This Deep-Rooted Idea About Women's Brains Just Got Debunked
The long-standing notion that women and men's brains are fundamentally different is fundamentally flawed.
Let’s hope The Patriarchy is sitting down for this one, because it’s a doozy: In an article for Fast Company earlier this week, developmental and social psychologist Christia Spears Brown laid out the basis of a 2015 study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences—namely, that there’s no such thing as a “female” brain and a “male” brain.
Based on a study of 1,400 adults, the findings showed that when looking at brains as a whole (as opposed to smaller sections) via neuro-imaging, only 3 percent of people had a brain that was fully comprised of what's typically known as “male” or “female” features. The other 97 percent—aka pretty much everybody—displayed as a mosaic of traits typical to either gender.
“Our results demonstrate that regardless of the cause of observed sex/gender differences in brain and behavior (nature or nurture), human brains cannot be categorized into two distinct classes: male brain/female brain,” the study reads.
There’s no way this can really come as a surprise—the idea that we’re not all wired the exact same way is pretty duh. And to be fair, there are differences between men and women’s brains. That whole “Men’s brains are 10 percent bigger than women’s” bit some men really love to throw around?
It’s true, but as Spears Brown points out, it’s in proportion to the height and weight difference between genders, and women actually compensate by having more grooves and grey matter—the super dense component of our brains that’s shorthand for “intelligence.”
Spears Brown acknowledges that there are other aspects in regards to “mental health, neuropsychiatric disorders, and learning disorders that are clearly neurobiological” that show up differently between the genders as well.
But the importance of the findings resides in the notion that this idea that our brains our vastly and fundamentally different has been largely overblown. And as a result, detrimental gender norms run deep, fusing together as the bedrock for systemic sexism.
Look, for example, at the lack of women in STEM, which is largely a byproduct of girls being told their brains don’t work that way. Or at the recently-banned sexist ads depicting men as incapable of doing housework because their big, dumb brains—something that has resulted in keeping domestic duties largely on the shoulders of women and in men being infantilized.
There’s the pervasive idea that women are inferior drivers, as if the spatial reasoning part of our brain in a constant state of omg measuring is hard, lol sorry I just ran over your foot. And here’s a simple one that’s even stickier: Men are rational and women are emotional. Which is so funny—is that the right word?—considering who ended up in the Oval Office in the 2016 elections.
It is, of course, an incredibly complex subject, but the bottom line is that we’ve yielded far too much credence to the small differences in our brains rather than the significant overlap.
Considering most rational people are willing to accept that we’re largely shaped by our different experiences, it shouldn’t be a stretch to accept that our brains reflect as much. And accepting this is a vital step in recognizing women brains aren’t “different,” which for too long has been a codeword for “inferior” in a male-dominated society.
Words: Deena Drewis