Cordelia Fine On Myths of Sex, Science, and Society

Cordelia Fine is a psychologist and writer who studies how our brains work and eloquently forms her arguments in fine and passionate writing. Her books ‘A Mind of Its Own: How Your Brain Distorts and Deceives’ and ‘Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference’ have been bestsellers and were received to much critical acclaim.

As part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas programme, Fine gave a talk on her latest book ‘Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society’. She explained how she came to the decision for the name or the ‘nickname’ for the title by challenging the deep-rooted idea for the male-female brain binary. In her view, with all the studies and evidence science has given us throughout the last few decades, this idea for a clear-cut division is literally extinct, and yet it stubbornly persists segregating our society.

To support her arguments, in the book Cordelia uses a lot of examples of the natural world following general patterns. She said she wanted to show the difference between sex roles and what happens to disrupt the ordinary dynamics.

When it comes to human sexuality, however, Fine says that human sexual activity is uniquely inefficient when we come to consider unreproductive sex. It seems that we’ve found an inimitable way of linking sex to love, relationships, bondage, relaxation, removing tension, etc.

The sexual double standard is still highly ingrained in our society, even though science points to other conclusions. Fine has analysed studies on how sex influences the brain. She mentioned a specific study run on 1,400 people, the results of which pointed to small differences when it comes to sex influences. Rather, the study showed a mosaic of mixed male/female characteristics and qualities for every individual, influenced by an entire range of factors, with epigenetics featuring heavily. Fine implies that this strongly suggests that the brain can’t be put on a continuum of maleness vs. femaleness.

There was a mention of the gender socialization of children, and Fine said that toy studies reveal very little inclination of children towards gender toys until they come to the age where culture influences the choices they make.

Traditions, cultures and social codes all link to the assumption that testosterone rules over the male brain and turns young boys into strong men who are wired for risk-taking, something lacking in the female. Cordelia Fine challenges this assumption by breaking down ‘common sense’ overturning it with scientific evidence. Her writing is bold and refreshing, and her ideas aim at causing change, a mission worth supporting.