Unfortunately, scientific accuracy and commonsense are often casualties in the ugly rush to cloak old-fashioned sexism in the respectable and authoritative language of neuroscience. [...] Most lay readers, of course, have neither the background nor the resources to question the many inaccurate and misleading claims made about gender differences in the brain. There is also recent evidence that neuroscientific explanations enjoy a special “seductive allure”.  People’s capacity to spot the unsatisfactory nature of circular psychological explanations is significantly reduced when impressive-sounding neuroscientific terms are introduced. [...] What, exactly, is the draw of gender stereotypes dressed up as neuroscience? For men, perpetuation of the idea that they lack women’s hard-wired empathizing skills is a small price to pay for licence to lay claim to more valued and potentially profitable psychological advantages. [...] For women, a possible explanation of the appeal of neurosexism lies in the palliative system justification motive, “whereby people justify and rationalise the way things are, so that existing social arrangements are perceived as fair and legitimate, perhaps even natural and inevitable.”  Jost and colleagues have found that lower status groups have a remarkable capacity to rationalize what goes against their self-interests, internalize limiting stereotypes, and find legitimacy in the very inequalities that hold them back. [...] And as Cameron  has noted in her popular critique The myth of Mars and Venus, the effect, and also perhaps the appeal, of the idea of “timeless, natural, and inevitable” differences between the sexes is that it “stops us thinking about what social arrangements might work better than our present ones in a society that can no longer be run on the old assumptions about what men and women do.” Popular neurosexism permits us to sit back and relax, with its seemingly neat explanation of our social structure and personal lives. The answer, ‘Oh, it’s the brain,’ offers a tidy justification for accepting the status quo with clear conscience. [...] There is evidence that accounts of gender that emphasise biological factors leave us more inclined to agree with gender stereotypes, to self-stereotype ourselves, and for our performance to fall in line with those stereotypes. [...] Nineteenth century medical opinion proposed that girls who overtax their brains might never reproduce. Twenty-first century neurosexism warns that women who reproduce risk overtaxing their brains. It is, perhaps, a little less progress than many working mothers would have hoped for.
Fine calls this neurosexism: Sexism that appears to get the stamp of approval and scientific support from the hot new field of neuroscience. And it seems to be working: One of the books Fine mentions is on the New York Times bestseller list (#15) and has been translated into other languages. Is this a new version of a backlash or just the same old backlash in new clothes?
While there are differences between male and female brains – after all our bodies aren’t the same – look at the conclusions some of these authors come to, as quoted by Fine:
Levy [author of The Essential Difference] adds, “[t]his is no basis for equality. It is not an accident that there is no Nobel Prize for making people feel included.”
Freud said that women couldn’t be lawyers because they didn’t experience the Oedipus complex and thus never developed a super-ego. It is sad that almost 70 years later, we’re still bombarded with scientific-sounding nonsense that perpetuates gender stereotypes, cements the status quo, and leaves us all without alternatives for new gender roles that let us integrate all parts of who we are, whether they are “traditionally” male or female.