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What is Neurosexism and How Does it Relate to Neurodivergence?

Neurosexism is a gender-based bias in the field of neurosciences, claiming that there are distinct and set differences between female and male brains. It’s a concept based on flawed research and indicates that there are prejudices and stereotypes about gender roles even in scientific studies. 

It’s hard to imagine, but there are plenty of researchers and scientists who use the concepts of “male brain” and “female brain”, which has a huge impact not only on future research studies, but also on how we inadvertently reinforce gender beliefs about girls. 

What does this mean for women and girls? It means that teachers and parents may subconsciously assume girls aren’t as good at subjects like math and sciences or discourage girls from participating in certain sports or pursuing careers in science, tech, or finances.

Gender stereotypes can result in children and young adults internalizing these negative stereotypes, mistakenly believing themselves not “good enough” to be CEOs or deserving of the same opportunities as boys. In this article, we dive into the research behind neurosexism, how it impacts females in our society, and how we can move past this nonsense and learn to celebrate diversity. 


Neurosexism, Explained

Neuroscientist and researcher Gina Rippon defines neurosexism as “the practice of claiming that there are fixed differences between female and male brains, which can explain women’s inferiority or unsuitability for certain roles”. Gina Rippon used poor research methods of using MRI imaging of male and female brains to explain why men are supposedly more logical thinkers and women are better at nurturing. 

In her book The Gendered Brain, she describes a study that “finally” explained the difference between men and women. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), the brains of 21 men and 27 women were analyzed. The study was small—as are most of these imaging studies—because they are expensive and time-intensive. Despite that obstacle, the results were widely publicized as the key explanation to why male and females think differently.

The conclusions of these studies are all related to brain size, and the differences in the amount of white matter and gray matter in the brain. As early as the 18th century, the female brain was found to weigh less than the male brain, and theories began to develop that men were stronger and more logical thinkers, whereas females were more emotional and better at nurturing.

You’ve probably heard of the book, Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus, by John Gray. It asserts that the differences in the way people think and act—how they give and receive love, how they handle stress, how they solve problems—are all related to the differences between men and women, rather than the variation from person to person, regardless of their gender.

While gender roles have shifted over time, it is still largely believed that women are better suited for housework and childcare. From a young age, girls are more likely to be given dolls, books, and art supplies to play with. That sets them up for believing themselves more capable of creativity, empathy, and nurturing rather than tasks that require analysis, engineering, and leadership. These internalized beliefs follow girls into adulthood. 

Let’s look at the stats:

Neurosexism and Neurodivergence

Neurodivergence means that someone’s brain processes, learns, or behaves differently from what is considered “typical”. First coined by Austrian sociologist Judy Singer, neurodivergence usually refers to traits and characteristics associated with certain conditions, such as:

  • attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
  • developmental coordination disorder (DCD)
  • dyslexia
  • Tourette’s syndrome

People who have these traits might think of themselves as neurodivergent and embrace the neurodiversity symbol as an identifier of pride. In addition, the concept of neurodiversity has been more broadly used to explain why recognizing and valuing a range of different brains across the whole human population is important.

It turns out that neurodivergent females, especially BIPOC, are statistically less likely to be noticed for their struggles, get appropriate diagnoses, and receive adequate support for their needs. Because of neurosexism, girls and women are more likely to be misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed. For example, girls are more likely to mask, or use camouflaging techniques, to hide what they’re really experiencing. This is mentally and emotionally exhausting.

Furthermore, thanks to constraining social norms, males may be more likely to externalize their neurodivergent traits through disruption or violence, whereas females may internalize those same tendencies through anxiety and self-harm. This means males who are neurodivergent may be easier to spot. Of course, failing to properly diagnose girls and women leads to serious consequences

Here’s the thing: if we don’t properly diagnose and support neurodivergent girls they are more likely to complete a lower level of education, have unplanned pregnancies, suffer from mental health conditions, and engage in self-harm. 

Time to Move Past Neuro-Nonsense

The bottom line is that there are no innate differences in the female brain versus the male brain, just as there are no innate differences in the female liver or kidneys versus the male liver or kidneys. More to the point, there’s a multitude of reasons to celebrate diversity as we embrace every human brain on the planet for being uniquely itself. 

Here at Smunchies Co., we believe in the power of neurodivergence. That’s why we are on a mission to design joyful and functional products that demystify what it means to need sensory accommodations & to reimagine how fidget toys can evolve to become elevated, fashionable wellness accessories that inspires a sense of confidence, independence and pride in growing kids, teens and adults.

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