The Myth of the "Girl" Brain; or how to spot a misogynist

I wasn’t going to bother writing about this again since my views are pretty clear to anyone who’s come across my rantings on “girl and boy” brains. Some of the media coverage of the new research “proving” brain differences has been excellent. Glosswitch wrote a great review in the New Statesman as did  Marstrina at Not A Zero Sum Game. I was ignoring because it irritates me no end to see people claiming that  gender science is totes real and completely removed from our culture. 

I’m fairly certain there are only three kinds of people who believe in “girl” brains:
  1. Those with poor literacy skills
  2. Nincompoops
  3. Misogynists.
Anyone growing up with an access to good education falls into the last two categories. And, most are misogynists. They may not think they are but the only reason to believe in inherent differences between men and women based on junk science is if you believe that women are inferior to men. The myth of “girl” brains only serves to maintain the status quo: which is a culture where women earn 70% of what men earn, are fired for getting pregnant and are blamed for being a victim of a crime.


Here’s the thing, we just don’t have the ability to tell what is clearly a genetic difference versus what differences are caused by socialisation. Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences breaks down the problems with the science and the refusal the effects of socialisation in a patriarchal culture. I won’t bother repeating what she wrote since everyone needs to read this book; especially for the Daddy Rat research.

Every time someones claim that they can ‘see’ observable differences, whether in MRI scans or toddlers playing, I am reminded of Nazi scientists who swore blind they could see observable differences in the skull sizes of Jewish and African people. I am reminded of 19th eugenicists who claimed the same. In 20 years, we may have the science which can conclusively prove, once and for all, whether or not there are actually differences between the brains of men and women; or prove that actually the statistically insignificant differences we see now are nothing more the process of socialisation on the human brain.

Until then, I’m going to assume that those who insist in genetic differences are either nincompoops or misogynists with a vested interest in maintaining the status quo: and women’s inferiority. 

You Too Can be a Model or a Pop Star: Living the Barbie Dream

Remember when Barbie was President of the United States? A vet? An entrepreneur with a string of high street stores? An astronaut? A paraolympian? A jockey?


Remember when Barbie’s body measurements were hateful but Barbie herself could do anything and be anything?

I do.


It’s unlikely my kids will remember Barbie this way since Barbie is now either a model, pop star or actress. It’s not that Barbie can’t be President of the United States since a limited edition Barbie for President 2012 doll was produced or that Barbie the Vet is no more, it’s simply that the most easily available versions of Barbie for sale on the high street are fairies, mermaids, princesses, models and popstars; all of which are tied into films and all of that subsequent merchandising. 

To be fair, I also had Pop Star Barbie; mine owned a record company, spoke 6 languages and had a PhD in archaeology. It’s probably fair to say I was a nerd. It’s not also that I think girls today lack the imaginations to make their Barbie mermaids into something; my small has made her Barbie mermaid into a superhero but Barbie used to be every girl [even with the ridiculous figure]. Now, even with the new more “realistic” bodies, Barbie is actually more 
limited in terms of careers and adventures.

The Barbie films may be predicated on the notion of girl power and female friendships, heck Barbie and the 3 Musketeers is practically Germaine Greer-approved, but they are reinforcing an even more narrow version of femininity that is inherently harmful for girls. The opening of the first life-sized Barbie Dreamhouse in Berlin is just further reinforcing the idea of Barbie-as-Object rather than Barbie-the-Adventure-Girl of my childhood. 





Barbie-of-the-Dreamhouse only allows two careers: model or pop star. Girls can pretend to bake cupcakes in her fake kitchen and rifle through her wardrobe. There is no evidence of President Barbie or Barbie The Musketeer or Barbie the Vet here. It’s just the plastic pink version of femininity that Barbie has been criticised for more than 40 years. At this point, I’d love a return to Malibu Barbie and Stacey who hang out at the beach surfing. At least they were athletes. Barbie-of-the-Dreamhouse doesn’t do adventures and I’m not entirely sure when she works as a model or pop star when she seems to spend all her time baking cupcakes and dressing up.

