Maybe they differ in flavor?


Finally, someone cuts through all the neurological differences between men and women and summarizes all the differences between male and female brains. Dean Burnett gets one thing wrong, though: sometimes, “male” brains are not connected to a penis, and “female” brains are not attached to a vagina. It’s almost as if the dominant consideration ought to be the nature of the human brain, rather than contriving distinctions without evidence!

He is right on one thing, though.

… it could be that the human brain develops in accordance to what it experiences, and things it experiences and is made to do more often are reflected in the sorts of connections that develop. This would suggest that there aren’t actually any marked differences between male and female brains. However, this would mean that there is no scientific basis for all of our stereotypes and prejudices about what certain sexes should/shouldn’t do and they all stem from irrational or unpleasant cultural influences that haven’t gone away yet, forcing us to admit to ourselves that our preconceived notions about certain sexes or genders are just self-fulfilling clichés with no logical basis, potentially threatening our beliefs, our positions and even our identity.

And we can’t have that, can we.


  1. Derek Vandivere says

    And in his defense, he did write that the male brain is ‘generally’ connected to a penis.

  2. blf says

    “Finally”? That article’s from nearly 3 years ago…

    And yer point is?


    The “Brian Flapping” blog / column (usually by Dean Burnett) in the Grauniad is almost always worth a read. For example, the two most recent, Beyond burkinis: why science suggests ALL clothes should be banned, and How to actually talk to a woman wearing headphones (also covered by poopyhead), are easily worth the read / giggles / outrage…

  3. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    to share my deliberate misconception of genetics.
    When the author critiques “the lack of the Y chromosome in females” as being some kind of deficit. my impression is that females have 2 X chromosomes, for redundancy. The Y is a X with a missing limb, so the Y has the deficit. Which is why very few females have color-blindness, lack on one X is compensated for by still being on the backupX, while in males lacking color vision on X, has no backup, so color-blind.
    So, in conclusion, Y is not enhancement but more deficit, so males “just get by” while females are well equipped (with backup copy chromosomes).
    oh I get it now, males ditched the backup copy to add in the additional Y chromo. ah so.

  4. Lady Mondegreen says

    Dean Burnett gets one thing wrong, though: sometimes, “male” brains are not connected to a penis, and “female” brains are not attached to a vagina

    This is incoherent. Which is it, PZ? Either the notion of a “male brain” and “female brain”–apart from the genetic and reproductive apparatus of the human being the brain is part of–is nonsense, or it isn’t.

  5. says

    Either the notion of a “male brain” and “female brain”–apart from the genetic and reproductive apparatus of the human being the brain is part of–is nonsense, or it isn’t.

    It is very easy: Nobody’s genitals are attached to their brains.
    People with penises may or may not have XY chromosomes, people with vaginas may or may not have XX chromosomes. And just the cherry on the sundae: The brain can still work in a different direction.
    Biology, why isn’t it fucking easy?
    Sociology, culture, psychology, why are they even more complicated?

  6. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 6:
    speaking in lieu of our overlord
    errr relating how understood the phrase YMMV
    he put male and female in scare quotes when couplet with “brain” to indicated the disphoria that sometimes occurs. That is, one may consider oneself a male while possessing female genitals or vice versa. Thus a “male” brain may not be “attached” to a male genitals. Or, more precisely “a male person may not possess male genitals, and female persons may not possess female genitals”.
    urgh, I know this is pointless explanation, just sharing to reinforce it in myself, that ‘personal concept’ (gender) is not determined by anatomic details (sex).

  7. slithey tove (twas brillig (stevem)) says

    re 8
    dropped a letter: “errr rlating how I understood the phrase. YMMV

    hail tpyo!!

  8. Lady Mondegreen says

    slithey tove, one may consider oneself pretty much anything. My point is, there are either such things as “male” and “female” brains, or there aren’t.

    As it happens, there aren’t.

  9. snuffcurry says

    Or, it would be that when a women has a brain, she has a female brain, when a man has a brain, his is male, when genderqueer people have brains, theirs are genderqueers, non-binary brains are attached to non-binary people, and so forth. Sort of like how male bodies are male because men are wearing them, and how beach bodies are beach-ready because they’re located on a beach.

  10. Lady Mondegreen says

    They’re still all just brains though. The reproductive systems–female, male, or intersex–of their owners do not dictate their aptitudes or personalities.

  11. Lady Mondegreen says

    @John Morales

    No, I don’t.

    (But as hormonal levels vary from individual to individual, and in the same individuals over time, and as their effects on individuals vary–well, they’re variable variables.)

  12. Siobhan says

    I thought the scare quotes was enough to indicate PZ was not supporting the idea of binary sexed brains.

  13. John Morales says

    Thanks, Lady Mondegreen.

    I think it’s fair to say that the reproductive system doesn’t dictate aptitude or personality, but since those hormones are generated by the gonads (I know the endocrine system is more complicated than that, since the gonadal secretion is itself regulated by the pituitary), I don’t think one can seriously claim that the reproductive system doesn’t have any influence on the functioning of the brain, such as changes in mood or aggression.

  14. says

    Are we acting again as if “male” and”female” were passed down from god clear biological categories instead of highly variable social constructs? You can claim that a vagina, a uterus, XX chromosomes* make a woman until the cows come home, but hat doesn’t make it true.
    Also, what happened to de Beauvoir?

  15. John Morales says

    Giliell, nobody referred to gods, and it’s masculinity and femininity (gender and gender roles) which are social constructs, not the sexes per se. And yes, intersex and other conditions blur the edges.

    But the discussion is biological; it’s about the brain, not about the mind. They are not synonymous.

    Also, what happened to de Beauvoir?

    She made a big deal about the difference between the sexes/genders.

  16. Lady Mondegreen says

    “Male,” “female,” and “intersex” are useful biological categories.

    de Beauvior was against “becoming a woman,” as that meant becoming someone “passive, secondary, and nonessential.” She believed all people were primarily human beings, and people should not be pressured into sex roles.

  17. John Morales says

    Lady M, thanks again. I did do a tad of research before opining.

    Giliell, I’ve just stated that gender and gender roles are social constructs, in particular the concepts of masculinity and femininity. And I acknowledge the distinction between assigned gender and natural gender.

    What I don’t do is ignore biology, nor do I conflate it with sociology, and I do think there’s a correlation between sex and gender.

  18. Azkyroth, B*Cos[F(u)]==Y says

    do you discount any effect from sex hormones?

    Given the number of bullshit claims about their effects out there, you could really do worse.

  19. Siobhan says

    “Male,” “female,” and “intersex” are useful biological categories.

    They’re useful social constructs to reduce the complexity of actual biology into discrete categories from which to make generalizations.

    Don’t think I’m blissfully unaware of where this kind of debate is going.

  20. ragdish says

    Lady Mondegreen

    “One is not born, but rather becomes, a woman”

    Is de Beauvior referring to gender identity or gender roles. What if a transphobe said this:

    “one is not born, but rather becomes, a transgendered woman”

    Neuroscientist and feminist transgendered man Ben Barres has thoughtfully articulated that gender identity can be strongly innate and gender roles are social constructs.

  21. Silentbob says

    @ 30 ragdish

    I’m a couple of weeks late reading this, but…

    de Beauvior was referring to roles. She wrote that in 1949. The term “gender identity” only came into use in the 60s.

    Also, it’s frowned upon to say “transgendered”. It makes it sound like being transgender is something that’s done to you, rather than something you are. Like calling a gay person “homosexualized”. It’s just “transgender man”.