Cordelia Fine's Delusions of Gender is a book that I think every woman should read. I think every man should read it, too, but I think the impact will be more powerful for women because they will see in it so many past conversations and dilemmas and decisions and just how much gender may have impacted all of them.
The back-of-the-book blurb for this one is wonderfully concise and descriptive, so I'll use it here:
Drawing on the latest research in neuroscience and psychology, Cordelia Fine debunks the myth of hardwired differences between men’s and women’s brains, unraveling the evidence behind such claims as men’s brains aren’t wired for empathy and women’s brains aren’t made to fix cars. She then goes one step further, offering a very different explanation of the dissimilarities between men’s and women’s behavior. Instead of a “male brain” and a “female brain,” Fine gives us a glimpse of plastic, mutable minds that are continuously influenced by cultural assumptions about gender.
Everyone always brings up the fact that there are fewer women in math and science than men - Fine addresses this in great detail, going back to just how young children are when the learn the stereotype that girls are just not as good at math and science as boys are. In reading this part of the book, I couldn't help but take it another step further (Fine does not do this). Why is it that the fields in which women have not yet made much headway - engineering, sciences, investment banking, etc. - are those that are generally higher paid? I can't help but think this isn't a coincidence, and it really bothers me. This implies that jobs that can be done and often are done by women are less valuable than those that are done primarily by men. Also that perhaps these jobs aren't as difficult or as rigorous as those still held by men.
There are SO MANY mind-blowing facts presented in this book, and I warn you that most of them will upset you. BUT if you are a woman in the work force, or a woman raising children, or a woman of any type at all, or a man who interacts with women (I think I covered all my bases there, right?), then you really should read it. I had so many light bulb moments about my own life or about the decisions I've seen my friends make about how to lead their lives - the balancing act that inevitably comes with being female.
One of the most fascinating sections to me was about the extreme difficulty of raising gender-neutral children. There were some truly heart-breaking stories of children being so comfortable and at peace with themselves when home with their parents only to have their identities and preferences called into brutal question by their peers who know what girls should do and what boys should do. Kids can be so cruel.
Also interesting was evidence that "subtle triggers for stereotype threat seem to be more harmful than blatant cues, which suggests the intriguing possibility that stereotype threat may be more of an issue for women now than it was decades ago, when people were more loose-lipped when it came to denigrating female ability.”
Wow. Considering how many portrayals of ditzy girls exist on TV and on radio and in books, this is a very, very disturbing thing to hear. In some ways, this book made me feel very defeatist. Gender stereotypes seem like insurmountable mountains for us to conquer, and it's even harder to overcome them as they become more subtle and people continue believing that they don't exist. They do, and they do real harm, and if reading this book makes you just a little bit more cognizant of that, then that is a small victory in itself.
I leave you with an NPR article that describes stereotype bias much more briefly, if you don't have time to read the book. Ignore the comments - as is the case with so many newspaper articles online, reading the comments will make you weep for the future of this world.