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This book examines whether there really are – as is so often claimed – innate and immutable differences between males and females, in the way that they feel, think and empathise with others.  The author is of the belief that sex differences (which is the term generally used throughout the book) are learned, not innate (or as my old psychology tutor would say, nurtured not natural), and discusses the evidence to support her belief, as well as examining in detail experiments which would suggest the contrary.  The book also takes a special interest in how the belief that men and women brains work differently, leads to sexism in the home, workplace and society in general.

The book is divided into three parts – (1) measured differences between the sexes and how best to explain them (2) an ascorbic take-down of many experiments which suggest that sex differences are formed within the brain and are not learned, and (3) how sex/gender differences are learned in early childhood, despite some parents’ best efforts to give ‘gender neutral’ parenting.

I enjoyed the book a lot – it is quite science-y, but Fine does a great job of breaking everything down so that it is understandable and relatable in real terms (which is just as well for me, as I – perhaps unwittingly reinforcing the stereotypes which she talks about! – sometimes find very technical scientific terms hard to wrap my head around).

Fine is also a witty, wry and sarcastic writer, and her strong opinions certainly come through in her writing.  My favourite section was where she pointed out the flaws in some studies which concluded that sex differences are innate, and (basically) we should all just accept them, and not worry about it.  Some of the methodology was very shoddy – for example, it is hardly fair to draw a comparison between males and females in one test, when only females were examined for it!  I also thought it fascinating how, although by and large, people try not to push males and females into one bracket or another, we still end up unconsciously doing it.  (Example: if you go onto any maternity ward, you will instantly know from the colours of the cards and presents, whether that mother has had a boy or a girl.  Girls will almost certainly be exposed to more pink colours during childhood, and boys more blue.  Is it therefore that much of a shock when at a slightly older age, girls gravitate towards pink and boys towards blue?)

This was definitely a book which required concentration, and for the first part I could not read more than about 20 pages a day, to make sure I was taking it in.  But by the end, I was racing through it, because it was just such a fascinating read.  I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested in the differences between male and female brains, in sexism in today’s society, and/or the issue of feminism.

(Author’s website can be found here.)

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John Briley’s novel was adapted from his own screenplay for the film of the same name, which in turn was adapted from two books by Donald Woods (‘Biko’ and ‘Asking for Trouble’).

It tells the true story of the friendship between white Journalist Donald Woods, and black anti-Apartheid activist Stephen Biko, in South Africa in the 1970s.  Initially suspicious of each other’s motives, Woods and Biko become united, driven by their desire for equality in South Africa.  When Biko dies in Police Custody – the Police’s story is that he died of a self-imposed hunger strike, while Biko’s body, and the routine practices of certain Police at the time make it clear that he was beaten and tortured to death – Woods is determined to tell Biko’s story to the rest of the world.  However, the South African government and Police are determined to stop him, and place a banning order on him, effectively placing him under house arrest, and not allowing him to be in the company of more than one person at a time, save for immediate family.  However, Woods is determined that Biko’s story should be told.

I enjoyed the book a lot – it made me gasp in horror at times, but was very compelling.  The injustices committed against people in this book made my eyes pop, even though I already knew something about them.

The story is told in two parts – the first covers the friendship between the two men, while the second, after Biko’s death, describes Woods’ determination to see some justice for his friend, by telling the story of Biko and what he was striving for in South Africa.  My only criticism of it would be that it doesn’t go into some areas in much depth, and I would have liked to have known more.  It does read like a novel (and is described as such by the author), and so even though it is a true story, it flows well, and is hard to put down.  I would have liked to have learned more about Biko’s life leading up to the events in the story, but as it is adapted from the screenplay, it only really describes what was happening in the film, which focused on just that time in Biko’s life.  However, I would still recommend this book highly.

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