I just want to start this by saying, straight away (spoiler alert)… Maybe I don’t know. I do not know the answer to this question. But I am not a science person, I don’t know much about brains, I know a bit about gender theory, and that’s about it. Enjoy!
There’s this bit in (500) Days of Summer where they’re at a karaoke bar, and Summer’s trying to explain why she doesn’t want a boyfriend. Her reasons? ‘Relationships are messy, people’s feelings get hurt, and we might as well have fun whilst we’re young.’ The reaction to this? She gets told that she’s a dude.
And that’s a good example of what I want to talk about today.
The human brain is still relatively uncharted territory. Sure, we know shitloads more now than we did in, say, the 1800s, but that’s nothing compared to what we’ll find out in the next, say, 100 years. So much of what goes on in our bodies and our brains is still pretty much unexplained, and one of these grey-ish areas is the relationship between gender and our brains. As in, how our brains are wired up.
Countless pop culture references will tell you that men and women fundamentally think differently. That bit in When Harry Met Sally. The WHOLE of Men is from Mars, Women, and Venus (if you’ve never read this and you were umm-ing and ahh-ing about starting it – don’t. You’ll thank me one day).
But is it true? Are there ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains? Like, if somebody showed you a scan of a male brain, could they point to parts of it – an enlarged frontal lobe, or an elongated medulla oblongata – that showed up differently on a ‘female’ brain?
I, personally, think that’s a load of shit. I think. If I hadn’t done some reading about this, I would’ve said that it’s a load of rubbish – that little girls (but not all) gravitate towards pink clothes because they’re used to their Mums putting them in pink clothes and seeing girls wear pink clothes on TV – not that they’re hard-wired to prefer the color pink.
What I would’ve said is that actually the ‘male’ brain is just the ‘human’ brain, and the way women behave has resulted from pressure from males (f u patriarchy) to act differently from men. Because otherwise, how do men feel ‘manly’?
But apparently, there are actually some physical differences between male and female brains. There are studies about this idea of ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains. Most conclude that some personality traits can be linked to specific parts of the brain and that these, on average (but definitely not in all cases) are more common in either males or females.
And then how does the transgender community fit into all of this? What about brain differences between those who identify as heterosexual vs. homosexual?
There’s a book The Wasp Factory by Ian Banks where (*spoiler alert*) the main character goes the whole story believing that they are a boy who was castrated in an accident when he was younger. Turns out, she’s actually a girl. Throughout the story, she displays typically ‘male’ traits (aggression, physical violence). Her voice is low. She has, by loose definition, a ‘male brain’. But then when she finds out her real sex (her physical sex i.e., female), her behavior doesn’t change. Does she have a male brain because she grew up thinking she was male? Or does she have a ‘male brain’ physically, even though her sex is female? OR does she still identify as a male, even though she has now found out she’s female?
Like I said, I am definitely not a doctor. Or a physician. Or a general science person. But I am interested in gender theory and psychology and exploring a bit more what makes us, us. So think of today’s BEDIM as a more of starting point for a discussion than something that resembles anything near intelligent thoughts or a well-thought-out argument. What do you think? Do we act ‘male’ or ‘female’ because of physical brain differences, or because of societal cues? And do ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains exist? Do we have physical sexes, a typically ‘male’ or ‘female’ brain, and then our gender? Are you confused? Because I sure know I am! Brb, going to make a pizza and lie down in a dark room.
The question of whether there are significant innate differences between male and female brains has been a debatable topic for decades. While some studies highlight subtle anatomical differences, such as size variations in certain regions, there is still no consensus in the scientific community about their functional implications or whether gendered cognitive differences result primarily from biology rather than socio-cultural factors.
Regardless of minor structural variations, there seems to be far greater overlap than difference overall in capacities for learning, intelligence, emotion, and nurturing between genders. Strict gender binaries mean the diversity of identity and strengths among individuals that allow for a wide spectrum of human behavior, interests, and aptitudes.
Rather than focusing on claims of strictly “female” or “male” brains, the most ethical and constructive view may be recognizing each person as a complex mix of inherent dispositions as well as developmental influences that shape abilities and preferences. Acknowledging the large shared ground as well as fluid possibilities in all humans could help provide greater freedom and understanding. Just as structural brain features exist on a continuum, so too should gender concepts, allowing more possibility for each person to fulfill their own potential.