Testosterone Rex: Unmaking the Myths of Our Gendered Minds by Cordelia Fine

IMG_20170726_161021
Heated discussions during a heat wave…

Published by Icon, February 2017, 256 pages, £13.48

I was kind enough to receive a review copy from Icon Books after hearing a lot of enthusiasm about new research that prepares to challenge time-old myths about gender. This book, from notable scientist Cordelia Fine, argues that gender is a social rather than biological construct. That male and female, human and across the animal kingdom, are not in fact that different. The author attempts to subvert the accepted mantra that certain ‘evolutionary make-up’ makes men and women tick, why they are believed and remain unchallenged.

Whether you are up to date with the latest in biological research or not, we have all heard again and again that men are the naturally promiscuous sex and women are more nurturing beings who prefer to stick to one mate. Men are apparently overridden by a monstrous hormone that fuels their active and risk-taking nature. This is supposedly the reason for deep-seated inequalities in modern society. It is this ‘Testosterone Rex’ that allows men to get promoted and become effective risk-takers. Fine basically rains on all of these ideas.

With a robust and entertaining voice, Fine dissects and questions respected scientific claims, some that have gone untouched for decades. Her findings exposes the ridiculousness of simple gender divisions, the popular mindset: Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus. She tries very hard to involve the non-science reader with her witty and personal anecdotes. However, at times it was tricky to stay on top of all the scientific jargon. I particularly liked the chapter called ‘Sky Diving Wallflowers’ which questions the notion of risky behaviour, which has always been assigned a masculine trait. Firstly, she goes against the findings that were meant to prove this very general connection. And then secondly analyses the meaning of ‘risk’ and how it is an ultimately a subjective act.

Fine’s book offers some pretty solid arguments and is a good start to those who are interested in this topic. But it may be a smoother ride if you are more versed in science.

Many thanks Icon xxx

Advertisements

The Power by Naomi Alderman

IMG_20170624_105147.jpg

Published by Penguin, April 2017, 340 pages, £3.99

5 stars

This book blew me away. A world in which young women develop electric powers to zap and kill. It was a truly thunderous read which left me feeling shocked and singed. The remnants of the story are still crackling in my thoughts, so much that I’m not sure how to convey all of them in this review.

The book follows 4 main POVs: Margot, an American mayor who acquires the power from her daughter and fast tracks her way to the White House. Alison, who runs away from an abusive foster system to a convent where she forms a new religion. Roxy, a British teen who is the daughter of a mobster and takes over his business. And Tunde, a young Nigerian man who is one of the first to record the phenomenon on his phone and quickly becomes a revered journalist, travelling everywhere to document the growth of the power.

I found this eclectic mix of characters very engaging, although at times some were more interesting than others. As the power awoke in more girls and gained momentum we see a very fascinating shift in society, cleverly traced by the author. Some are dramatic but some are subtle changes that overthrow years of social conditioning. Rape on men grew, men’s rights activists begin bombing women’s health centres and when a young man is found dead it is usually assumed a woman is behind it.

I enjoyed how a male news anchor was replaced by a young handsome man, leaving the female to assume the distinguished role. I also found it interesting when girl’s blamed boys for ‘secretly liking’ the zap (a reversal of the ‘asking for it’ culture) and how girls would ridicule others who can’t or won’t use the power, calling them names that suggest weakness.

I had heard a lot of buzz about this novel, before it won the ‘Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction’ ( the kind of prize that is ironically subverted in the book’s message- there are no ‘Men’s prizes’ after all…). But I was worried it would be too scary or violent and I wasn’t wrong. This book contains scenes of graphic rape and killing. However, at that point I was too far invested into the story, so it didn’t feel jarring or unnecessary, just a sense of grim acceptance.

I was hooked on the plot which follows the power as it snows balls into what feels like a final showdown- wars, primal cults, weapons of mass destruction, drugs, new laws… Nothing really out of the ordinary or otherworldly if you think about it. Alderman writes in an article about this book that: ”Nothing happens in this book that hasn’t happened to a woman”, which is true. It’s not a dystopia, but a reversed image of our own reality. It’s only truly disturbing in the way it exposes us, not just through division of gender but race and other forms of inequality.

And yes, I would really love to have the power.

#Passionthepower

Thank you Penguin for my review copy xxx

20170623_133821.jpg