Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sex, Gender, Kids & Brains

There was so much that I agreed with in Michael Thompson's May 2nd talk, but I recognized some differences in our worldview and academic disciplines, too... As a sociologist, I am trained to put individual problems into a social and political context and I often thought about what we could do to make kids situations better in general -- address poverty (43% of Maine children are low-income)  enhance mental health services for kids and adults (rather than the vicious cuts we're facing), support Maine's teachers... but in particular my sociological self wanted to grab the microphone and share an alternative view of sex, gender and brains.

 exactly the same baby on each card (source : sociological images)
Michael Thompson contended that sex differences are largely hard-wired in all primates and that gender differences between boys and girls are at least partially driven by biological differences - -and he said most neuroscientists would agree.  However, there is actually a ton of debate about this topic and many would say that a) sex occurs on a continuum and the overlap between those called "male" and those called "female" is pretty significant and b) brains develop within cultural contexts and there is no separation between nature and nurture, but rather an endless reconstituting of self in relation.

This is all women's studies 101 and perhaps too much for a blog post, but it is important to note that the idea that sex differences drive "separate spheres" for boys and girls is not a closed-case, as Thompson suggested.

For more --

See neuroscientist Lisa Eliot's excellent book on this very topic -- Pink Brain/Blue Brain : How Small Differences Grow Into Large Gaps and What We Can Do About It    --  if it is a bit too long, watch her on fora.tv or read one of the many summaries and blog posts about the book!

For a more journalistic account, check out The Truth About Girls and Boys by Rosalind Barnett and Carol Rivers (see, too, their web site). Barnett and Rivers are particularly well spoken about the implications of naturalizing sex differences as supporting inequality - read this provocative essay about girls and STEM programs)

Jennifer Bryan's new book  "From the Dress Up Corner to the Senior Prom"  addresses questions of gender diversity in school in a 21st century fashion and is well worth a read  -- we're hoping she'll do an educator's workshop (or 2) in Maine in the fall (contact me if you'd like more info or to collaborate!)

Finally, for a more complex understanding of sex, itself, watch Alice Dreger's TedTalk "Is Anatomy Destiny" or this shorter MSNBC clip talking about Caster Semenya's case. 

Next post -- the relation between sex, gender, heterosexism and bullying -- check out the backbone zone to start!