Book Review: The Psychology of Sex and Gender
Jennifer K. Bosson, Joseph A. Vandello, & Camille E. Buckner, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications Inc., 2019, 511 pp.
In the first unit, “Foundations,” the authors present readers with a concise introduction into the anchoring tenets of sex and gender as social ideologies throughout time and as a field of study. The authors effectively take broad and complex concepts (e.g. sex and gender) and systematically break them down into smaller yet complex sub-concepts (e.g. sex and gender binaries, gender identity, sexuality, etc.). The authors provide a comprehensive description of the methodological designs and procedures typically utilized in studies of gender and sex. They then introduce the notion of becoming, as it relates to the development of gender as a social construct and identity. In this light, the authors introduce the role of the nature/nurture debacle as it relates to sex and gender development. Given the trite conflation of sex and gender throughout media, scholarly discourse and social engagements, the authors make a clear distinction between the two. In doing so, the authors effectively illustrate the existence of the sex (e.g. male, female, intersex) and gender (man, woman, trans-man, trans-woman, gender-queer, gender fluid, gender non-conforming, agender, etc.) spectrums. Framing sex and gender as fluid and dynamic denounces the restrictive nature of binaries while simultaneously acknowledging the various marginalized groups of sex and gender minorities. Further, the inclusion of the sex spectrum elevates the exploration of the how gender and sex are informed by nature and nurture. With that, the authors provide diverse examples of sex and gender identities and experiences that would urge a reader to truly and intensely contemplate their understanding of their own gender and sex development.
A clear strength of this book is the authors’ conscious and empirically sound effort to integrate a balanced account of the negative and positive experiences that may arise due to one’s gender and/or sex. The authors masterfully weave in aspects of all the chapters to illustrate the effects of sex and gender on every aspect of being and the dependence of experience on culture. Most importantly, the authors illustrate the manner in which socially accepted gender and sex stereotypes deviate from the realities of biology yet are essential in cognitive development and performance. For example, while women tend to develop earlier (mature faster), maintain better grades and illustrate better emotional regulation throughout childhood, established stereotypes can constrict women’s cognitive abilities on formal exams and in professional interactions, stigmatize their maturity or assertiveness and deem them more emotionally unstable.
On the other hand, a pervasive weakness of the book is the reduction of Black experiences and cultures to be plighted, deviant and riddled with discrimination — void of comprehensive historical context. While in many instances, such a perspective can be accepted, the examples engaged throughout the text diminishes the gravity of the traumatic history of Black people, particularly in the U.S. While the authors attempted to illustrate inclusivity and cultural competence by illuminating the ideas and customs throughout cultures across the world, the book espouses a Eurocentric worldview that ultimately perpetuates hegemony and evades cultural humility. Though they incorporate early American history to explicate the emergence of gender and sex scholarship and the biases and pseudoscience that ensued (e.g. eugenics, phrenology, etc.), there is no mention of slavery or colonization anywhere in the book. The authors speak of American or Western “influence” on the cultures in less developed nations but do so in a way that ignores the colonial implications. Further, there is no discussion of how gender, sex and power are ultimately informed by race and how white women have, essentially, more power than Black men within a racialized, patriarchal society. The authors mention false rape allegations but ignore the historical reality of Black men being lynched or incarcerated due to baseless rape accusations by white men and women. Nor do the authors acknowledge the fact that since America’s inception, Black women have been required to work, whether manually or domestically. The authors speak of matrilineal familial systems yet ignore the fact that African slaves operated under such a system which served to ensure production of capital (children, born slaves). But arguably, one could deduce that delving into such histories and experiences would deviate from the generalizability of this particular book.
As intended, the content of The Psychology of Sex and Gender extends across a plethora of academic and professional fields, allowing for its incorporation into a variety of departmental and scholarly curricula. The interdisciplinary nature of the topic situates it as equally exigent in psychological, sociological, gender and historical courses and departments. Furthermore, the authors’ overt emphasis on diversity highlights the cross-cultural variations in how gender and sex is understood, mechanized and expressed. The authors offer a commitment to the inclusion of underrepresented and marginalized identities and experiences throughout the text; intentionally deviating from the tendency to isolate cultural diversity as a distinct yet miniscule feature of gender and sex. However, the book could be seen in some spaces as a “white-washed, American” narrative of gender and sex as ideas, constructs, expressions and historical experiences that misrepresents the realities outside of Eurocentric paradigms, pedagogies, and cultures. Conclusively, this book does a sufficient job of providing readers with a general and well-organized understanding of hegemonic Western gender and sexuality discourse.