Women’s Brains by Stephen Jay Gould discusses how inferior women are to men, based on scientific data. George Eliot, in the prelude of Middlemarch, grieved over the unfulfilled lives of talented women. She wrote in 1872 that the leaders of European anthropometry or measurement of the human body, scientifically measured the inferiority of women. But it was craniometry or measurement of the skull, led by Professor Paul Broca, which got more attention.
Broca argued that women had smaller brains than men, therefore could not equal their intelligence. He claimed this is scientific truth since men in modern societies possessed larger brains and that their superiority through time increases. He based this on extensive data that came from autopsies he performed in four Parisian hospitals. For 292 male brains, he calculated an average weight of 1,325 grams; 140 female brains averaged 1,144 grams for a difference of 181 grams, or 14 percent of the male weight. Though he recognized that the difference in brain size could be attributed to greater height of males, he made no effort to measure the effect of size alone and claimed that it cannot account for the entire difference.
Women’s Brains Gould Summary
However, there are those who oppose Broca’s fold. One was Tiedemann, who proposed that the relatively small female brain size depends in part upon their physical inferiority and in part upon their intellectual inferiority. Another defender of women was
L. Manouvrier, who claimed that women displayed their talents and diplomas and invoked philosophical authorities. Unfortunately, bad commentaries and sarcasm outnumbered these positive points. Examples of which were theologians asking if women had a soul and scientists ready to refuse them of a human intelligence.
In 1873, Broca measured cranial capacities of prehistoric skulls from L’Homme Mort cave and found a difference of only 99.5 cubic centimeters between males and females. According to Topinard, one of Broca’s disciples, the increasing discrepancy through time is attributed to active men, who have all the responsibility and therefore needs more brain, and to the passive woman, whose role is childrearing. But the chief misogynist of Broca’s school was Gustave Le Bon, who claimed that there are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to the gorillas’ than to most developed male brains. Even psychologists, poets, and novelists recognized that women represent the most inferior forms of human evolution, closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. There may be distinguished women, but they were a minority. Moreover, Le Bon opposed granting women higher education, saying that when this happens, a social revolution will begin and that everything that maintains the sacred family ties will vanish.
Gould, reexamining Broca’s data, said that his numbers were sound but his interpretations were ill-founded. Broca made conclusions yet he studied only seven male and six female skulls in L’Homme Mort. Furthermore, he did not consider that brain weight decreases with age. Women in his studies were considerably older than men. Using multiple regression, Gould found that at average height and age, a woman’s brain would weigh 1,212 grams, which reduces Broca’s measured difference of 181 grams to113 grams. Moreover, Broca did not also consider degenerative diseases that often entail substantial decrease of brain size. Many of his subjects were elderly women, assumed to have lengthy degenerative disease than men. In addition, Manouvrier argued that when muscular mass and force are used, difference in brain size will be in favor of men. But with “sexual mass,” women came out slightly ahead in brain size.
Therefore, the corrected 113-gram difference is too large since the true figure is close to zero. To understand Broca’s contentions though, one must realize that he had easier access to women’s brains. However, Maria Montessori concluded that women were intellectually superior, but men had prevailed heretofore by dint of physical force. Gould ended the article with George Eliot’s prelude to Middlemarch, saying Eliot appreciated the special tragedy that biological labeling has imposed upon members of disadvantaged groups, women like herself.