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[O]ur intellects are not prisoners of our genders or our genes, and those who claim otherwise are merely coating old-fashioned stereotypes with a veneer of scientific credibility.

Cordelia Fine[1]

Gendered brains are a cissexist myth.

Neurosexism is the sexist assumption that gender differences perceived in character and behaviour are caused by biological differences in brains. Belief in inherent gender differences contributes to creating a self-fulling prophecy. Neurosexism provides a framework for treating children and adults differently on the basis of gender, which causes them to behave differently, which in turn creates so-called gender differences, which in turn prop up neurosexism — the epitome of circular logic and of a self-fulfilling prophecy.[2][3]

Neurosexism is a flawed belief that results from the intersection of neuroscience and sexism. This bias is largely caused by institutional and cultural forces, causing neuroscience (including neurobiology and neurology) researchers to make cissexist assumptions about how brains, and therefore minds, work.[4][5][6][7][8][9][10][11][12][13][14][15][16][17][18][19][20][21][22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29] It is deeply misplaced, but has nonetheless priovided a bedrock for sexism to gain superficial scientific validity in the eyes of many both within the scientific community and outside it.[2]

Damage to children

There’s enormous danger in this exaggeration of sex difference, first and foremost in the expectations it creates among parents, teachers, and children themselves. Kids rise or fall according to what we believe about them, and the more we dwell on the differences between boys and girls, the likelier such stereotypes are to crystallize into children’s self-perceptions and self-fulfilling prophecies.

—Lise Eliot[2]

We start coercing people into gender roles from birth.

Apart from being pseudoscientific, and thus inherently damaging to scientific research, neurosexism also actively contributes to creating gender differences by making teachers and parents treat children differently.[3][30] Societal and cultural norms also play a role and feed into creating neurosexism, and into creating gender differences, which then go on to create even more gender differences:

One study found that boys threw better than girls did with their dominant arm — but when the kids were asked to throw with their other arm, there were no gender differences. If biology alone determined throwing ability, then boys would throw better than girls with either arm. Practice, not hardwired ability, turned boys into better throwers. Playing videogames that involve stalking or tracking also create superior mental rotation skills.[2]


Keynote by Professor Daphna Joel (Tel Aviv University) at the international, interdisciplinary conference "NeuroCultures - NeuroGenderings II", 13-15 September 2012, University of Vienna.[31]

The word

"Neurosexism" was coined by Cordelia Fine, in her book Delusions of Gender, to describe the phenomenon in neuroscience, in neurobiology, and in the brain and cognitive sciences more broadly, of assuming there are essential differences between the brains of women and men.[32] Thanks to her scientific writings, and others' voices joining her, this baseless assumption has become recognised by many neuro- and cognitive scientists as a problem.[1]

The concept

The idea that proposed or real differences in brains are a direct cause of gender differences has been used to oppress and marginalise women long before Fine wrote her book debunking it:

we thought for years that a very real structural difference — men’s greater brain size — was important to human intelligence, and it turned out to be of very little consequence. But that mistake kept women out of universities for years.[2]

Complementing definitions

Wiktionary defines neurosexism as:

[t]he use of neuroscientific research to support preexisting ideas about inherent sex differences.[33]

Neurological versus biological sex

Brains do not have gender.

The use of the phrases "neurological sex", to mean a neurological configuration of some kind or another that gives rise to a "gendered brain", and "biological sex", to mean genitals, are used by some transgender rights activists, truscum, and (for the latter phrase, but not the former) trans-exclusionary radical feminists and radical feminists in general.

Both these phrases, apart from being unscientific, are also highly oppressive:

  • "Biological sex", which in this case is used to refer to the type of genitals a person has, is a problematic use of the word gender. Gendering penis as male, and vagina as female, relegates, e.g., trans women's bodies to being described using misgendering language. A more useful way of describing genitals, if they must be when discussing gender, is to use words from biological science, like vulva, glans penis, clitoris, testicles, and so on. "Biological sex" is especially damaging as a concept since the classification of human body parts into male and female harms both trans people and intersex people. The latter of which are often forced to undergo surgery, which often damages their sex lives.

One of the reasons, a minority of transgender people have latched onto the idea that there is such as a thing as a neurological gender is because of how oppression manifests. Both Harry Benjamin syndrome supporters (HBSers) and truscum are consciously or unconsciously attempting to gain some access to privilege and respect by using the language of neurosexism.

Genitals do not have gender.

