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Neurosexism

A book by the British psychologist Dr Cordelia Fine, Delusions of Gender: The Real Science Behind Sex Differences, has brought this word to the review pages and wider public attention.

This refers to the widespread belief, which she denies, that the brains of men and women are wired differently, so that perceived differences between the capabilities of the sexes are innate and unalterable. Though male brains are indeed physically slightly different to female ones, she argues that all brains are sufficiently plastic in their ability to learn that most of the traits commonly associated with the sexes are a result of cultural conditioning that children absorb subconsciously. She believes that the results of recent brain research that show differences between the sexes has been misunderstood. She suggests that neurosexism holds back the education of children because the preconceived views of teachers and parents about the differing abilities of boys and girls put obstacles in their way.

The earliest example of the word I can find is from an article by Dr Fine in the online journal Neuroethics in March 2008. It seems certain that she coined the word. As almost all references to it are in the context of discussions of her work, it is as yet uncertain whether it will become part of our permanent vocabulary.

What is remarkable, she [Dr Fine] says, is how similar the two sexes become psychologically when gender fades into the background. And opportunity is equal rather than predetermined culturally. “There is nothing at all frightening about good science. It is only carelessly done science, or poorly interpreted science, or the neurosexism it feeds, that creates cause for concern.”

Buffalo News, 15 Aug. 2010.

But now a growing number of scientists are challenging the pseudo-science of “neurosexism”, as they call it, and are raising concerns about its implications.

The Age, Melbourne, 9 Sep. 2010.

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Copyright © Michael Quinion, 1996–. All rights reserved.
Page created 25 Sep. 2010

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The English language is forever changing. New words appear; old ones fall out of use or alter their meanings. World Wide Words tries to record at least a part of this shifting wordscape by featuring new words, word histories, words in the news, and the curiosities of native English speech.

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Last modified: 25 September 2010.