Testosterone Rex is a firm riposte to the recent book Testosterone: Sex, Power and the Will to Win, which places testosterone as so important that “a simple fact remains: without testosterone there would be no humans to have a history”. This bold claim is challenged by neuroscientist and feminist writer Cordelia Fine, who wrote the bestselling Delusions of Gender.
The argument is posed that men, thanks to past evolutionary pressures, take risks in order to acquire the resources and status that led to reproductive success in our ancestral past. This “evolutionary hangover” means men today drive flashy cars, ask for pay rises and wear expensive suits because of all this testosterone swimming around in their bloodstream.
The bright plumage of the peacock’s tail can be directly transposed to the human male flashing a Rolex watch to chat someone up.
Following the financial crash of 2008, many commentators were filling newspapers with ideas about how, if more women were in Wall Street, more long term financial decisions would be made as men thought too short term, were too quick tempered and altogether incapable of making sensible decisions.
Testosterone Rex demonstrates how “risk-taking” behaviour can be divided into several categories with no correlation between them. For example, a keen gambler is no more likely than anyone else to engage in other risk-taking behaviour, such as extreme sports. So, when people say men are more willing to take risks, which type of risks do they mean?
Crucially, there are no significant differences between men and women in this regard.
Fine examines different stereotypes about the multitude of ways in which testosterone influences people’s behaviours and carefully unpicks lots of assumptions. Sexist stereotypes are diligently investigated and — unsurprisingly — are often found to be more rooted in people’s ideas about individuals than in evidence-based studies. In any case, the way experiments are developed often reflects the prejudices of the scientists developing and publishing them.
Fine points out that human psychology and physiology are so complex that, rather than being the overriding decisive factor in how someone behaves, testosterone is more like a single vote in a democracy. A lot of the way in which we have previously viewed testosterone is almost upside down, in that certain situations produce testosterone, not the other way round.
Testosterone Rex is a valuable contribution. If we see men as being victim to this aggressive hormone, flooding their system and making them innately aggressive, sexually promiscuous and domineering, then this relates to how we see differences between men and women in society. For example, if we attribute the gender pay gap to a natural occurrence of different amounts of testosterone in people, it leaves little room for analysis rooted in inequality and oppression.