By appealing to cisnormativity and the now outdated medical, scientific, and academic communities' understanding of gender HBSers and truscum gain some acceptance and recognition. So in other words they internalise and propagate cisssexism because it offers a short-term payoff within the gender hegemony. When one appeals to norms, when one makes a kyriarchal compromise, like accepting that the gender binary exists and that one's genitals or brain are "wrong", one is forced to engage in gatekeeping. Therefore, truscum and HBSers, are inclined to, by their own ideology and ultimate goal of acceptance into the kyriarchy, to accept cisnormativity, reject non-binary people, and engage in harmful behaviour towards those under the trans umbrella who they see as jeopardising their chance at "acceptance". These acts are a side-effect of their theory almost by definition because the truscum and HBSer communities are not interested in acceptance (as in being allowed to exist without being coerced into changing), but in assimilation (as in being moulded by cisnormativity).

HBSers and truscum, in other words, use the tools of oppression (binarism, dyadism, binary gender, neurosexism, etc.) in order to "build a house"; piggybacking on the deeply embeded colonialism, racism, and (cis)sexism within Western medicine and science. To protect this "house" from criticism from oppressive forces, they must remove dissenting trans and feminist voices that ask for more inclusive definitions of gender. For both truscum and HBSers pseudoscience, especially neurosexism, has provided foundations for their "house", mainly because of the prestige (pseudo)scientific language grants them. The end result is that they grant legitimacy to harmful ideas and behaviours and further marginalise and horizontally as well as vertically oppress non-binary trans people.

See also

External links


  1. 1.0 1.1 The gender myth, by Robin McKie
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Neurosexism: Brains, Gender and Tech, by Caryl Rivers and Rosalind C. Barnett
  3. 3.0 3.1 Why Parents May Cause Gender Differences in Kids, by Sharon Begley
  4. New insights into gendered brain wiring, or a perfect case study in neurosexism?, by Cordelia Fine
  5. Cordelia Fine: Delusions of Gender, a video lecture by Cordelia Fine
  6. Plasticity, plasticity, plasticity…and the rigid problem of sex, Cordelia Fine, Rebecca Jordan-Young, Anelis Kaiser, , Gina Rippon, Volume 17, Issue 11, November 2013, Pages 550–551, Trends in Cognitive Science
  7. 7.0 7.1 Deconstructing Gendered Minds, by Daniel Toker
  8. The worst neurobollocks infographics on the web
  9. The Role of Fetal Testosterone in the Development of the “Essential Difference” Between the Sexes: Some Essential Issues, by Giordana Grossi and Cordelia Fine
  10. Book Review: Neurofeminism: Issues at the Intersection of Feminist Theory and Cognitive Science, edited by Robyn Bluhm, Anne Jaap Jacobson & Heidi Lene Maibom, by Dafne Muntanyola-Saura
  11. New insights into gendered brain wiring, or a perfect case study in neurosexism?, by Cordelia Fine
  12. asking questions about men and women by looking at teenagers, by Sophie Scott
  13. So, men and women's brains are wired differently – but it's not that simple, by Oscar Rickett
  14. Are Male And Female Brains "Wired Differently"? It’s Really Not That Simple, by Kelly Oakes
  15. What a difference a day makes: How social media is transforming scientific debate, by Dorothy Bishop
  16. Men, Women, and Big PNAS Paper, by Neuroskeptic
  17. Discussion on PubPeer: Sex differences in the structural connectome of the human brain
  18. Getting in a Tangle Over Men’s and Women’s Brain Wiring, by Christian Jarrett
  19. What's For Breakfast? Fried Girl and Boy Brainz! How Men's And Women's Brains are Dramatically Different And What It All Means, by Echidne of the Snakes
  20. Stop Looking For 'Hardwired' Differences In Male And Female Brains, by Virginia Hughes
  21. Environmental and Genetic Influences on Neurocognitive Development: The Importance of Multiple Methodologies and Time-Dependent Intervention, by Annette Karmiloff-Smith, B. J. Casey, Esha Massand, Przemyslaw Tomalski, and Michael S. C. Thomas
  22. “Fighting the neurotrash” ScienceGrrl discussion at WOW 2014
  23. Men and women do not have different brains, claims neuroscientist, by Sarah Knapton
  24. Neurosexism and Delusions of Gender
  25. Girls' and boys' brains respond differently to funny videos, by Christian Jarrett
  26. Reading books does re-wire your brain, but so does everything else, by Ian Steadman
  27. Our brains, and how they're not as simple as we think, by Vaughan Bell
  28. False Positive Neuroscience?, by Neuroskeptic
  29. SfN Neuroblogging 2012: Implicit and Explicit Gender Bias
  30. Calling All Female Brains: Stop the 'Neurosexism', by Rosalind C. Barnett and Caryl Rivers
  31. [ Daphna Joel]
  32. Delusions of Gender, by Cordelia Fine
  33. Neurosexism on Wiktionary
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