Testosterone Rex: a Book Review

After a storming start with my not a resolution plan to finish all of my Christmas books before buying a new one initially on track, I have found myself derailed in more ways than one recently. As well as slowing down a little (turns out life commitments get in the way of reading…), I have also succumbed and bought myself a new book to read!

In my defence, I preordered Devotion several months ago and it was only just released at the start of February. I have decided (read I am impatient and cannot wait) to have a short interlude in my Christmas reading and work through Devotion, but don’t worry, I’ll be back to my original plan in a jiffy.

Before I make a start on Devotion, I really need to give you my thoughts on Testosterone Rex by Cordelia Fine.

Testosterone Rex

My rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

At its heart, Testosterone Rex is a demolition of the pervasive myth that there is a difference between female and male brains, and that these differences can be used to explain (and even justify) inequality between the sexes. As an exploration of the science of sex differences (or lack thereof) in psychology and neuroscience, this book is a thorough and readable attempt which I think should be read as widely as possible.

By first building up the assumption (myth? prejudice?) of a difference between the female and male brain, including an outline of the (typically less than rigorous) science used to support this position, Fine then spends the rest of her time taking these assumptions apart. From a very binary world view of female/male, Fine sketches out a more nuanced, spectrum-like view of the sexes, before applying this to the question of whether women and men should be treated differently because of some innate biology (spoiler alert, they should not be…).

Using research data in human and non-human animals from the last century or so, the book is rich in evidence to present to even the most stubborn of anti-feminist, though there is no guarantee of course they will accept the findings. For me, Fine’s conclusions aligned well with my preconceived beliefs, but it was nice still to read about the evidence to support my position.

What I really liked

  1. The book is research and data heavy, but presented in a way which is readable and accessible to most. You will not need a science degree to understand this book, and that is important to make sure it gets read by as many people as possible.
  2. The use of non-human animal alongside human research was useful both to make Fine’s points, but also to emphasise humanity differs very little from the rest of the animal kingdom. It is not uncommon for people to place humanity on an isolated pedestal different and somehow special, so it was important to once more be reminded we are not so different from our animal cousins.
  3. The smattering of anecdotes throughout the book give welcome breaks from some of the denser sections of the text while not feeling excessive. I still chuckle when I think about the idea of taxidermy testicles, and if you want to have any idea what I am talking about then you need to buy and read this book!

The less good bits

  1. Fine spends a significant amount of time building up Testosterone Rex to then dismantle it later with the latest research base. For me, this build up felt excessive at times. Personally, I think the myth of sex-difference in people’s brains is well established enough to only need a cursory outline before spending more time on the important bits.
  2. The final chapter of the book promised a call to action of sorts for those opposed to inequality, a way to use what had been learned in the book to champion the cause of equality. In the end I found it a bit of a damp squib and worried I had missed some pages out when I had finished. I appreciate it can be a fine balance for scientists like Fine to present evidence without being accused of bias, but I think she could have been a little more enthusiastic and tub thumping in her rallying cry.
  3. More of a pet peeve, but the paragraph length got a bit much at times. I think the longest I found was over a page in length and it would have been nice for a break or two along the way.

Summary

I was not sure what to make of Testosterone Rex before I started reading. I guessed I would probably agreed with the conclusions already (and was not wrong) but as I have said above it was good to read the evidence to support my position in more detail. I would have liked a more bombastic ending to the book, but on the whole I found it readable, educational and oh so very important.

So who should read this book? As usual my broad answer is everyone, but this is especially useful for those championing equality between the sexes, and possibly more so a good read for those people out there who still hold to the idea of sex differences in our brain, Testosterone Rex if you will. As Fine writes in the book, ‘The king is dead’, and it is time more people understood the evidence which shows this is so.

Have you read Testosterone Rex or got it on the TBR pile? Did you love it or loath it? Have you dared to share it with your anti-feminist relatives? Let me know what you think in the comments below.

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