Barbie had an opportunity to change into something really quite radical with the return of President Barbie. Instead, Mattel has returned to the pink princess twaddle. 

And, don’t even get me started on Barbie the TV series which is available on youtube. I can’t tell if it’s supposed to post-modern irony or the brainchild of someone deeply stupid but it is well past creepy.

Dear Disney, Fuck You. Love, Merida’s Fans

A Mighty Girl has started a petition to ask Disney to stop trashing Merida. Now, I’m not the greatest fan of Brave, as I blogged here, but I cannot believe Disney is turning their first real female character into another cookie cutter pastiche of femininity.

This is the text of the petition:

Merida was the princess that countless girls and their parents were waiting for — a strong, confident, self-rescuing princess ready to set off on her next adventure with her bow at the ready. She was a princess who looked like a real girl, complete with the ‘imperfections’ that all people have.

The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls’ capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value — to be recognized as true princesses — they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty.

In an interview with Pixar Portal, “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman stated, “Because of marketing, little girls gravitate toward princess products, so my goal was to offer up a different kind of princess — a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn’t be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they’d be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’”

This new Merida is a paler reflection of her former self without the spark and the ‘you go girl’ quality that her creator intended.

We write to you on behalf of all the young girls who embraced Merida as a role model, who learned from her that they too could go off on an adventure and save the day; that it’s not how you look that matters but who you are. For them and for all the children — both girls and boys — who benefit from seeing depictions of strong, courageous, and independent-minded girls and women that are so scarce in animated movies, we ask you to return to the original Merida that we all know and love. We ask you to keep Merida Brave!



To:
Robert A. Iger, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, The Walt Disney Company
Zenia Mucha, Executive Vice President, Chief Communications Officer, The Walt Disney Company
Nidia Caceros, Director, Corporate Communications, The Walt Disney Company

Merida was the princess that countless girls and their parents were waiting for — a strong, confident, self-rescuing princess ready to set off on her next adventure with her bow at the ready. She was a princess who looked like a real girl, complete with the ‘imperfections’ that all people have. 

The redesign of Merida in advance of her official induction to the Disney Princess collection does a tremendous disservice to the millions of children for whom Merida is an empowering role model who speaks to girls’ capacity to be change agents in the world rather than just trophies to be admired. Moreover, by making her skinnier, sexier and more mature in appearance, you are sending a message to girls that the original, realistic, teenage-appearing version of Merida is inferior; that for girls and women to have value — to be recognized as true princesses — they must conform to a narrow definition of beauty. 

In an interview with Pixar Portal, “Brave” writer and co-director Brenda Chapman stated, “Because of marketing, little girls gravitate toward princess products, so my goal was to offer up a different kind of princess — a stronger princess that both mothers and daughters could relate to, so mothers wouldn’t be pulling their hair out when their little girls were trying to dress or act like this princess. Instead they’d be like, ‘Yeah, you go girl!’”
This new Merida is a paler reflection of her former self without the spark and the ‘you go girl’ quality that her creator intended.

We write to you on behalf of all the young girls who embraced Merida as a role model, who learned from her that they too could go off on an adventure and save the day; that it’s not how you look that matters but who you are. For them and for all the children — both girls and boys — who benefit from seeing depictions of strong, courageous, and independent-minded girls and women that are so scarce in animated movies, we ask you to return to the original Merida that we all know and love. We ask you to keep Merida Brave!
Sincerely, 

[Your name]

The Daddy Rat : Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender, The Real Science Behind Sex Differences

It’s a standing joke in the Mumsnet Feminism/ Women’s Rights section that we should all be receiving royalties for Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences. I must recommend it at least once a week on threads about gendering children or men being too stupid to see dirt so they, consequently, stink at housework. This, of course, is the same men who are so “visual” that they need to look at porn in order to get off. How, precisely, one can be simultaneously visual and non-visual is beyond me but that’s the argument always put forward by those who believe in innate gender differences.

