The 1990s and 2000s were awash in books telling us there is something fundamentally, biologically different about the way men and women think. Bestsellers claimed that the differences between men and women were, literally, all in our heads. But it turns out the science wasn’t so cut and dried. In their new book, Gender Mosaic, neuro-scientist Daphna Joel and science journalist Luba Vikhanski demolish the warped science and faulty reporting that claimed to have located the gender binary inside our skulls, showing evidence for a much more nuanced and egalitarian picture of human cognitive capabilities.
Joel is a professor of neuroscience and psychology at Tel Aviv University, and her research underpins Gender Mosaic. She argues that classifying brains as either “male” or “female” is meaningless. Instead, all brains are a patchwork of both masculine and feminine attributes—the mosaic. “If we do persist in applying to brains the same terminology we apply to genitals, we are bound to conclude that most brains are neither male nor female—they are intersex,” the authors write.
But aren’t there measurable distinctions in how girls and boys behave, the subjects they are good at, the ways they interact? Gender Mosaic posits that these differences aren’t primarily biological but social, the result of how children are raised, educational systems, religious ideologies and other sociological forces.
The authors offer an approachable overview of the basics of brain anatomy and neuro-science, and readers will ponder the reasons for the cultural insistence on what the authors call the “binary illusion.” The book follows accounts of scientific research with reasoned arguments for gender equality—as if the authors anticipate a backlash.
Gender Mosaic is an excellent science book for gender studies scholars and an excellent gender studies book for scientists, but anyone looking for a deeper, more expansive examination of the science of gender could glean something from this book.