Recent reads on gender, feminism and racism

Over the last couple of months, I managed to read some non-fiction, this time somewhat further removed from the usual popular (natural) science books but totally worth the time, sometimes eye-opening.

I’ll start with a quick description of Cordelia Fine’s ‘Delusions of Gender’. I am re-reading it, and am quite surprised I didn’t blog about it the first time! It is a very thoroughly researched and comprehensive book about the ways in which we act and perceive people differently depending on their gender. Did you know that having to tick a ‘female’ or ‘male’ box at the beginning of a math test lowers female performance? Sex differences in the brain are also discussed, as well as the myriad of ways in which they are misreported, leading to neurononsense. As a neuroscientist, I am aware that it is quite a stretch to go from brain size or brain activation to differences in the ‘mind’ between different groups of people; nevertheless, Fine treats this thoroughly, debunking many myths along the way. The final part of the book deals with how people and parents treat girls and boys differently, even from before they are born. This includes being proud about a boy’s birth but happy about a girl’s, and much more. A definitive recommendation, providing ample evidence for those ‘delusions’ of gender.

Along similar veins, I read ‘Men explain things to me’ by Rebecca Solnit, a collection of essays and thoughts on feminism, rape culture, marriage equality and more. The esssay providing the title for the book describes how a man explains the book that she wrote herself to Solnit. Mansplaining, anyone? (Note that Solnit herself did not use or come up with this term.) The essay on marriage equality is a highlight, showing why this might feel threatening for ‘traditionalists’: it transforms marriage into a bond between two people that are truly equal, whether of the same sex or not, and does not imply the women becoming a subordinate of the man. Again, I definitely recommend this book! The only thing I did not particularly think necessary are the amount of space given to quotes in the later essays. Nevertheless, some deeply thought-provoking points in a pretty slim book.

Finally, ‘Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People about Race’ by Reni Eddo-Lodge. Also a collection of essays, many of which were originally blogposts. She lays bare the structural racism that is rampant everywhere. While her situation details the state in the UK, I doubt it would be very different in the rest of Europe. I’ll highlight two of her ideas, both of which were eye-opening to me: First, in her essay ‘Fear of a black planet’, she dissects the widely heard fear of ‘they will take over’ (according to some sources, white people will be in the minority in the UK by 2066). In this case, the we-us distinction is about race, but it might just as well be about immigrants, asylum seekers or women. Indeed, some advertisements used in Switzerland stated pretty much exactly the same about immigrants. Eddo-Lodge asks what might be so bad if they take over? Are you maybe afraid that ‘they’ will treat you the same way you treat them now? Telling.

Finally, in the essay about ‘The Feminism Question’, the author details her frustration with much of the feminism movement which represents white women, rather than all women. I might be guilty of that too, and will take care to listen to all women/minorities. I’ll close with a powerful quote by Eddo-Lodge which shows how little the kind of ‘Lean-In’-feminism asks:

I don’t want to be included. Instead, I want to question who created the standard in the first place. After a lifetime of embodying difference, I have no desire to be equal. I want to deconstruct the structural power of a system that marked me out as different.

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