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Paul Grobstein's picture

sex/gender: whose brains are different?

People are certainly different from one another, and among the contributors to those differences are sex chromosomes, reproductive role/capability, hormonal exposures, body characteristics, family rearing, cultural context, and so on and so forth.  What's at issue here, as discussed in class, is whether "male" and "female" (or "man and "woman") are disjunct, well-defined categories.  That people report differences between "boys' and girls' brains" doesn't answer the question, rather it presumes a positive answer to the question in order to do the research.   One can't have done the study without putting each subject into one of two discrete categories.  The question then becomes what criteria were used to create the two categories.  Are the differences reported differences between people with different sex chromosomes? Or between people with different hormonal exposures? body characteristics?  self-identities? or ... ?   The significance of the finding depends a lot on how the categories were defined in the first place.   The key point isn't that "gender differences" are societal, its that the disjunct categories themselves are a social construct lacking clear correspondence to biological observations.   

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