Sex Roles

, Volume 72, Issue 9–10, pp 427–433 | Cite as

Expanding the Role of Gender Essentialism in the Single-Sex Education Debate: A Commentary on Liben

  • C. Fine
  • R. Duke
Feminist Forum Commentary


In this commentary we expand on Liben’s exploration of the effects of differing gender conceptualizations – gender essentialism and gender constructivism – on the single-sex education debate within the United States. We examine these conceptualizations in the context of current behavioral and neuroscientific research, which we argue undermines an essentialist view of males and females, while supporting an expanded constructivist version of the account endorsed by Liben. We then extend Liben’s work to argue that gender essentialism has indirectly facilitated popularization of neuroscientific research used to support claims of brain-based evidence in favor of single-sex education. Finally, we develop Liben’s observations regarding the association of gender essentialism with negative attitudes towards reducing gender-differentiation, by examining the relation between gender essentialism and the folk concept of innateness. This reveals the empirical challenge to essentialist arguments that social interventions designed to reduce gender-differentiation go against nature.


Gender essentialism Gender constructivism Single-sex education Innateness Gender differences Neuroscience 



The first author is supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship, FT110100658.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

The first author is a member of the American Council of Co-Educational Schooling.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences, Melbourne Business School and the Centre for Ethical LeadershipUniversity of MelbourneCarltonAustralia
  2. 2.Melbourne School of Psychological Sciences and School of Historical & Philosophical StudiesUniversity of MelbourneCarltonAustralia

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