The supposed ‘fundamental’ differences between sexes have historically been used as an argument against equal rights, notably in the opposition to women’s suffrage. In the early 20th century this opposition was supported by the science ofphrenology, later discredited and its conclusions found to be spurious and based upon prejudice. More recently Neuro-scientific researchers have claimed that essential differences between the male and female brain have been uncovered, ‘evidenced’ by neuro-imaging that suggests differing brain structures. However this research is not as clear cut as it may first appear; no participant of a study can be isolated from the affects of socialisation, and as such each supposed ‘essential’ difference may in fact be a result of socialisation (Fine 3-26). There has also been no conclusive evidence found; the methodology is often flawed, the samples small, and the imaging yet to be properly understood. The widely held belief that male and female brains function in different ways is based upon the conclusions of a small minority of studies, conclusions that are damningly dismissed by meta-analyses. The neuro-imaging “evidence” of differently gendered brains may then, in the future, be shown to be similarly laden with prejudice, skewed by societal expectations, as was the case with phrenology. (Fine 131-154)
Where socio-biologists have relied upon the notion of a universal, innate, human nature, a nature that includes gender divisions, they have faced criticism for the inability for this “universal” to be universally applied; for example, while all human societies include a division of labour by sex, these divisions are varied, the social structures changing the form, rigidity and cultural meaning of such divisions (Fausto-Sterling 198-99). This section will consider how gender is socially constructed, and what effect this has upon how the experiences of men and women.