I’m a neuroskeptic. I don’t believe in innate gender differences. I certainly don’t think we can “scientifically observe” gender differences when our culture is so seeped in woman-hating that anything constructed as “female” is immediately wrong. I have no tolerance for people who claim that boys are physical and girls are emotional. Or, that boys are better at math and spatial awareness than girls because their brains are hardwired that way. All the neuroscience I see insisting on innate gender [and never sex which is what they actually mean] differences has been about supporting the status quo of women’s subordination. 

Cordelia Fine deconstructs all the major “research” on innate gender differences and demonstrates what unrelenting twaddle it is. She is equally snarky, funny and downright angry at the misuse and falsification of “scientific evidence” to support fallacious constructions of gender [which fail to acknowledge the historical and cultural situations in which they were created]. I can not recommend this book enough for anyone who thinks that its totally normal for boys to be violent and girls to be nurturing. This is by far one of my most favourite feminist texts, despite not being advertised as such.


This is my favourite quote from the book: The Daddy Rat

Male rats don’t experience the hormonal changes that trigger maternal behaviour in female rats. They never normally participate in infant care. Yet put a baby rat in a cage with a male adult and after a few days he will be caring for the baby almost as if he were its mother.  He’ll pick it up, nestle it close to him as a nursing female would, keep the baby rat clear and comforted and even build a comfy nest for it. The parenting circuits are there in the male brain, even in a species in which paternal care doesn’t normally exist. If a male rat, without even the aid of a William Sears baby-care manual, can be inspired to parent then I would suggest that the prospects for human fathers are pretty good. (88)

It makes me snigger every time I read it.


Some interesting Discussions on Mumsnet: 




Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam

Marie-Louise Gay’s Stella and Sam series are some of my favourite children’s stories. I love Stella’s imagination and her utter joy at life. I love the simplicity of Stella and Sam playing together and the beautiful stories Stella tells Sam: about being Star of the Sea, Queen of the Snow, Fairy of the Forest and Princess of the Sky. I love Sam’s never-ending questions and his innocent trust in the infinite knowledge of his big sister.

These books are the celebration of the real beauty in the relationships of siblings (when they aren’t arguing over whose turn it is to clean the hamster cage or empty the dishwasher) but also how powerful the gift of imagination truly is. 

Needless to say, we own them all. 🙂


(image reproduced from here)


So that Steve Biddulph MN webchat: WTF?


Because, honestly, it was a gigantic pile of nincompoopery. It is safe to say that I am not a very big fan of Steve Biddulph to begin with. His normalisation of gendered stereotypes in order to sell books just pisses me off. There is very little scientific evidence to support the nonsense that boys and girls are somehow inherently different; just lots of people claiming they “observed” gendered behaviour.  This ignores the very real evidence of the cultural and historical construction and contextualisation of gender. It also conflates biological sex with gender, as if there were somehow a hormone which decides what type of child likes playing with dinosaurs. It leads to Hannah Evans claiming, in the Guardian no less, that sticks are essential to the raising of boys. It’s possible Evans has never actually met a girl child, because I’ve got two and they most definitely play with sticks. In fact, I don’t think I’ve met a girl who didn’t understand the importance of sticks. It’s called imaginative play; something that Steve Biddulph should know about considering his work with Collective Shout.

I have a number of problems with Biddulph. The first is his apparent amazement that, after spending 25 years specialising in the raising of boys, he’s discovered, rather miraculously, that “its GIRLS who are in trouble“. Yep, as a man whose spent 25 years arguing that  boys are “different”, he’s now discovered that girls are “different” too and in TROUBLE! This would be more convincing if I thought Biddulph had spent the last 25 years living in a cave because I genuinely can’t imagine how any intelligent, well-educated adult could have missed the fact that the Capitalist-Patriarchy is toxic for ALL children; unless, of course, they were planning on financially benefitting from stating the bleeding obvious. After all, it’s not like there’s ever been a single book published about the toxicity of childhood on young girls, raising girlscampaigns on the sexualisation and sexploitation of young girls, or the fact that feminsts have been saying this for years. We know that our culture is deeply destructive for girls and girls mental health is suffering because of it.  We don’t need another “expert” jumping up to tell us. We’ve already figured it out.

