Advanced search

Mumsnet scientists - Is debating 'male / female brains' really a pointless dead end?

(26 Posts)
SocialConnection Sat 27-Jun-20 17:54:17

Random notes and thoughts from a non-scientist:

Is debating 'male / female brains' really a pointless dead end?

It seems to me that throwing hands up and saying 'oh it's because male brain, female body so the only thing to do is cut and drug' would be a gross dereliction of our duty of care as a society.

It seems to be more down to software than hardware.

Hardware (brain) as in a physical construct developed via DNA for sex, nutrition for building and experience for physical shaping.

Software (mind) as in a complex response to every experience and observation a child is exposed to.

Many trans and detransitioned people have written that they've realised personal trauma was at the root of their experiences.

Counselling, talking therapy, listening, sharing positive role models and examples etc could have helped them come to terms with reality - but of course this then leads to cries of 'conversion therapy!!!!!' which has been labelled A Bad Thing.

I don't know.

I'd welcome Mumsnet's scientists' response.

OP’s posts: |
PaleBlueMoonlight Sat 27-Jun-20 20:26:59

I’ve already posted this on some other thread today, but Sophie Scott (who knows about this sort of thing) is good on brain sex. Not the transgender brain as such.

And thread on same

WokeUpSmeltTheCoffee Sat 27-Jun-20 22:33:38

Yep pointless dead end

There is (or should be) no debate
It is not possible to literally have a female brain in a male body
Your brain is part of your body. It all developed from one cell and that original cell and all the others derived from it including all the neurons in your brain have either XX chromosomes (female) or XY (male)
Anyone parroting this born in the wrong body shite must have no idea about science.

What trans people describe is very real but it is their feelings they are describing not some kind of biological reality. Many of them (especially early transitioning FtM) are articulating their discomfort at not fitting into female stereotypes. It's the same for early transitioning MtF who are often closeted gay men. For instance look at the rates in Iran and ask why they are so high. Answer homophobia.
Sadly many late transitioning MtF actually have a sexual fetish.

What trans identifying young people need is counselling and support not hormones. If our society had less rigid gender stereotypes and it was OK to be an effeminate man or a butch girl and OK to be gay then this issue would mostly go away IMHO.

NotAGirl Sat 27-Jun-20 22:45:36

The female brain myth has been used extensively to put down women trying to work in areas that are male dominated.

twoHopes Sat 27-Jun-20 22:52:37

I just posted this in the other thread but I think this sums it up well:

"One should use the term sexual dimorphism only for those aspects of differences that come in two distinct forms. As an example, they suggest male and female genitalia or X and Y chromosomes that appear in just two forms (with some exceptions). With respect to sex/gender differences, it is obvious that even very large sex/gender brain and behavioral differences are not dimorphic since the reported features overlap too much when the feature distribution for males and females is considered. They also point out that true sexual dimorphism is extremely rare in the human brain (but also in terms of behavior and cognition). As examples, they mention the very large sex/gender differences for the intermediate nucleus (InM) of the hypothalamus, which is on average twice as large in males as it is in females. However, in about a third of the cases, males and females demonstrate InMs of the same size. Thus, terms such as “female brains” or “male brains”, which are frequently used in popular writing, should not be used since it is difficult or even impossible to identify typical and dimorphic features that justify a clear sex/gender classification."

CharlieParley Sat 27-Jun-20 23:16:30

That depends what you mean by debate. If someone uses the ladybrainz myth as compelling argument as why women and girls should give up their right to single sex provisions in terms of services, sports, spaces, scholarships etc it may well be worth taking the person making that claim to task.

Of course, the logical inconsistencies of transgender ideology - for instance that on the one hand sex isn't real and on the other hand you can have a female-sexed brain in a male-sexed body - are always worth picking apart in my view.

Because many people parrot claims they believe are true, I never assume people know better. They really might not. Like for instance my oldest today, who shared his belief that because some decry JK Rowling's views as transphobic they therefore must be (clearly he has accepted as true that whatever phobia it is, it's definitely in the eye of the beholder). When I asked what she said that he thought could in his view legitimately be considered to be transphobic, he couldn't actually answer. He doesn't know what she said. But he believes it was transphobic because the influencers whose content he consumes say so.

And the other reason why I think it's worth discussing this subject when you are well enough informed about it, are the other people who may follow the discussion without participating. Throughout my 25+ years in internet chat rooms, message boards and forums, I have learned a lot from just reading along when others debated a subject.

FreiasBathtub Sat 27-Jun-20 23:56:03

Idle curiosity, but can other organs be reliably sexed? I mean, apart from reproductive ones. Is there a male stomach? A female liver or kidney? I'm really interested.

As others have pointed out elsewhere, even if there were obvious differences between male and female brains, it doesn't outweigh the very, very obvious differences between male and female bodies which are at the root of women's need to be considered as a class distinct and separate from men. If - if - you could have a female brain in a male body I'm sure it could be very difficult for the individuals concerned, but that is not a good enough reason to overhaul society to the massive detriment of an entire sex class.

