Gender, Brain and Health
Research on sex, gender and the brain seems to be subject to a conflict of concerns.
It is a general fact about humans that many clinical conditions occur with different incidence, develop at different life-stages and are expressed differently depending on the person’s sex/gender. Conditions affecting or acting through the brain, such as depression, anxiety, psychosis, autism and Alzheimer’s disease, are no exception to this rule. There is also a well-grounded hope that a better understanding of the neural basis of gender incongruence – and, by extension, that of gender identity more generally – will serve the health interests of transgendered people of all genders.
All of which would seem to suggest that sex and gender should be taken into due consideration as variables in both pre-clinical and clinical research settings. After all, the more specific our understanding of brain structure and function in health is, the better we will understand the specificity with which it is affected in disease and ailment.
On the other hand, however, there are also good reasons to be wary of the practice of foregrounding sex/gender in brain research. Today’s “science of sex differences” is the inheritor of a history of projects and attempts, spanning several centuries, to pin down the alleged “essential differences” between men and women to their alleged basis in the brain. Such attempts have historically been fraught with questionable methodology, poorly defined constructs, and poor replicability. Upon the arrival and general observance of more standardized statistical methods, the majority of alleged findings of “pronounced” brain differences between men and women have tended to meander in the “small” or “negligible” end of the effect size spectrum.
Despite this, according to feminist critics past and present, the “hunt for differences” approach to sex/gender and the brain plays, wittingly or not, into a reactionary discourse of fundamental and biologically hard-wired sex/gender differences in thought, feeling and behaviour that may serve to explain – and justify – extant cultural, social, economic and political hierarchies between sexes, genders and sexualities. For this reason – or so feminist critics have argued – research on sex/gender and the brain should be held up to particularly exacting methodological standards with regard to conceptual constructs, experimental design, sample sizes, statistical methods etc. Not the least, whenever potential health benefits are invoked as legitimation of research on “sex as a biological variable” in this domain, the prospects in question should be as concrete and plausible in clinical terms as possible.
This cross-disciplinary seminar is conceived as an effort to address the need for a conciliation of these two seemingly conflicting yet individually legitimate concerns bearing on research on sex, gender and the brain. Presenting participants are invited to reflect on how these concerns bear on their own work within their particular domains of research and/or practice and on what they deem fruitful ways to address them.
The seminar will be fully digital and hosted on Zoom. The format is Zoom Webinar, and to access the seminar, just click on this link at 3 pm CET each day - the link is the same for both days - Thurday 20 and Friday 21 May.
Day 1: Thursday 20 May
|15:15-16:45||Keynote session: Annelies Kleinherenbrink: "Risk and responsibility in online women's brain health discourses"|
Marco Hirnstein: “Why *good* brain research is important and how it can be accomplished”
Helene Hjelmervik: “Sex/gender differences and estrogen effects on the prefrontal brain region – of relevance for understanding sex-specific vulnerability in mental disorders?”
Kari Jegerstedt: “A literary investigation into neuropsychoanalytical theories on gender, brain and health”
|19:15-20:45||Keynote session: Sarah S. Richardson: "Sex as a Biological Variable Mandates: All We've Lost."|
Day 2: Friday 21 May
Emily Maddox: "A critical look at the autism/gender variance correlation, as discussed in emerging psychological literature"
Linda Weichselbraun: “Pre Sexing, Re-Sexing and De-Sexing: Technoscientific engagement in ‘transgender brains’ beyond prenatal sex reversal”
Claus Halberg: “Gender Identity: A Thorn in the Flesh of Embodied Cognition?”
Jill Halstead: “Social Acoustics: Dementia, Collective Body Memory and Radical Care”
|18:00-19:30||Keynote session: Gillian Einstein: "Situated Neuroscience: Bringing together sex and gender with Very Mixed Methods"|
Last minute changes may occur.
Dr. Gillian Einstein, Professor of Psychology, University of Toronto; Wilfred and Joyce Posluns Chair in Women’s Brain Health and Aging; and Guest Professor of Gender & Health, Linköping University, Sweden. "Situated Neuroscience: Bringing together sex and gender with Very Mixed Methods"
Dr. Sarah S. Richardson, Professor of the History of Science and of Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality at Harvard University. "Sex as a Biological Variable Mandates: All We've Lost."
Dr. Annelies Kleinherenbrink, Post-doc researcher at the Department of Cultural Studies, Tilburg School of Humanities and Digital Sciences. "Risk and responsibility in online women's brain health discourses"
Speakers in workshop sessions
Dr. Marco Hirnstein, Professor, Department of Biological and Medical Psychology, University of Bergen: “Why *good* brain research is important and how it can be accomplished”
Dr. Helene Hjelmervik, Associate professor, Department of Psychology, Pedagogy and Law, School of Health Sciences, Kristiania University College: "Sex/gender differences and estrogen effects on the prefrontal brain region – of relevance for understanding sex-specific vulnerability in mental disorders?”
Dr. Jill Halstead, Professor of music, The Grieg Academy, University of Bergen:“Social Acoustics: Dementia, Collective Body Memory and Radical Care”
Dr. Kari Jegerstedt, Associate Professor, Centre for Women’s and Gender Research, University of Bergen: “A literary investigation into neuropsychoanalytical theories on gender, brain and health”
Emily Maddox, PhD Candidate, Centre for Women’s and Gender Research, University of Bergen. "A critical look at the autism/gender variance correlation, as discussed in emerging psychological literature"
Dr. Claus Halberg, Postdoctoral fellow, Centre for Women’s and Gender Research, University of Bergen: “Gender Identity: A Thorn in the Flesh of Embodied Cognition?”
Linda Weichselbraun, PhD Candidate, Department of Sociology and Work Science, University of Gothenburg: “Pre Sexing, Re-Sexing and De-Sexing: Technoscientific engagement in ‘transgender brains’ beyond prenatal sex reversal”
Abstracts from individual speakers will be posted later