The first odd thing about the MN webchat is that Biddulph tried to claim he was not an “expert”. Please credit us with a modicum of intelligence, he was clearly invited as an “expert”. His disavowal of that role in an attempts to “debate” rather than answer any of the real questions he was asked was, well, rather pathetic. After all, this was the introduction to the webchat:

We’re delighted that Steve is returning to talk to us about his latest book, Raising Girls. This was written as a response to the ‘sudden and universal deterioration in girls’ mental health, starting in primary school and devastating the teen years’. The book is both a call-to-arms for parents and a detailed guide through the five key stages of girlhood to help build strength and connectedness into your daughter from infancy onwards. Join the discussion and you will be entered into a draw to win one of five copies of Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls.

There was NO reason for him to come on to a MN webchat if he wasn’t setting himself up as “expert”. The whole point of the Mumsnet chat boards is the sharing of information. Why would they have a paying guest on if the guest weren’t trying to flog something to us? In Biddulph’s case, this is both a new book called Raising Girls and the one day seminar he is running as part of the Mumsnet Academy. Mumsnet is a business. They have never pretended to be any different so why Biddulph is waffling about the issue is just perplexing.

Secondly, Biddulph didn’t seem to answer any of the questions. Several of the answers read as though they were written in advance without Biddulph reading any of the pre-chat questions. Also there is the pesky issue of one particular cheerleading poster on the thread who was rather upset at the criticism of Biddulph and who has only posted on that name on that thread. If I were to think charitably, I would suggest he fundamentally misunderstood how a MN webchat runs, which would be quite odd since he’s done previous webchats (and brought his wife along). His answers were vague, patronising, pretentious and, well, twaddle. He deliberately refused to answer one question which was asked repeatedly, first by MmeLindor:

In your book, ‘Raising Boys’ you state ‘At the age of four, for reasons nobody quite understands, boys receive a sudden surge of testosterone, doubling their previous levels. At this age, little Jamie may become much more interested in action, heroics, adventures and vigorous play… At five years of age, the testosterone level drops by half, and young Jamie calms down again, just in time for school’ 
I have often seen this used – both on Mumsnet and on other parenting websites and blogs – to explain why boys are aggressive at age 4 to 5 years.  

Despite extensive searching I have yet to find a scientific research paper that supports this theory. Could you please link to the evidence of this.  …  

I am concerned that falsely interpreted statement in your book may lead to parents accepting the aggressive behaviour of their sons, to the detriment of their daughters. 

It worries me because we are teaching our girls from a young age that the right way to react to aggression is to walk away, and we are teaching our boys that aggressive behaviour is in some way acceptable, and to be expected.
Could you please clarify your statement about this hormone surge.

I would have thought that anyone making such a claim would be capable of backing it up with links to peer-reviewed research. It’s ethically and scientifically unacceptable to make claims of this nature without any evidence. It’s an incredibly dangerous statement to make because it does imply that boys are predisposed to violence and, therefore, not responsible for their actions. Small boys are not inherently aggressive or violent. We live in a culture that expects men to be violent. We reward them for their violence; one only needs to look at the careers of Charlie Sheen and Mike Tyson for evidence. But, boys aren’t inherently violent. They aren’t born violent or aggressive. That is how our culture socialises them. 

Next up on the list of things that annoyed me was this little speech: 

Girls are usually much more wired for social awareness, and even as babies they focus more on faces and reactions. This is a strength except when they are very anxious and then friendship problems can tip them over. THEY NEED HELP WITH FRIENDSHIP because its the most complex thing we do.  

