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Review of The Gendered Brain by Gina Rippon

In The Gendered Brain, Gina Rippon does a great job of demonstrating that there is no such thing as a ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain. The one difference that stands the test of science is that there are differences in brain size. However, this is a meaningless difference as brain size is proportional to body size (small men beware!). What is true is that brain function is much more about connections within the brain than it is about size or even structure.

Brains are plastic and adapt to their environment (including the body they are connected to), which means that culture plays an important role in shaping them. Nowhere is this clearer than in attitudes to STEM careers and gender. I use the word ‘attitudes’ deliberately, as these attitudes are often mythical. Gina Rippon cites a meta-analysis conducted in 2010 which showed few if any gender gaps in mathematics skills across most countries. In some countries (Thailand for example) there were more women than men among the highest scorers.

As she writes, “a complex entanglement of brains and experiences, self-belief and stereotypes, culture and politics, unconscious and conscious bias”.  Brains are amazing, whoever owns them.

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