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

Feminist Forum Commentary

Abstract

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.

Keywords

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

References

  1. Arnold, A. P., & Chen, X. (2009). What does the “four core genotypes” mouse model tell us about sex differences in the brain and other tissues? Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 30, 1–9. doi:10.1016/j.yfrne.2008.11.001.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Bem, S. (1974). The measurement of psychological androgyny. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 42, 155–162. doi:10.1037/h0036215.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bennett, C. M., & Miller, M. B. (2010). How reliable are the results from functional magnetic resonance imaging? Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1191, 133–155. doi:10.1111/j.1749-6632.2010.05446.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Bishop, K., & Wahlsten, D. (1997). Sex differences in the human corpus callosum: Myth or reality? Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 21, 581–601. doi:10.1016/S0149-7634(96)00049-8.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bluhm, R. (2013a). New research, old problems: Methodological and ethical issues in fMRI research examining sex/gender differences in emotion processing. Neuroethics, 6, 319–330. doi:10.1007/s12152-011-9143-3.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Bluhm, R. (2013b). Self-fulfilling prophecies: The influence of gender stereotypes on functional neuroimaging research on emotion. Hypatia, 28, 870–886. doi:10.1111/j.1527-2001.2012.01311.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Booth, A., & Nolen, P. (2012a). Choosing to compete: How different are girls and boys? Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, 81, 542–555. doi:10.1016/j.jebo.2011.07.018.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Booth, A., & Nolen, P. (2012b). Gender differences in risk behaviour: Does nurture matter? The Economic Journal, 122(558), F56–F78. doi:10.1111/j.1468-0297.2011.02480.x.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Button, K. S., Ioannidis, J. P. A., Mokrysz, C., Nosek, B. A., Flint, J., Robinson, E. S. J., & Munafo, M. R. (2013). Power failure: Why small sample size undermines the reliability of neuroscience. Nature Reviews Neuroscience, 14, 365–376. doi:10.1038/nrn3502.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Carothers, B. J., & Reis, H. T. (2013). Men and women are from earth: Examining the latent structure of gender. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104, 385–407. doi:10.1037/a0030437.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Carr, P. B., & Steele, C. M. (2010). Stereotype threat affects financial decision making. Psychological Science, 21, 1411–1416. doi:10.1177/0956797610384146.
  12. Eliot, L. (2011). Single-sex education and the brain. Sex Roles, 69, 363–381. doi:10.1007/s11199-011-0037-y.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fanelli, D. (2012). Negative results are disappearing from most disciplines and countries. Scientometrics, 90, 891–904. doi:10.1007/s11192-011-0494-7.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Fausto-Sterling, A. (2005). The bare bones of sex: Part 1– sex and gender. SIGNS: Journal of Women in Culture & Society, 30, 1491–1527. doi:10.1086/424932.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fine, C. (2010a). Delusions of gender: How our minds, society, and neurosexism create difference. New York: WW Norton.Google Scholar
  16. Fine, C. (2010b). From scanner to sound bite: Issues in interpreting and reporting sex differences in the brain. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 19, 280–283. doi:10.1177/0963721410383248.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Fine, C. (2012). Explaining, or sustaining, the status quo? The potentially self-fulfilling effects of ‘hardwired’ accounts of sex differences. Neuroethics, 5, 285–294. doi:10.1007/s12152-011-9118-4.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Fine, C. (2013a). Is there neurosexism in functional neuroimaging investigations of sex differences? Neuroethics, 6, 369–409. doi:10.1007/S12152-012-9169-1.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Fine, C. (2013b). Neurosexism in functional neuroimaging: From scanner to pseudo-science to psyche. In M. Ryan & N. Branscombe (Eds.), The Sage handbook of gender and psychology (pp. 45–60). Thousand Oaks: Sage.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Fine, C. (2014). His brain, her brain? Science, 346, 915–916. doi:10.1126/science.1262061.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fine, C., & Fidler, F. (2014). Sex and power: Why sex/gender neuroscience should motivate statistical reform. In J. Clausen & N. Levy (Eds.), Handbook of neuroethics (pp. 1447–1462). Dordrecht: Springer Science & Business Media.Google Scholar
  22. Fine, C., Jordan-Young, R. M., Kaiser, A., & Rippon, G. (2013). Plasticity, plasticity, plasticity … and the rigid problem of sex. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 17, 550–551. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2013.08.010.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Griffiths, P. E. (2002). What is innateness? The Monist, 85, 70–85. doi:10.2307/27903758.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Griffiths, P. E. (2009). The distinction between innate and acquired characteristics. In E. N. Zalta (Ed.), The Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2009 ed.). http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2009/entries/innate-acquired/.
