Book review by Mary Manning.
Cordelia Fine’s Testosterone Rex: Myths of Sex, Science, and Society (W.W. Norton, 2017) presents a premise that is bold in both its ambition and its execution. Testosterone Rex is Fine’s shorthand for the set of scientific premises of the brain, hormones, and other bodily phenomena that have been used to justify or excuse masculine behavior and undermine equality between the sexes. With a Ph.D. in Psychology and a professorship at the University of Melbourne, Fine’s academic credentials are strong, and this is her third science book for mainstream audiences. Her humor and her ability to distill complicated scientific studies into prose for non-specialist readers makes this book an important foray into unpacking the actual science of gender as opposed to the preconceptions that have accumulated over time in our society.
Fine divides Testosterone Rex into “Past,” “Present,” and “Future,” with the intent to chart scientific perceptions of gender over time. She begins by showing how, in the past, science predicated on incomplete data suggested a definite split in gendered behavior. For example, Angus Bateman’s 1940s studies on sexual selection using fruit flies supposedly demonstrated that male reproductive success increased with promiscuity. Yet Fine demonstrates that Bateman selectively interpreted the data he gained by breeding the fruit flies, and had thus obscured the notion of female agency in reproduction. The “Past” section continues by arguing for the flexibility of human behavior against the stereotypes of men, able and willing to pursue any and all sexual encounters, and women, more cautious about their coupling because of the high risk of choosing a poor mate. Continue reading “Book Review: Testosterone Rex”