DEATH TO STEREOTYPES! TESTOSTERONE REX

If you’re the kind of person who hears those arguments about the inherent differences between men and women (Men are from Mars! Women are from Venus!) and how they are based on the way evolution shaped us to behave in certain ways because of hunter gatherer societies (men are polygamous! Women are monogamous! Men are risk takers, hunting for mammoths! Women are risk averse because they take care of babies!), and your first thought on hearing things like this is, “Wow, that is a really stupid argument,” have I got a book for you!

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It’s called Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science and Society, it’s by Cordelia Fine, and she goes after that argument with gusto, vigor, snark and tons and tons of facts.  By the time she’s finished, you find yourself wondering how anyone could believe the “Just So” stories some evolutionary psychologists tell about differences between men’s and women’s brains and behavior, let alone the reasons behind such supposed differences.

 

Systematically and with vast amounts of evidence to back up her statements, the author takes apart every phase of this argument, which is so pervasive most of us don’t even realize how many other arguments about the nature of men and women are based on these false or misleading ideas about the importance of testosterone in making us who we are.

 

Is there one “natural” way males and females behave throughout the animal kingdom? No?  Then how about through the world of primates? No?  Then how about through the world of human beings?  No?  Fine gleefully demolishes these assumptions with plenty of examples of animals, primates and even human societies where what we think of as the natural relations of the sexes are turned upside down.

 

In addition to showing how complicated testosterone’s effects on behavior is throughout the animal kingdom and how surroundings and other circumstances are not only likely to affect an animal’s behavior but also to affect the amount of testosterone coursing through the animal’s body, Fine reminds us of the ways in which human beings are different from other animals, how our cultures shape our behavior as much as our biology.  You wouldn’t think it would be necessary to reiterate all these obvious things, but it is, and if it has to be done, you could hardly find a better guide, a more erudite or entertaining one, than Cordelia Fine in Testosterone Rex.

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