Testosterone Rex

by Cordelia Fine

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Featured image for Testosterone Rex

So, we’re definitely in confirmation bias territory here. Cordelia Fine quotes tons of research that shows that arguments like “men have to be the breadwinners because their ancestors evolved to be hunters and women are just inferior/better-at-other-stuff and wouldn’t it better if they just stayed home and had babies” (that’s my lousy paraphrasing, not an actual quote) are just nonsense, and since I completely agreed with her premise to start with I wasn’t reading this looking for holes in the reasoning. Instead I found myself wanting to memorise the arguments on every other page to use as fuel in future debates. There’s so much good stuff here, and so many refutations of the tired old cliches about men being good at one kind of thing and women being good at another. Here the cliches are stripped down and shown to, on the whole, only be wearing clothes composed of the social and cultural constructs we’ve built around them. Which is the kind of thing I’ve been trying to say for years without having the research based knowledge to back it up.

Some of the major points I want to remember are: The way men are supposedly more risk-taking than women depends on a very narrow definition of risk (e.g. pregnancy has a higher death rate than sky-diving) and a narrow definition of men (wealthy & educated white western men tend to perceive the world as a safer place than most everyone else does); and that’s before you get onto the fact that there’s no single scale to measure how ‘risk taking’ any single person is; that testosterone isn’t the deciding factor in how aggressive people are; and there’s a great statistical analysis of how the “women are limited to one baby a year-ish, but men can have hundreds” theory just doesn’t wash in the real world.

This book concentrates on the role than hormones play in what makes us act in ‘male’ or ‘female’ ways (spoiler: not much, and what are these ‘male’ and ‘female’ ways anyway?) and Fine’s previous book Delusions of Gender apparently approaches the same argument from the brain’s point of view and I’m looking forward to reading that as well.