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Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender Introduction to Women’s Studies Robert Wonser.

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Presentation on theme: "Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender Introduction to Women’s Studies Robert Wonser."— Presentation transcript:

1 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender Introduction to Women’s Studies Robert Wonser

2 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender2 Nature vs Nurture The nature vs. nurture debate refers to the ongoing discussion of the respective roles of genetics and socialization in determining individual behaviors and traits. Ultimately both sides do play a role in making us the people that we are.

3 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender3 Sapolsky’s “Trouble with Testosterone” “Debunks” myth of testosterone causing aggressive behavior  Most studies find a correlation between high levels of testosterone and high levels of aggression, and vice versa  But this correlation does NOT prove causation In fact, aggressive behavior causes an increase in testosterone secretion  The hormone simply exaggerates patterns in the brain and body that already exist, and are already responding to environmental triggers of aggression (“permissive effect”)

4 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender4 Sapolsky NOT biology, NOT the environment – IS the interaction between the two  Violence is more complex than 1 hormone – biology is meaningless outside the social context in which it occurs

5 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender5 As Nature Made Him David Reimer was subjected to gender reassignment surgery at 18 months old. What does his story tell us about the relationship between biological sex and gender identity?

6 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender6 Sex Sex refers to an individual ’ s membership in one of two biologically distinct categories — male or female. How many sexes are there?

7 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender7 Chromosomes, Hormones and Genes What sex are you and how do you know? The case of Maria Patino and the Olympics. A test revealed she had a Y chromosome and hidden testes. IOC’s ruling was based on cultural beliefs about gender, not scientific facts

8 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender8 Xs and Ys Usually XX =female and XY = male What about these situations? XO and XXX or XYYs and XXYs? Not all variations in biological sex are chromosomal:  Congenital adrenal hyperplasia (CAH) is a condition related to steroid hormone production that masculinizes XX individuals.  There’s also Androgen insensitivity syndrome (AIS) which was the condition that made Patino feminine despite her Y chromosome, it causes XY children to develop female genitalia.  Hermaphroditism and gonadal dysgenesis—abnormal gonadal development—refers to various conditions in which individual anatomies include gonads or secondary sex characteristics of both sexes.

9 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender9 Sexed Bodies in Other times and Places Whether or not biology is fixed and immutable, the way we understand the biology of sex is not. Biology and sexuality mirror the social order In premodern times, everyone knew that women were like men but inferior. Believing is seeing A belief in male superiority contributed to a vision of sexed bodies that reflected and supported those beliefs

10 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender10 Intersex 17 ambiguously sexed infants are born for every 1,000 births each year. Where is their place in a two sex world? The National Institute of Health divides intersex into four categories:

11 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender11 XX Intersex (formerly female pseudo-hermaphroditism). Chromosomes and ovaries of a woman, external genitals that appear male. Usually resulting from exposure of female fetus to excess male hormones before birth or CAH. Has normal uterus and Fallopian tubes, but the labia fuse and the clitoris is large and penis-like.

12 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender12 XY Intersex (formally male pseudo- hermaphroditism)  XY chromosomes, but with ambiguous or clearly female external genitals.  Internally, testes may be normal, malformed or absent.  One type; 5-alpha-reductase deficiency (as in the novel Middlesex), infants appear female until puberty, when bodies are virilized.  AIS, androgen insensitivity syndrome or testicular feminization is a condition in which a person has XY chromosomes, but the receptors to male hormones do not function and the genitals of thee in individuals appear female.

13 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender13 True Gonadal Intersex  Has both ovarian and testicular tissue in one or both gonads.  Cause unknown but animal studies link to exposure to common agricultural pesticides.  Other suspected cause: in vitro fertilization in which an XX and XY embryo merge Complex or undetermined intersex  Different chromosome configurations can result in ambiguous sex development. These include: XO (only one X chromosome), XXY, XXX – both cases have an extra chromosome, either an X or a Y.

14 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender14 “Social Emergency” How do we ‘deal with’ these people socially and medically? American Academy of Pediatrics calls them “social emergencies” Sex reassignment surgeries to place the child into one of the two ‘natural’ sexes. This is chosen for intersex people, not by them. Used to be if a baby was born with a “micro-penis” (less than 1.5 centimeters long and 0.7 centimeters wide) it was a candidate for sex reassignment surgery. Is this medically necessary? Or are they “social surgeries” like face lifts and nose jobs?

15 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender15 The Phall-o-meter When bodies don’t fit into our pre-existing notions of male and female, we will force them to, even if it involves a knife. Clitorises that are longer than.9 cm and penises that are shorter than 2.5 must be fixed.

16 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender16 Intersex as Lived Reality Intersex was constructed as a medical and social problem by a particular group of medical experts at a particular historical moment and in a particular socio-historical context. Visit Intersex Society of North America (ISNA) at

17 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender17 Gender Gender refers to the physical, behavioral, and personality traits that a group considers normal for its male and female members.  Masculinity and femininity How many genders are there?

18 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender18 How many genders are there? The evidence from other cultures Thomas theorem: “If men [and women] believe things to be real, they are real in their consequences.” (Thomas 1928, 571-72). If we believe men and women are different then we build institutions around this idea. As socially competent members of our society, we see bodies through the cultural lenses of sex and gender, and we shape actual bodies to our expectations. Are there practices you engage in to shape your body to the expectations of our culture?

19 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender19 Berdaches “women-men” of First Nation (Native American) societies. “two-spirit” peoples Socially distinct from their fully male and fully female kin. Took up occupations designated as women’s, dressed as women, and had sexual relations with men. Possible fourth category: “men-women” Biological females who lived as men, hunted, took up men’s work, fought in wars and married women. Gender was not equated with biological sex or sexual identity. The fact that 3 rd and 4 th sex status existed was due to the political and economic context within which these genders appeared: egalitarian relations, no accumulation of wealth, low level of division of labor.  Similar to pre capitalism Europe and rural colonial American society before the advent of capitalism.

20 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender20 Hijras of India Neither men nor women, nor are they seen as homosexuals. Key defining characteristic is the absence of the male external genitalia (often a result of an elective surgery) or “imperfect genitals”. Culturally, “not-men” and view themselves as “man minus maleness” (Nanda 1990).

21 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender21 Constructionist Approach to Gender Identity Most sociologists use a constructionist approach and see gender as a social construction and acknowledge the possibility that the male – female categories are not the only way of classifying individuals. Constructionists believe that gender is constructed, or created, through our interactions with other members of society. In the United States we tend to classify people as being male or female, but other societies have different classification systems (hijras and berdaches for example) and people are treated differently based on the norms associated with that system.

22 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender22 Who is this child?

23 Lesson 2: Biology, Sex and Gender23 Sexual Dimorphism in World of Warcraft Before player feedback After player feedback

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