Highperbolay Sun 28-Jun-20 00:01:18

As others have said, your brain originates from the same single cell as everything else is your body. It is literally impossible for a 'woman's brain' to somehow end up in a male body.

WokeUpSmeltTheCoffee Sun 28-Jun-20 00:04:52

It's usually only size that is the distinguishing feature of eg a man's liver and a woman's liver and that's because men are usually larger overall than women.

The only things apart from sex organs that I can think of that are slightly different are some bones eg shape of pelvic bones. Like pathologists are always looking at on crime shows. (That is a secondary effect of testosterone though)

MinorArcana Sun 28-Jun-20 00:10:25

can other organs be reliably sexed? I mean, apart from reproductive ones. Is there a male stomach? A female liver or kidney?

A chromosome test would distinguish between female / male internal organs.

Other than that? I’d expect a male liver / kidney etc to be bigger, on average, than a female one. Because men are, on average, bigger than women.

But that’s not going to be a reliable way of separating male / female organs alone, because there’s an overlap in typical male / female sizes, and both sexes have outliers - i.e. very short men and very tall women.

RedToothBrush Sun 28-Jun-20 00:10:33

Why don't we have conversations about the effect of echo chambers on the brain and how they can involve the development of 'sacred values' and how the best way to tackle this is through exposure to other ideas?


No, we have to reinforce the bollocks of the echo chamber by inventing pink and blue brains and not exploring other things that might be influencing brains...

... I guess its all about what science is fashionable and which isn't.

FleetsumNJetsum Sun 28-Jun-20 00:12:17


quixote9 Sun 28-Jun-20 04:15:34

There are vast numbers of physiological differences between men and women. To get a sense of just how devastating ignoring those differences can be, look at Caroline Criado-Perez's book Invisible Women. Men have less effective immune systems, livers that, on average, produce somewhat more alcohol dehydrogenase on a per weight basis, it goes on and on.

But that's never what the pink vs blue brain people are talking about. (They can be found objecting to research into physiological differences because those have to be based on biology which in their view should not matter.) What they're talking about is finding social roles somehow engraved into the biology. Mainly they hope to find it in the brain since that's considered the source of self in our world. A few hundred years ago they might have looked for that "proof" in the heart.

They're out of luck, though. There's not one single marker of gender that lights up under a micrscope or in a genome scan. No shopping gene, no fighting gene, no nothing. It's all learned behavior. For some reason, that's not the answer they want.

TehBewilderness Sun 28-Jun-20 05:27:22

Cordelia Fine pretty much put it to bed with Delusions of Gender.
But zombie lies never die.

notyourhandmaid Sun 28-Jun-20 06:00:25

I think assuming regular posters here know about science is a pretty safe bet.

SocialConnection Sun 28-Jun-20 08:15:07

@quixote9 very interesting!

And Invisible Women is superb. I watched CCP do a keynote speech the other day on zoom, updated with the 'PPE not fitting women' scandal. Terrific.

OP’s posts: |
NeurotrashWarrior Sun 28-Jun-20 09:22:08

What was very interesting recently to read, and I wish I could bloody find it again, was that research around brain imaging and children/ people with any identified cognitive neuro divergence/ additional need showed clear patterns that both ignored diagnosed conditions and the sexes. Which is what I'd say I see in an sen school.

There's a huge amount of educational approaches that have been developed for pupils with autism. And yet they are brilliant for many pupils who have various difficulties but aren't autistic. I've long felt it a shame that pupils and parents can't access some of the programmes if the child isn't diagnosed with autism. And definitely isn't autistic.

The research basically said that provision should be tailored to identified cognitive need rather than a diagnosis. Which is obvious, but diagnosis is what opens funding for settings and approaches.

My point with this point (bare with me!) is that posing a question "what are the characteristics of <title> brains?" Leads to answers that ignore or miss billions of other findings. It's a closed question.

I'm not expressing it how I want to but there's a stupid amount of research that is narrow and binary on the born in the wrong body. It is pointless.

Apart from being physically impossible.

Is is important to research differences though, obviously, women's physiology in medicine isn't researched enough. But the findings must be handled purposefully.

The twaw brain stuff is just more validation.

NeurotrashWarrior Sun 28-Jun-20 09:26:45

The CCP stuff is so important; the other day there was a report about how women are very likely to be being over dosed on most medications as the model is the male body.

And Christ, why is it so hard to find out anything about the menopause or perimenopause?

TyroSaysMeow Sun 28-Jun-20 12:54:02

Something that occurred to me a while back, after my therapist commenting on my use of language:

You mention hardware (brain) and software (mind), OP, but I think a lot of people aren't using the word "brain" to mean the actual physical structure. Many people use "my brain" to describe those aspects of their mind that they don't have direct access to or control over.

