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LOOKING FORWARD: Cordelia Fine, United Kingdom & Australia

Talking Teen Barbie might have said, "Math class is hard," but that’s coming from a doll with very little brain. What’s more disturbing, says Cordelia Fine, an academic psychologist and author of "Delusions of Gender," are intellectuals who reinforce that same message.

The debate about women's brains and their biological proclivities has gone through a revival — bolstered by 21st century imaging and molecular technology. A bevy of new books has hit the market in recent years advocating "hardwired" differences between women and men.

Fine, 35 and the mother of two boys, acknowledges there are differences — male brains tend to be larger, for example. However, she is wary of neuroscientists who seem to be deciding that nature plays a far more important role than nurture in determining a person’s interests and aptitudes.

"Avid readers of popular science books and articles about gender may well have formed the impression that science has shown that the path to a male or a female brain is set in utero, and that these differently structured brains create essentially different minds," says Fine, a senior research associate at Macquarie University and an honorary research fellow at University of Melbourne. "These cultural lores, which in popular hands can become nothing short of monstrous fiction, are standing in the way of greater sex equality — just as measures of skull volume, brain weight and neuron delicacy did in the past."

Fine’s own inquisitive nature might be a case in point. She is the daughter of Anne Fine, a former children’s laureate in Britain who penned "Madam Doubtfire," and Kit Fine, a professor of philosophy at New York University specializing in metaphysics, logic and philosophy of language. Discussions around the Fine family dinner table were a lively, intellectual affair, with members pointing to book passages to reinforce their point.

So in the future, when scientists see a certain response in the brain on an MRI, expect Cordelia Fine to be that voice urging them to look not just at the DNA but the dinner table, too.


If you want the answer to persisting gender inequalities... take a look right over here, please, at this brain scan. If only it were that simple.3

- Cordelia Fine

SOURCES: 1 Hill, Amelia, “Gender Gap A Scientific Myth,” The Guardian, Sept. 10, 2010. 2 Freeman-Greene, Suzy, “A Brain Strained by Sexism” The Age, Sept. 25, 2010. 3 Fine, Cordelia, “Delusions of Gender,” W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 2010. 4 National Center for Education Statistics (NCES, 2000). Trends in Educational Equity for Girls and Women. U.S. Department of Education, Office of Educational Research and Improvement. Washington, D.C.: National Center for Education Statistics. 5 American Association of University Women (AAUW, 2010). Why so few? Women in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. Washington, D.C.: American Association of University Women. Photo Credit: © Dean Cambray.

© Dean Cambray