, Volume 5, Issue 3, pp 305-315
Date: 24 Sep 2011

Hardwired for Sexism? Approaches to Sex/Gender in Neuroscience

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Abstract

Evidence has long suggested that ‘hardwiring’ is a poor metaphor for brain development. But the metaphor may be an apt one for the dominant paradigm for researching sex differences, which pushes most neuroscience studies of sex/gender inexorably towards the ‘discovery’ of sex/gender differences, and makes contemporary gender structures appear natural and inevitable. The argument we forward in this paper is twofold. In the first part of the paper, we address the dominant ‘hardwiring’ paradigm of sex/gender research in contemporary neuroscience, which is built on broad consensus that there are important ‘original’ sex differences in brain structure and function, organized by sex-differentiating prenatal hormone exposures. We explain why this consensus is both unscientific and unethical. In the second part of the paper, we sketch an alternative research program focused not on the origins of sex/gender differences but on variability and plasticity of brain/behavior. We argue that interventional experiments based on this approach will address more tractable questions, and lead to much more satisfactory results than the brain organization paradigm can provide.