Ever since the President of Harvard Larry Summers on a sunny day in April 22, 2005 commented on sex differences between men and women and how they may relate to the careers of women in science the Heat has been On. Summers was forced to resign over the heat he drew upon himself. But the seminar at Harvard University was about the research on mind, brain, and behavior relevant to gender disparities in the sciences, including the studies of bias, discrimination and innate and acquired difference between the sexes. The Edge reports on one of the most vivid debates between Elisabeth Spelke and Steven Pinker – nurture vs nature in a battle between two great psychologists.
In Sweden gender troubles have been illuminated in many different fields and in general all large state organizations have equality plans to help facilitate a discussion and move toward less discrimination. But now the backlash is a fact: the universities of Lund and Göteborg have both in recent cases been the targets of policies implemented from above in order to secure a gender perspective on all research fields. People like Steven Sampson have raged against the idea of a gender certificate stating that it is a way of the feminist forces to issue their influence upon the rest of the university. And yes, surely it is an idea that is using the worst of leftist paternalistic strategies, but there is nothing principally bad with the idea of letting a power perspective influence research in various fields of the university.
But the question of the female brain and the strategies of erasing bias from our public sphere must be held at a reasonable distance from each other. You cannot make swift inference from a few MRI’s and connect it to an immediate policy decision where teachers at universities are forced to give equal time in the class room to males and females, as is the case in a recent report in Sweden. My view, as always, is that the cognitive research in this field must be expanded and the humanities must come closer to scientific knowledge. Science in turn must start a discussion of political bias in Academia in order to stop the slanted and patriarchal structuring in all forms of knowledge production and development.
An important point made by neuroscientist Melissa Hines when discussing gender/sex in the brain is that the once-established dichotomy between sex and gender is really impossible to sanction. Mainly because the supposition that certain aspects should be analyzed biologically (sex) and others socially (gender) is from a brain perspective wrong, the social brain and the physical brain cannot be separated.
Further reading to recommend:
Annica Dahlström one of the leading proponents of the nature assumption of gender says it all.
The sexual brain by Simon LeVay
Brain Gender by Melissa Hines