It all begins in babyhood. The secure attachment of mother and baby (or dad and baby) lays the foundations for being trusting, available to love and closeness with others. If your daughter was close to you, she will know how to be close to others. 
But its from 5 – 10 that friendship is the uppermost topic for girls, because this is their primary learning goal at this age. HOW TO GET ALONG WITH OTHERS.  

There are seven core skills involved in being a friend.  

1. Enjoying the company of others – lightening up and treating company as a chance for fun.  

2. Learning to take turns and share -you have more fun if you play together, but you have to give a little to make that work.  

3. Being able to empathize – imagining how you would feel in your friend’s shoes, and being happy for them when they “win” or “star” in the game. This is a more advanced skill, it doesn’t always come easily.  

4. Being able to regulate aggression – not screaming or clobbering your friends when you disagree. Not storming off because you are losing the argument.  

5.Apologizing when you are wrong, or have hurt a friend’s feelings.  

6. Being able to read emotions. Seeing when someone is angry, sad or afraid and adjusting your behaviour accordingly. You can even teach this with drawings of smiley, frowny, teary and shakey faces, helping your daughter recognize them, and applying this to situations when her friends have been upset.  

7.Learning when to trust or believe someone, and when not to. That people can be deceptive for reasons of their own. Your daughter will be shocked and hurt when a friend lies or deceives her. You will need to comfort her and explain that some people have not learned the value of being trustworthy. Don’t lose heart, just be a little careful.  

Each of these will arise often in your daughter’s day to day life. When she comes to you hurt or bewildered, you can pinpoint which skill is called for, listen to her feelings, but then talk to her about how that skill can be done. It will take a few goes to get right, so follow up with her over a few days or weeks. Even we adults often don’t get these right, so have respect for the hugeness of what she is having to learn, and praise and affirm her for even small steps.  

I hope this helps a bit. A just seven years of age, a lot of learning is going on, it takes years, and so calmly listening to her as she talks it through.

Ignoring the unbelievably patronising comment at the end, Biddulph has clearly not read his Cordelia Fine because this idea that baby girls are “wired for social awareness” is utter twaddle. And, if girls are really are “wired for social awareness”, then surely it should be boys who need help developing friendships? Or, are they so socially incompetent that they don’t know they are supposed to have friends? I can’t keep this crap straight. I mean, seriously, are we supposed to believe that boys don’t need help learning about human emotion or who to trust? Are they not affected by these issues to? Biddulph doesn’t even try to answer a question raised about “neuronal plasticity, experience and reinforcement as determinants of behaviour and observable trait” despite the fact that this research basically proves that these studies into “observable” gender differences are, at best, inconclusive and, at worst, inherently flawed making Biddulph’s gendering of children wrong.

And, honestly, I howled with laughter when I read this bit: 

In babyhood – to feel loved and secureIn toddlerhood and pre-school age – to be exploring and curious and have an adventurous approach to the world – especially important in girls, to not be restricted (by attitudes, or fussy clothes) and for adults to show and teach enthusiasm about the world.In school – aged five to ten – to learn about friendship and getting along with others. In the early teens – 10-14 – to find your SOUL, your true self.In the late teens 14-18 – to practice for being an adult woman. And finally to step into adulthood, take responsibility for your life.

These are the stages of “girl”. Now, maybe it’s because I don’t have a son, but I’m pretty sure these stages correlate to the development of boys. I like to call this process “growing up”; as I mentioned in a comment Mumsnet deleted (which seems a tad OTT considering I said worse on the Naomi Wolf webchat).

All this webchat made me want to do is reread Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender as she brilliantly debunks all this twaddle whilst being incredibly funny and missing the whole patronising, mansplainin’ thing. Delusions of Gender is worth the price just for the Daddy Rat story. Honestly. 

Do also read this piece by Glosswitch in the New Statesman and this post by SaltandCaramel.

