No significant difference

Nora Caplan-Bricker at Slate reports:

Men and women are equal—and so are the architectures of our brains, according to a new study by neuroscientist Lise Eliot of the Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. According to a write-up in Wired, the study was aimed at evaluating the theory that the hippocampus is larger in women than in men; since the hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with memory and emotion, this has been proposed as an explanation for all those feelings ladies tend to have. Eliot and her team analyzed 6,000 MRI scans and found “no significant difference in hippocampal size between men and women.”

This isn’t the first study that has shown no significant difference [insert various brain items here] between men and women. There are a lot of such studies.

This is more than a matter of abstract interest for Eliot, the author of the 2010 book Pink Brain, Blue Brain, about how dubious theories of sex differences in the brain lead us to raise and educate boys and girls differently. She’s devoted years to decrying these kinds of stereotypes and their frustratingly strong grip on the American approach to childrearing.

And not just child-rearing – the American approach to everything. Women have to be seen as radically different from men, so that there can be justification (however feeble) for treating them as subordinates. There are lots of studies that do just that, right alongside the studies that bust them.

These theories may be tidy, but that doesn’t make them true. The Science articledescribes them as “misguided, and often justified by weak, cherrypicked, or misconstrued scientific claims rather than by valid scientific evidence.” Unfortunately, as long as they dovetail neatly with American culture, these ideas may remain popular with both parents and principles. As Eliot told Wired in regards to her newest study, “Sex differences in the brain are irresistible to those looking to explain stereotypic differences between men and women, [a]nd they often make a big splash. … Many people believe there is such a thing as a ‘male brain’ and a ‘female brain.’ But when you look beyond the popularized studies—at collections of all the data—you often find that the differences are minimal.”

The differences are minimal, and yet we build such towering edifices on them.

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