Volume 17, Issue 4
  • ISSN: 1388-3186
  • E-ISSN: 2352-2437



There is a consensus in the neuroscientific literature that brains are either male or female, and that ‘brain sex’ is a fixed, immutable trait. Feminist critics have challenged this idea, raising questions, for example, about brain plasticity (the role of sociocultural factors in the emergence and endurance of brain structure and function). However, neuroscientific studies of sex/gender differences still rarely consider these factors. This paper discusses brain plasticity as a shared point of interest for the neurosciences and feminist theory. Plasticity arguments resonate strongly with longstanding feminist arguments about the interaction of nature and nurture, the embodiment of social practices, and the performative nature of gender. However, whether it is appropriate and productive for feminist theory to approach the gendered subject as a plastic, cerebral subject is up for discussion. This paper explores these different dimensions. I pay detailed attention to the concern that plasticity arguments can corroborate the idea of brain sex as effectively as they can undermine it. Depending on how broadly one defines plasticity, the focus of research can be on ‘the plasticity of sex differences’ or on ‘sex differences in plasticity’. I conclude that a traditional definition of plasticity, according to which the brain is largely stable, conserves the idea of brain sex. However, the alternative – framing the brain as fundamentally and infinitely plastic – also raises concerns.


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  • Article Type: Research Article
Keyword(s): brain plasticity; brain sex; feminist theory; neuroscience; sex/gender; sexuality
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