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Tufts OpenCourseware
Author: Ross S. Feldberg

1. Gender and Biology

The next topic we will examine is the intersection of gender and biology. There are clear biological differences between males and females, but the attempt to explain social inequalities in treatment of the sexes as inherent in our biology is highly suspect. This is a very rich topic and there are many courses offered in a variety of fields that devote a full semester to exploring this topic (see end of this paper for the syllabi of a few of such courses). We will limit our exploration of this subject to only a few topics:

  1. Is there a difference in math ability between men and women?

    1. If so, does this difference explain the differential employment of men and women?

  2. What is the evidence for differences in brain structure between men and women?

2. Reading Assignments

  1. Sex on the Brain by Mark Liberman Boston Globe Sept 24, 2006 p D1.
    We start by reading a short article from the Boston Globe that deals with the fact that just because something is in print does not mean it is necessarily true.

  2. Remarks by Dr. Lawrence H. Summers at NBER Conference on Diversifying the Science & Engineering Workforce. Cambridge, Mass Jan 14, 2005.
    This very controversial speech by the then President of Harvard University explored the lack of women at the senior ranks of science departments at prestigious universities. In fairness to Dr. Summers, he was asked to be provocative and he certainly fulfilled that charge. We will take this speech as a starting point and then look at one of the early papers that purported to show a difference between boys and girls in mathematics.

  3. “Sex Differences in Mathematical Ability: Fact or Artifact?” C.A. Benbow and J.C. Stanley. Science 210: (12 Dec 1980) p 1262-1264.

  4. “Do Males Have a Math Gene?” Newsweek Dec 15, 1980 p 73
    We will carefully examine the data in the Benbow and Stanley paper and try to determine exactly what it shows and whether Lawrence Summers interpreted this result correctly. We also look at how this paper was portrayed in the popular media and examine if this was an accurate report.

  5. The Edge Debate: Steven Pinker vs. Elizabeth Spelke
    We will read this follow-up debate on whether research on brain and behavior is relevant to gender disparities.

  6. “His Brain, Her Brain” by Larry Cahill Scientific American May 2006 p 40-47.
    Carhill’s article reviews the various studies that show differences between men and women in brain structure and activity.

  7. “Sexing the Brain” Chapter 5 from Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality by Anne Fausto-Sterling Basic Books 2000
    Fausto-Sterling presents a much more critical review of studies that purport to show differences between males and females. We will contrast this chapter with the Cahill article and ask the interesting question ‘why does Cahill never once mention the corpus callosum in his article’?

  8. Lawrence, P.A. “Men, Women and Ghosts in Science” PLoS Biology 4: 13-15 (2006)

3. Gender and Biology: Some Course Outlines on the Web

  1. Women’s Studies 530 University of Wisconsin Madison

  2. Institute for Women’s Studies and Gender Studies New College, University of Toronto NEW 261Y “Scientific Constructions of Sex and Gender”

  3. Cal Poly Pomona Anthropology 40501 Anthropology of Gender

  4. University of Massachusetts WOST 297B Race, Gender and Science