There’s as much evidence to support the idea of a “gendered brain” as there is for ghosts and a flat Earth.
It’s always interesting to see which of those myths people choose to believe, which they vehemently reject, and how rare it is to find someone with an evidence-based view on all three.
To be clear, scientifically speaking, the gendered brain is a myth, ghosts aren’t real, and the Earth is round.
It’s beyond the scope of this article to address the latter two issues, but let’s have a go at the first one.
The brain isn’t dumb
The amount of people – scientists even! – who tend to believe that men and women have fundamentally different brains is astounding.
The truth of the matter is that no human brain is male or female. Just like nothing else in the universe is strictly binary, there’s no either/or dichotomy for the brain.
Professor Daphna Joel, a researcher at Tel Aviv University, recently published a study demonstrating evidence for what’s called the “mosaic theory” of human brains.
Their theory states, simply, that there’s no spectrum between male and female by which one can measure maleness or femaleness.
Instead, they posit a multi-dimensional mosaic idea where femaleness and maleness can exist in different areas of different people’s brains.
It’s important to point out that this is actually a scientific theory. Unlike the unscientific theory behind the gendered brain.
Here’s how you can tell the difference: the mosaic brain theory is supported by evidence. The gendered brain theory is supported by assumptions.
According to Joel’s paper:
“When we talk about female and male genitalia, we have quite a clear and agreed-upon understanding of what this means – two distinct sets of organs, one comprised of only genital organs with a form typical (i.e., common) of females, and the other comprised of only genital organs with a form typical of males.
This is clearly not the case in the human brain, in which, if we were to apply the terminology used to describe genitals, most brains would be ‘intersex’. This is because there is overlap between the distributions of females and of males on all currently known measures of the human brain that show sex/gender differences.”
Not all measurements are equal
The gist of the paper, and Joel’s point, is that measurements demonstrating a gender difference in human brains only hold up independently. When you start combining variables, the whole idea falls apart.
Basically, every human brain produces male results for some measurements and female results for others and no two tend to produce the same combination.
This means that the brain itself isn’t gendered. The junk science behind the gendered brain assumes the existence of traditionally male or female genitals is confirmation of its own hypothesis. Without the assertion that genitals are a ground truth connected to the brain, none of the evidence for a gendered brain makes sense.
Again, the brain isn’t dumb
The bottom line is that the human brain is anything but binary.
You can choose to be masculine, feminine, and anything in between – including a multi-dimensional conflagration of myriad conceptual sex phenotypes – but your brain’s still going to be the glorious, indescribably complex organic quantum neural network it’s always been – gendering it is as unnecessary as it is irrelevant and non-scientific.
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Tristan is a science and technology journalist who values life, humanity, and taco soup. He/him