There's no such thing as female and male brains; but I suspect a lot of the people claiming to have a female "brain" actually mean they have a "female" mind.

Which is, obviously, sexist claptrap. We do not have a hive mind consisting of sparkles and submission and sexiness.

I think there's some merit in the idea that our minds don't develop in a vacuum; they develop in sexed bodies living in patriarchal societies. But that's not to say that you could have a "female" mind in a male body; the minds of eg transwomen are minds that developed in male-sexed bodies under patriarchy, so they'd be an example of a type of "male" mind.

Before anyone complains about that notion, what I'm actually saying is not "gender identities" but rather that sex-specific socialisation affects the workings of the mind. We don't seem to be able to talk about this very effectively though, because of the conflation between mind and brain.

It's a pointless dead end if the people you're talking to aren't using the same definitions for words though, so you're never going to get anywhere discussing this with people who can't grasp the distinction between "adult-human-female" and "socially-coded-feminine".

NeurotrashWarrior Sun 28-Jun-20 13:07:38

Yes that's basically what Rippon discusses in her book.

It's a very difficult area as there is evidence to show that the effects of hormones and lack of in some women do impact the way it works effectively, eg menopause and early altzeimers/ dementia. Pregnancy has a definite impact on the structure of the brain too. But that should be research to provide appropriate support rather than an excuse to treat them in sexist ways.

AnyOldPrion Sun 28-Jun-20 13:33:14

I’m very much of the opinion that a brain in a male body is a male brain, regardless of the thoughts he has, or indeed any structure that tends towards the female-resembling end of the male spectrum. Some males have faces we would consider feminine. It doesn’t make them female.

If there are some physical aspects of his brain that would be more typical of physical structures of brains in female bodies, that is no more a signifier he or his brain are female than it would be if his height was more typical of a female height, or shoe size, or his face had a less square jawline than the average male.

Furthermore, if significant differences had been identified that would allow a diagnosis of gender dysphoria on an MRI, then we would have an objective test of GD or “transness”. The fact that there is no proposal of such a test means that any differences they did discover were nowhere near sufficiently significant to warrant any meaningful claims about opposite-sexed brain structures.

Sex organs are largely binary, with a large normal range within each category. People have one type or the other. Brains, faces, height, shoe-size are not binary. There is huge variation and a great deal of overlap.

When assessing the sex of a person, where it is necessary to do so, we do not look at the face or the size. We look at the genitalia. The suggestion we should ignore the specifically-sexed genitalia due to some implied suggestion that the brain is a more important organ in humans than in other animals is one of the most unscientific theories anyone has come up with.

OldQueen1969 Sun 28-Jun-20 13:35:13

This is very interesting to me.

I was at a small Solstice gathering with a few people, including one female "creative" from london, late 20s, and a couple in their 40s / early 50s.

The former is very TWAW, and gently disagreed with all my points in a manner that suggested this 51 year old menopausal harridan can be excused because - bless.

The couple - the male is very into politics but had somehow missed the Trans issue at all and was a bit befuddled. He then went on to talk about male and female brains and all the scientific proof for the concept that exists..... unfortunately enough mead had gone down by this point for me not to really be able to discuss my objections to that coherently. His female partner was more on my side regarding the Trans debate but they both went on to tell me that actually men do have periods in terms of mood cycles......

This all did prompt me to google in case I'd missed some scientific advance that had slipped under my radar but I came away with the same views about brain plasticity and environmental / structural influences etc etc that are aired here.

So it does seem to be a bit of a zero sum game.

Goosefoot Sun 28-Jun-20 16:26:13

The idea of male-brain/female-body etc doesn't make sense on the face of it, because a brain is part of your body. Whether or not some brain issue could result in dysphoria is another question.

Rippon notwithstanding people who study comparative male and female brains and brain function tend to be more moderate than Rippon is, so it's not like there is some clear consensus that she is communicating is scientifically correct.

I do think it's basically a dead end in the sense that if male and female brain functions differ, or the brains themselves, it's kind of irrelevant.

EmbarrassingAdmissions Sun 28-Jun-20 16:54:46

Sophie Scott is excellent and I see someone's already mentioned her.

I miss BowlofBabelfish at such times.

Shedbuilder Sun 28-Jun-20 17:01:15

OldQueen, you demonstrate how much mystic woo has contributed to this debate, partly by blinding women to the political realities.

I have to say that this whole trans issue, in which feelings are required to be treated as if they are reality, is testing my tolerance on the whole issue of faith and belief. I long ago started flinching when the word 'spiritual' or 'spirituality' was mentioned. I've got to the stage of not wanting to get involved with anyone who holds unevidenced beliefs.

Join the discussion

To comment on this thread you need to create a Mumsnet account.

Join Mumsnet

Already have a Mumsnet account? Log in