Neuroethics, Gender and the Response to Difference
This paper examines how the new field of neuroethics is responding to the old problem of difference, particularly to those ideas of biological difference emerging from neuroimaging research that purports to further delineate our understanding of sex and/or gender differences in the brain. As the field develops, it is important to ask what is new about neuroethics compared to bioethics in this regard, and whether the concept of difference is being problematized within broader contexts of power and representation. As a feminist science studies scholar trained in the neurosciences, it seems logical to me that, as a growing field, neuroethics should reach out to the rich bodies of scholarship on the history of medicine, feminist theory and feminist bioethics while attempting to approach discussions of sex, gender and sexuality differences in the brain. What is also clear to me is that feminist scholars need to learn how to engage with neuroimaging studies on sex, gender and sexuality not just to critique, but also to productively contribute to neuroscientific research. The field of neuroethics can potentially provide the appropriate forum for this interdisciplinary engagement and create opportunities for shared perplexity. I suggest three possible points of departure for creating this shared perplexity, namely (i) is difference being measured in the study for the purpose of understanding difference in and of itself, or for the purpose of division?; (ii) is there an appreciation for biological complexity?; and (iii) is it assumed that structural differences can be conveniently translated into functional differences?
KeywordsSex Gender Difference Neuroimaging Ontology Epistemology Materiality Feminist theory Feminist ethics Feminist science studies
I would like to the thank the Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford University for support during my sabbatical year during which time I conducted some of the research for this paper and to the faculty research fellows for their comments and feedback on an earlier version of this work. I would also like to thank Anelis Kaiser and Isabelle Dussauge for organizing the “NeuroGenderings: Critical Studies of the Sexed Brain” conference held at Uppsala University in early 2010 and for inviting me to present portions of this article as a keynote address.
- 2.Rees, D., and S. Rose (eds.). 2004. The new brain sciences: Perils and prospects. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- 3.Rose, S. 2005. The 21st century brain. London: Jonathan Cape.Google Scholar
- 4.Rose, S. 2006. The future of the brain: The promise and the perils of tomorrow’s neuroscience. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
- 5.Gould, S.J. 1996. The mismeasure of man. New York: W.W. Norton and Company.Google Scholar
- 7.Shildrick, M. 1997. Leaky bodies and boundaries: Feminism, postmodernism and (bio)ethics. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- 8.Darnovsky, Marcy. 2007. Watson as wake-up call: When genetics endorses a new eugenics. http://www.geneticsandsociety.org/article.php?list=type&type=50 (accessed on March 10, 2009).
- 9.Radstake, M. and B. Penders. 2007. Inside Genomics: The Interdisciplinary Faces of ELSA. Available from http://www.gjss.nl/vol04/nr01/a02.
- 11.Weiner, J. 2000. Time, love, memory: a great biologist and his quest for the origins of behavior. New York: Vintage Books.Google Scholar
- 13.James Watson’s Legacy. 2007. Center for Genetics and Society. Available from http://www.biopoliticaltimes.org/article.php?id=3723
- 14.Stengers, I. 2000. Another look: relearning to laugh. Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy 15(4): 41–54.Google Scholar
- 15.Haraway, D. 1997. Modest_Witness@Second_Millenium.FemaleMan©_Meets_ Oncomouse™: Feminism and technoscience. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
- 16.Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- 17.Wilson, E. 2005. Psychosomatic: Feminism and the neurological body. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- 19.Bleier, R. 1984. Science and gender: A critique of biology and its theories on women. New York: Pergamon.Google Scholar
- 20.Fausto-Sterling, A. 1985. Myths of gender: Biological theories about women and men. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- 21.Fausto-Sterling, A. 2000. Sexing the body: Gender politics and the construction of sexuality. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
- 23.van den Wijngaard, M. 1997. Reinventing the sexes: The biomedical construction of femininity and masculinity. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
- 24.Rogers, L. 2001. Sexing the Brain. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
- 25.Rose, H. 2004. Consciousness and the limits of neurobiology. In The new brain sciences: Perils and prospects, ed. D. Rees and S. Rose. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
- 27.Illes, J. 2008. Women’s neuroethics? Why sex matters for neuroethics (comment). The American Journal of Bioethics 8(1): 1–2.Google Scholar
- 29.Roy, D. 2011. Cosmopolitics and the brain: The co-becoming of practices in feminism and neuroscience. In Feminism and Neuroscience (eds. Robyn Bluhm, Anne Jacobson and Heidi Maibom). Palgrave-MacMillan (forthcoming).Google Scholar
- 30.Miller, J. 2010. Whose brain, which ethics? Hypatia: A journal of Feminist Philosophy 25(3): 618–624.Google Scholar
- 31.Alaimo, S., and S. Heckman. 2008. Material feminisms. Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
- 32.Coole, D., and S. Frost. 2010. New materialisms: Ontology, agency, and politics. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- 33.Roy, D. 2007. Somatic matters: Becoming molecular in molecular biology. Special Issue: Feminisms’ Others. Rhizomes: Cultural Studies in Emerging Knowledge 14 (Summer). http://www.rhizomes.net/issue14/roy/roy.html.
- 34.Ahmed, S. 2010. Orientations matter. In New materialisms: Ontology, agency, and politics, ed. D. Coole and S. Frost. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- 35.Roy, D. 2011. Feminist approaches to inquiry in the natural sciences: Practices for the lab. In Handbook of feminist research: Theory and praxis, ed. S.N. Hesse-Biber. London: Sage.Google Scholar
- 36.Stengers, I. 2005. Introductory notes on an ecology of practices. Cultural Studies Review 11(1): 183–196.Google Scholar
- 37.Connolly, W.E. 2002. Neuropolitics: Thinking, culture, speed. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
- 38.Connolly, W.E. 2010. Materialities of Experience. In New materialisms: Ontology, agency, and politics, ed. D. Coole and S. Frost. Durham: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
- 39.Toga, A. 2008. Brain mapping the structure and function of mice and men (podcast). http://mips.stanford.edu/events/mi_seminar08.html#081013 (accessed September 10, 2010).
- 43.Knutson, B., et al. 2008. Nucleus accumbens activation mediates the influence of reward cues on financial risk taking. Brain Imaging 19(5): 509–513.Google Scholar
- 45.CNN.com. Study: Men’s brains link sex and money. http://edition.cnn.com/2008/US/04/04/finance.sex.ap/index.html?iref=mpstoryview (accessed on April 6, 2008).
- 46.Lorde, A. 1984. Sister outsider: Essays and speeches by Audre Lorde. Freedom: The Crossing.Google Scholar
- 49.Keller, E.F. 1985. Reflections on gender and science. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar
- 61.Bocklandt, S., and D.H. Hamer. 2003. Beyond hormones: a novel hypothesis for the biological basis of male sexual orientation. Journal of Endocrinological Investigation 26(3): 8–12.Google Scholar
- 63.Shildrick, M. 2005. In Ethics of the body: Postconventional challenges, ed. M. Shildrick and R. Mykitiuk. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar
- 64.Einstein, G. 2007. Sex and the brain. Cambridge: MIT.Google Scholar