A book by Cordelia Fine

Cordelia Fine is a British, Canadian-born academic psychologist and writer, currently living in Australia. She is a Professor of History & Philosophy of Science at the University of Melbourne, and a renowned feminist author. Testosterone Rex is her latest book, and has already done very well – winning the Science Book Prize 2017 and the Edinburg Medal 2018, as well as being shortlisted for the Orwell Prize 2018.

The reason why Testosterone Rex is such an interesting book, is that it challenges everything we have learned about the supposedly “natural” differences between men and women. Growing up, we hear phrases like “boys will be boys” when they are violent, aggressive or do something they shouldn’t, at the same time as we expect girls to be the complete opposite – obedient and docile. We encourage little girls to play with dolls instead of exploring or building things for example, because of their supposedly “natural” instincts for caring. What Fine does so well in Testosterone Rex, is to provide us with research that proves that it’s just not that simple. Yes, of course there are some sex differences – but testosterone, for example, can be found in all genders, and to different degrees in within each gender, depending on many factors.

While it’s true that some men have more testosterone than some women, some women also have more testosterone than some men. Fine therefore argues that there is no such thing as a natural aggressiveness caused by testosterone in men – even though it is often used as an excuse for adult men to act out their rage while women are expected to suppress theirs... With interesting research examples, Fine explains why contrary to popular belief, testosterone is actually not an “anger hormone” that makes you unable to control yourself, but one of many hormones that have many different effects, depending on several other factors in your body, as well as in your environment and life stage (new dads have lower testosterone levels for example, because just like the female body changes with pregnancy, men’s bodies also adapt to taking care of offspring). In a fresh and funny take on the topic, Fine presents all the research you need to understand why there isn’t such a sharp division in men’s and women’s behaviour from nature’s side as we may think, as socialization and tradition influence us A LOT when it comes to determining whether something is natural for our gender or not. (Just looking at gender roles in different societies in the world and in different stages of history should be proof enough – in both of these cases “women’s work” and “men’s work” are defined vastly different, depending on context.)

The Doyennes therefore wholeheartedly recommend Testosterone Rex – nothing like some good science on a hot summer day on the beach somewhere!