But, don’t bother with Biddulph. If you feel you need support, ask the parents around you. After all, that line about it taking a village to raise a child is true. We just need to stop paying experts to spout shite and start taking advantage of our communities. 

Hilary Devey’s Women on Top



I watched exactly ten minutes of Hilary Devey’s Women on Top. The premise is interesting: a successful British business woman who didn’t understand the gendered barriers to women’s equality within capitalism traveled to Norway to investigate their practise of quotas of women’s participation in employment. 

I stopped watching after they said women in Norway “embrace their feminine side” with 1 years maternity pay. Because women in business must have babies otherwise they aren’t actually women. Or, something equally stupid. 

Perhaps, the BBC might want to actually think about gender stereotypes before embarking on these types of programs and don’t reinforce the same misogynistic bullshit that they claim to be “investigating”.






The John Lewis Window Display: Anyone Notice the Problem?


Can you tell which side is the boys toys? And, which side is for the girls? Because, personally, I really struggled with this since I did not know that only boys were allowed to play musical instruments. I already knew that girls weren’t allowed to like science experiments or lego and that we were only allowed to play with dolls and prams so we didn’t get confused as to the exact purpose of the uterus but I totally thought we were allowed to play the piano. After all, Jane Austen was forever droning on about young girls being taught the piano in order to be “accomplished”. Have we lost the right to do this too? Was there a memo I missed? Should I donate our piano to the nearest boy in case in makes my girls grow a penis?


Men went to the moon and women went to the bathroom:

Because there is nothing misogynistic in this image. At all. Clearly.

I wouldn’t bother reading the comments on FB which accompany this image. It will make you want to cry.

Ice Age 4: Another Kids Film, More Asinine Gender Stereotypes


I’m not sure why I even bother taking the kids to the pictures anymore. They inevitably serve to make unbearably cantankerous with the constant gendered stereotyping and, frequently, the erasure of female characters. However, it was pissing with rain and my house already looks like  a Turner prize installation art project what with the layer of paper mache, painted shoe boxes and toilet paper tube mobiles and that’s without mentioning the cat who bears more than a passing resemblance to a disco ball with the amount of glitter stuck to her. So, off to the pictures we went. And, yeah, I’m cheap so it was the kids club movie which is why I’m reviewing a film that’s been out for several months already.

Ice Age 4 has, at least, a few female characters. You know, the ubiquitous ones: the crazy old bat, self-sacrificing mother, and the “evil” temptress who falls in love with a cock and then learns to be good. Plus, there’s the whole rebellious teenage daughter who learns that doing exactly what Daddy tells you to do is the only way to be “good”. And, yeah, a character actually does refer to the grandmother as a “crazy old bat” because there is nothing funnier that disablist comments about dementia. She’s also spiteful because  it wouldn’t be funny if a character with dementia wasn’t spiteful too.

Ice Age 4 had some funny moments but the female characters were just awful. Some of the worst written characters I’ve seen in a while. The evil, stubborn temptress who just needs to be rescued and fall in love with her rescuer to become a “real” woman is just so tedious and repetitive. As is the story of a teenage girl dumping her best friend to go off with the “cool dude”, slags off her friend and then everyone, miraculously, becomes best mates. That’s bullying. It isn’t something we should be showing young children. 

Yeah, there are places where the female characters “rescue” someone but it is never as important as being rescued by Daddy/ Lover. Because Daddy/ Lover knows best. Daddy/ Lover always knows best and where would we be without the Anxious Patriarch trope? I mean, kids might actually learn to engage critically with the Patriarchy. And, then kick the ever living shit out of it. And, we couldn’t have that. Nope. Not at all.

Oh, and from a completely non-feminist perspective, what is it with kids movies and lame song interludes? Sure, if the movie is supposed to be a musical but one random and seriously fucking stupid song in the middle? Just, why? Are there no competent musicians in LA who could be brought in to write non-stupid songs for children? Or, better yet, just skip the musical interlude all together.