Drawing on her work as a professor of cognitive neuroimaging, Gina Rippon unpacks the stereotypes that surround us from our earliest moments and shows how these messages mold our ideas of ourselved and even shape our brains. By exploring new neuroscience, Rippon urges us to move beyond a binary view of the brain and to see instead this complex organ as highly individualized.
... reading Gina Rippon’s careful and prolonged demolition of the myth of the 'female brain' left me with a powerful sense of relief. Here, at last, are things I’ve long felt instinctively to be true, presented as demonstrable facts ... It is a highly accessible book. It’s also an important one. Quite apart from how interesting the science contained within it is, it has the power – if only people would read it – to do vastly more for gender equality than any number of feminist 'manifestos' ... Brick by brick, Rippon razes this history and, for the (non-scientist) reader, what she says is revolutionary to a glorious degree ... The science in Rippon’s book is complex and multilayered. But she looks, too, at the pernicious influence of psychobabble ... She is brilliant on baby brains ... She is supremely clear-eyed when she comes to unpick the reasons why there are still relatively few women in science. Above all, she has the research that proves that women are as good (or as bad) at visuospatial processing as men ... It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that I felt like cheering when I read this, and perhaps such information will provide food for thought for those campaigning for women to be given so-called menstrual leave.
One could imagine a shorter work, more focused on documenting the state-of-the-art evidence about gender differences in brain imaging. Instead the book spends most of its time in the realm of developmental psychology, or social science in general. Many of these experiments are quite interesting ... it isn’t clear how the research relates to the 'new neuroscience' of Rippon’s subtitle, nor does it reveal much about gender ... Rippon is on even shakier ground in discussing, for example, differences in self-esteem between men and women, where social science convincingly demonstrates that differences exist but brain science so far has little to offer. And the segment of the book on discrimination in science was interesting from where I sit as a female academic, but didn’t seem central to Rippon’s insights or aims ... Where the book really shines — not surprisingly — is in the details about the science of the brain: what we know and what we do not. Rippon’s explanation of how we’ve studied the brain in the past, and how recent technological advances are giving us increasingly precise tools to do so, is endlessly interesting. But in the end, the discussion of how all of this relates to gender plays a bit of a second fiddle. Of course, if Rippon’s ultimate claim is simply that men’s and women’s brains are not so different after all, then perhaps that is as it should be.
Rippon takes a scalpel to the research surrounding sex differences in the brain with precision and humour ... Rippon rightly includes the impact of misleading media reporting and the effects of living in a society that assumes all girls like pink and women can’t read maps ... The context and examples cited throughout are fascinating — from the Tomboy Index to how playing Tetris can easily change the results of a mental rotation performance study ... examples are what makes The Gendered Brain so enjoyable. The chapter on the social brain is particularly enlightening.