  25. Haier, R. J., Karama, S., Lebya, L., & Jung, R. E. (2009). MRI assessment of cortical thickness and functional activity changes in adolescent girls following three months of practice on a visual-spatial task. BMC Research Notes, 2, 174. doi:10.1186/1756-0500-2-174.
  26. Halpern, D. F., Eliot, L., Bigler, R., Fabes, R., Hanish, L., Hyde, J. S., & Martin, C. L. (2011). The pseudoscience of single-sex schooling. Science, 333, 1706–1707. doi:10.1126/science.1205031.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Haslam, N. (2011). Genetic essentialism, neuroessentialism, and stigma: Comment on Dar-Nimrod & Heine (2011). Psychological Bulletin, 137, 819–824. doi:10.1037/a0022386.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Haslam, N., Rothschild, L., & Ernst, D. (2000). Essentialist beliefs about social categories. British Journal of Social Psychology, 39, 113–127. doi:10.1348/014466600164363.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Henrich, J., & McElreath, R. (2002). Are peasants risk-averse decision makers? Current Anthropology, 43, 172–181. doi:10.1086/338291.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hines, M. (2004). Brain gender. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  31. Hoffman, G. (2012). What, if anything, can neuroscience tell us about gender differences? In R. Bluhm, A. Jacobson, & H. Maibom (Eds.), Neurofeminism: Issues at the intersection of feminist theory and cognitive science (pp. 30–55). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  32. Hyde, J. (2005). The gender similarities hypothesis. American Psychologist, 60, 581–592. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.60.6.581.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Hyde, J. (2014). Gender similarities and differences. Annual Review of Psychology, 65, 373–398. doi:10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115057.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Joel, D. (2011). Male or female? Brains are intersex. Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 5(Article 57). doi:10.3389/fnint.2011.00057
  35. Joel, D. (2012). Genetic-gonadal-genitals sex (3G-sex) and the misconception of brain and gender, or, why 3G-males and 3G-females have intersex brain and intersex gender. Biology of Sex Differences, 3(1), 27.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Joel, D. (2014). Sex, gender, and brain: A problem of conceptualization. In S. Schmitz & G. Höppner (Eds.), Gendered neurocultures: Feminist and queer perspectives on current brain discourses (pp. 169–186). University of Vienna: Zaglossus.Google Scholar
  37. Joel, D., & Tarrasch, R. (2014). On the mis-presentation and misinterpretation of gender-related data: The case of Ingalhalikar’s human connectome study. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 111, E637. doi:10.1073/pnas.1323319111.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Johnson, J., Wilke, A., & Weber, E. U. (2004). Beyond a trait view of risk taking: A domain-specific scale measuring risk perceptions, expected benefits, and perceived-risk attitudes in German-speaking populations. Polish Psychological Bulletin, 35, 153–163.Google Scholar
  39. Kaiser, A. (2012). Re-conceptualizing “sex” and “gender” in the human brain. Zeitschrift für Psychologie/Journal of Psychology, 220, 130–136. doi:10.1027/2151-2604/a000104.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kaiser, A., Haller, S., Schmitz, S., & Nitsch, C. (2009). On sex/gender related similarities and differences in fMRI language research. Brain Research Reviews, 61, 49–59. doi:10.1016/j.brainresrev.2009.03.005.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Lee, K.-H., Baillargeon, R. H., Vermunt, J. K., Wu, H.-X., & Tremblay, R. E. (2007). Age differences in the prevalence of physical aggression among 5–11-year-old Canadian boys and girls. Aggressive Behavior, 33, 26–37. doi:10.1002/ab.20164.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Li, S.-C. (2003). Biocultural orchestration of developmental plasticity across levels: The interplay of biology and culture in shaping the mind and behavior across the life span. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 171–194. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.2.171.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Liben, L. S. (2015). Probability values and human values in evaluating single-sex education. Sex Roles, this issue. doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0428-9.
  44. Lickliter, R., & Honeycutt, H. (2003). Developmental dynamics: Toward a biologically plausible evolutionary psychology. Psychological Bulletin, 129, 819–835. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.129.6.819.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Maccoby, E. E., & Jacklin, C. N. (1974). The psychology of sex differences. Stanford: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  46. May, A. (2011). Experience-dependent structural plasticity in the adult human brain. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 15, 475–482. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2011.08.002.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. McCarthy, M., & Arnold, A. (2011). Reframing sexual differentiation of the brain. Nature Neuroscience, 14, 677–683. doi:10.1038/nn.2834.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Meynell, L. (2008). The power and promise of developmental systems theory. Les Ateliers de L’Éthique, 3, 88–103.Google Scholar
