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Neurosexism: the Supposed Differences in the Brain

Neurofeminism appears against this neurosexism. This is based, logically, on the assumptions about the differences between the male and female brains are based on false results.

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When it comes to neuroscientific research, for years we have tried to perpetuate the differences in the brain between men and women. This is what neurosexism refers to. To take for granted that, depending on the sex with which the person is born, there are differences in certain sizes and / or forms of certain parts of the brain.

Research in the neurosciences has used what are called neuromites. These have been used on many occasions as a basis to affirm the differences in the brain between women and men. It is a curious fact that has contributed much of the neuroscientific community. In fact, there have been few people, mostly women, who have dared to question these myths.

Professor Sonia Reverter-Bañón from the Jaume I University of Castellón explains her critical reflection on neurosexism.

Critical thinking vs. neurosexism

In his work, Reverter-Bañón explains a curious anecdote. In 1915, a neurologist named Charles Dana expressed his opinion on the female vote in the New York Times. This is what the doctor said:

“If women reach the feminist ideal and live like men, they will incur the risk of dementia by 25 percent more than we have now.”

But, on what was it based to express this idea? Well, apparently, he did it in that the upper half of the spinal cord, which controls the extremities and the pelvis, is smaller in women. This affects, according to the doctor, the effectiveness of women in the evaluation of political initiatives or judicial authority. Therefore, according to this scientist, the participation of women in politics would be “dangerous to their health”.

These words, according to Professor Reverter-Bañón, could be classified as “pseudoscientific thought”. With this label it refers to those beliefs that, in a prejudiced and unscientific way, are maintained by the scientific community itself.

Thus, Dr. Dana’s is an example of what, for years, the scientific community has established as a kind of obviousness. That is, the differences in the nervous system between men and women.

Neuromites and neurosexism

A neuromite, as defined by the OECD (2002) in its text on neuromitologies, is a misunderstanding. A misinterpretation or even a “deliberate distortion” of scientific facts with a specific purpose.

For its part, the term neurosexism is a neologism. It pretends to be the label that encompasses all those positions and theories that use neuroscientific research to reinforce predetermined ideas about the inherent differences between the sexes.

The term was first used by Cordelia Fine in 2008. Then, it became popular as a result of her book Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference, 2010.

Neurofeminism appears against this neurosexism. This is based, logically, on the assumptions about the differences between the male and female brains are based on false results.

Results besides bad quality, bad methodologies, unproven assumptions and premature conclusions. In addition, there is an insufficient appreciation of the depth and scope of cultural patterns, beliefs and expectations in our minds. Also the verification of a contamination in the neurosciences by the prejudices that guide the investigation of this specific field.

Thus, when studying sexual differences in the brain, the following issues have an impact.

1. Confusion between concepts ‘sex’ and ‘gender’

According to Reverter-Bañón, gender is considered as the main element of continuity of roles. These can be patriarchal or not, in education, in culture and in the different processes of socialization of the individual.

In general, we understand that gender starts from the duality of the sexes. However, when we make this deduction, we are not considering some terms, such as transgender or intragender. Thus, a biological sexual difference a construction of differentiated gender; at least not from a critical view of the sciences.

2. Insufficiency of evidences and prejudices that guide the conclusions

As some authors have indicated and some studies with metadata confirm, the supposed scientific evidence does not lead us in a scientifically proven way to the conclusions that sexual differences are in the brain. Thus, according to C. Vidal (2011), three ideas must be made clear in this sense:

The differences in the brain of a small sample of participants are not statistically significant. The evidence has made it clear that when there is a large number of subjects analyzed, gender differences usually disappear. This is due to the interindividual variability of brain functioning.

The findings have usually been obtained in an artificial laboratory context.

If it is fMRI data, the visualization of these only provides a stop image of the punctual state of an individual’s brain. This can not give us direct evidence about the biological factors or the sociocultural processes that have influenced that state.

Thus, it seems totally necessary to update the scientific contributions on these supposed differences in the brain between men and women. The neurosexismo a shadow on which we have the opportunity to shed light both from feminism and from a critical neuroscience with the thoughts that a good part of society has assimilated without questioning them.

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