Feature Friday: Wear it Purple

As you may or may not be aware, today is the 28th of August, otherwise known as Wear it Purple Day for LGBTIQA+ awareness!

Wear it Purple is an organisation that strives to foster supportive, safe, empowering and inclusive environments for rainbow young people. They began in 2010 in response to several young people taking their own lives due to bullying and harassment about their sexual or gender identity. Since then, they have began an international movement that sees people wearing purple on August 28th to demonstrate solidarity, support and acceptance for rainbow people.

To celebrate this awesome day, let’s look at some science communicators who are researching gender and sexual identity this Feature Friday!

Are brains ‘hardwired’ to be a certain gender, or is that more the result of society? Learn more about the real science behind sex differences in Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender

At the University of Melbourne, we have Professor Cordelia Fine, who received the Edinburgh Medal in 2018 for her work in challenging gender bias in science, and her debates about gender equality. Her book Delusions of Gender was short-listed for the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Non-Fiction, the Best Book of Ideas Prize 2011, the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize 2010 and the biannual international cross-genre Warwick Prize 2013. So safe to say, it was pretty darn good. In it, she discusses actual science behind gender and our brains, and discusses the brain’s ability to change itself is so strong that that ‘boys and girls, men and women are made, not born’.

She’s also authored some awesome articles featured on The Conversation, some of my favourites are How we inherit masculine and feminine behaviours: a new idea about environment and genes, Are there ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains? Computers can see a distinction, but they rely strongly on differences in head size, and New insights into gendered brain wiring, or a perfect case study in neurosexism?. She published a great article with Daphna Joel and Gina Rippon called Eight Things You Need to Know About Sex, Gender, Brains, and Behavior: A Guide for Academics, Journalists, Parents, Gender Diversity Advocates, Social Justice Warriors, Tweeters, Facebookers, and Everyone Else. This article is just FABULOUS and I would highly recommend carving out some time to read it through.

Gina Rippon debunks the myth of sex differences in the brain in The Gendered Brain

Gina Rippon from Aston University is also another huge name in the neuroscience of gender. Gina recently presented with the Convergence Science Network, Do you have a female brain or a male brain?, where she suggests that men are not in fact from Mars, nor women from Venus, and that the brain is much more complicated than these hype books would have you think. She also wrote a book called The Gendered Brain, where takes a deep dive into the history of science’s efforts to pin sex differences on the brain – and how many of these poorly executed studies get used to stereotype behaviour and support sexism.

Joan Roughgarden challenges ideas about gender identity and sexual orientation in humans and animals in Evolution’s Rainbow

We also have the wonderful Joan Roughgarden from Stanford University, an ecologist and evolutionary biologist who wrote Evolution’s Rainbow: Diversity, Gender, and Sexuality in Nature and People. She argues against elements of Darwinian sexual selection theory, Wilson’s genetic determinism of behaviour, the existence of a “gay gene”, the role of parenting in determining gender identity, and SO much more. She won a Stonewall Book Award for Evolution’s Rainbow – a literary award that recognises exceptional merit relating to the gay/lesbian/bisexual/transgender experience in 2005. She also gave a great TedTalk on sexual diversity in nature.

The Royal Society of Victoria also recently ran a QueersInScience lecture series, including Biology of Sexuality and Gender. You can catch the recording of the event here on their Facebook page. They also published an article by our newest team member Catriona Nguyen-Robertson, The Science Behind Sexuality and Gender, where she discusses some more researchers doing important work in this field.

I hope you enjoy trawling these awesome science communicators and their incredible work. In the meantime, I’m off to enjoy a stroll in the sun, Wearing it Purple of course!!

Off for a (socially distant) stroll Wearing it Purple with my friend Ebony (left), who I co-incidentally met at the Unimelb Open Day working at the Science Communication stand!

– Written by Rosie Arnold