  49. Miller, D. I., & Halpern, D. F. (2014). The new science of cognitive sex differences. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 18, 37–45. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2013.10.011.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. O’Connor, C., & Joffe, H. (2014). Gender on the brain: A case study of science communication in the new media environment. PLoS ONE, 9(10), e110830. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0110830.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Poldrack, R. (2006). Can cognitive processes be inferred from neuroimaging data? Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 10, 59–63. doi:10.1016/j.tics.2005.12.004.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Prentice, D., & Miller, D. (2006). Essentializing differences between women and men. Psychological Science, 17, 129–135. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9280.2006.01675.x.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Reis, H. T., & Carothers, B. J. (2014). Black and white or shades of gray: Are gender differences categorical or dimensional? Current Directions in Psychological Science, 23, 19–26. doi:10.1177/0963721413504105.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Rippon, G., Jordan-Young, R., Kaiser, A., & Fine, C. (2014). Recommendations for sex/gender neuroimaging research: Key principles and implications for research design, analysis, and interpretation. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 650. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00650.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Schmitz, S. (2010). Sex, gender, and the brain - biological determinism versus socio-cultural constructivism. In I. Klinge & C. Wiesemann (Eds.), Sex and gender in biomedicine: Theories, methodologies, results (pp. 57–76). Göttingen: Univ.-Verl. Göttingen.Google Scholar
  56. Schmitz, S., & Höppner, G. (2014). Neurofeminism and feminist neurosciences: A critical review of contemporary brain research. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, 8, 546. doi:10.3389/fnhum.2014.00546.PubMedCentralPubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Shors, T. J., Chua, C., & Falduto, J. (2001). Sex differences and opposite effects of stress on dendritic spine density in the male versus female hippocampus. The Journal of Neuroscience, 21, 6292–6297.PubMedGoogle Scholar
  58. Sommer, I., Aleman, A., Bouma, A., & Kahn, R. (2004). Do women really have more bilateral language representation than men? A meta-analysis of functional imaging studies. Brain, 127, 1845–1852. doi:10.1093/brain/awh207.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Sommer, I., Aleman, A., Somers, M., Boks, M. P., & Kahn, R. S. (2008). Sex differences in handedness, asymmetry of the Planum Temporale and functional language lateralization. Brain Research, 1206, 76–88. doi:10.1016/j.brainres.2008.01.003.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Spence, J. T. (1993). Gender-related traits and gender ideology: Evidence for a multifactorial theory. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 64, 624–635. doi:10.1037/0022-3514.64.4.624.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Springer, K., Stellman, J., & Jordan-Young, R. (2012). Beyond a catalogue of differences: A theoretical frame and good practice guidelines for researching sex/gender in human health. Social Science & Medicine, 74, 1817–1824. doi:10.1016/j.sociscimed.2011.05.033.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Terman, L. M., & Miles, C. C. (1936). Sex and personality. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
  63. Valois, R. F., MacDonald, J. M., Bretous, L., Fischer, M. A., & Drane, J. W. (2002). Risk factors and behaviors associated with adolescent violence and aggression. American Journal of Health Behavior, 26, 454–464. doi:10.5993/ajhb.26.6.6.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Weber, E. U., Blais, A.-R., & Betz, N. E. (2002). A domain-specific risk-attitude scale: Measuring risk perceptions and risk behaviors. Journal of Behavioral Decision Making, 15, 263–290. doi:10.1002/bdm.414.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. West, M. J., & King, A. P. (1987). Settling nature and nurture into an ontogenetic niche. Developmental Psychobiology, 20, 549–562. doi:10.1002/dev.420200508.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Wraga, M., Helt, M., Jacobs, E., & Sullivan, K. (2006). Neural basis of stereotype-induced shifts in women's mental rotation performance. Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, 2, 12–19. doi:10.1093/scan/nsl041.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Zell, E., Krizan, Z., & Teeter, S. R. (2015). Evaluating gender similarities and differences using metasynthesis. American Psychologist, 70, 10–20. doi:10.1037/a0038208.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations