interesting for me.

Although Fine is a psychologist, she did not have a lot of regard for psychologists, particularly highlighting the way psychologists 'enjoy' exploiting stereotype threats. There was a bit of an exploration of stereotype threats, and the importance of role models and a 'sense of belonging' in increasing or removing stereotype threats.

The book concludes with a section on gender neutral parenting and the socio-cultural situation. It is an excellent takedown of those parents who claim to have tried gender neutral parenting, but had to give up because their daughter clearly just naturally preferred pink or whatever. My horror at unconscious prenatal gendered expectations meant I spent most of this section leafing through with a pen to make copious notes. I was especially intrigued (though not surprised) by the analysis of terms used before conception depending on the sex of the child, even by parents who honestly believed they were being gender neutral.

There is a thread through of other themes. Mention is made several times of the publishing bias, of studies and things only being published when they demonstrate a gender difference; studies that show a difference are rarely published (this can hardly be a surprise). Fine appears to have a significant issue with a book, frequently cited in Delusions of Gender, The Female Brain by Louise Brizendine. At the point where Fine begins to tear apart this text, the tone also starts to become very sassy. Not distractingly so, but it becomes very sassy. Fine also implies that texts, studies and experts who make neuroscience claims generalise far too much than should be accepted.

Other reviews have mentioned the white heterosexuality of the book, and I definitely have to agree, and add in the ciscentricism. There were a few references to studies which focussed on or touched on racism, or moved away from a heterocentrist or ciscentric viewpoint, but for the most part they were just side mentions to support the overall argument. In addition, in the final third of the book, a stand up example of binary-gendered transphobic essentialism was held up as an exemplary effort at gender neutral parenting. There was also a bit of essentialist speciesism in the book.

In general, I enjoyed this book. There were some new-to-me things, and I see its value as a first year Gender Studies text, but there is nothing really world shattering in it, particularly in light of its failure at real, meaningful intersectionality.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this write-up, I've been quite keen to read this book. When I get there I'll probably now have the intersectionality issues you've mentioned held in the back of my mind.