Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences.

Author:Spurgas, Alyson K.
Position:Book review
 
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Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences

By Rebecca M. Jordan-Young

(Harvard University Press, 2010)

A quick glance in the Science and Health sections of any major newspaper reveals how enamored mainstream culture in the United States has become with evolutionary neuropsychology. Over the last two decades, this scientific paradigm has been popularized to justify "common sense" notions about human sociality and behavior, especially the idea that the human brain is "hardwired" by, or for, gender, race, sexuality, and the like. The notions that bisexuality in men does not exist, that women are wired to find sexual submission arousing, and that ethnocentrism is the result of ancient chemical distributions in the brain that promote trust only toward one's "in-group" are among neuropsychology's greatest hits. As a result, racism, sexism, and the violence that often results from these are regularly legitimated and naturalized.

It is this search for a one-to-one correlation between brains and behavior that Rebecca Jordan-Young attacks so viscerally in Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. She targets one particularly beloved story in her analysis--the notion that prenatal hormone exposures permanently sexually differentiate the brain. Jordan-Young's stated goal is not to answer questions, but rather to "question answers"--specifically regarding what scientists assume to know about differences in the brains of men and women, heterosexuals and homosexuals, or what may be called "androphiles" and "gynephiles."

Beginning in the mid-twentieth century, the notion that early hormones "create permanent masculine or feminine patterns of desire, personality, temperament, and cognition" (xi) became clinically prolific. Psychologists like John Money and his archrival Milton Diamond were some of the first to utilize Brain Organization Theory or "BOT" to explain the essential and dimorphic nature of sexual difference. Over the second half of the twentieth century, BOT became the most popular explanation for everything from sexual orientation to social reproduction. The story goes like this: our brains are bathed in hormones in utero, there are only two ways they can be bathed, this hormonal bath becomes fixed neurologically, and for the rest of our lives we live out this binary destiny. Thus, BOT is really about discovering the truth of masculinity and femininity. But, as Jordan-Young provocatively inquires, how can we really ever define,...

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