January 27, 2018

Review: Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society

Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society by Cordelia Fine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a pretty dense book, so be warned. There are copious pages of notes (50!!), and the author gets rather far into the weeds regarding her subject. But she articulates difficult and complex subjects well, with a wry and occasionally laugh-out-loud humor that makes the book much easier to digest. She's one of the best science writers I've read in a while, and I will definitely look up her other work.

In this book, she pretty definitively deconstructs the evo-psych nonsense regarding testosterone, its effect on the brain, and gender roles. There are of course differences between males and females, and male and female brains, but as we read, culture and society play far more of a role than hormones. This is illustrated in many species of animals, as well as humans. In the concluding chapter, she points out the real damage done, to both men and women, by clinging to rigid, outmoded and scientifically indefensible gender roles.

People have different reasons for wanting greater equality between the sexes. Some people want fewer women assaulted or killed by their partners. Some want to close the yawning gap in retirement savings that puts disproportionate numbers of women in poverty in their senior years. Some want greater sex equality in their organizations because of research suggesting beneficial effects for productivity and profit. Some people want mothers and fathers to share more equally in caring for children so that the next generation reaps the benefits of involved, caring fathers and happier parents. Some people want an easier journey for loved ones with identities, bodies, or both, that fall in-between the too-neat male versus female binary. Some want it to become easier for people to pursue and fulfill counterstereotypical ambitions. Others want to stem the leak of talented, highly educated, and expensively trained women lost in professional pipelines. Some want to see households headed by single mothers lifted out of hardship or poverty. Some want more equal political representation, so that girls' and women's interests are more equally served in government policy. Some people are also for sex equality because of a suite of benefits for men: from lessening of pressure to live up to demanding and sometimes dangerous hypermasculine norms, to an easing of the burden and stresses of being the primary breadwinner. Some hope it will bring a liberating expansion of the definition of male success into the parts of human existence beyond work, wealth, and sexual conquest. Some go even further, and hope that thinking of qualities, roles, and responsibilities as human, rather than as feminine or masculine, will transform the world of work, to the benefit of everyone.

When you think of it like that, it's clear that this subject is, or should be, of vital interest to everyone. It's in that spirit that I recommend this book. It takes time to get through, and leaves the reader with a lot to think about, but I believe it's worth it.

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