Archives for category: Troubling Bio-Logics

Throughout history, the existence of intersex individuals has puzzled scientists, medical doctors, geneticist, gender theorists, psychiatrists, etc. Perhaps this topic captures so much attention, whether positive or negative, because it conflicts, at its very core, with the permeating and ever-present model of sexual dimorphism in heteronormative western cultures. These androgynous individuals shatter the belief that there is something huge and impervious separating male and female bodies. To compensate for the instability brought on by this group, medical doctors began the search for the ultimate determinate and cause of sex. When the genitalia and anatomy of these ambiguous bodies failed, doctors were forced to base their claims on sex in such minuscule evidence as gonadal tissue. This allowed scientist to name and assign a true sex based on one’s molecular make up. Fortunately for scientists, these results allowed for 90% of all ambiguous bodies to be stamped with a sex and a gender and eliminated their confusion around sex. Unfortunately, however, this view of sex and categorizing the body only furthered the impression of sexual dimorphism as an ultimate reality and fortified the wall dividing male and female bodies. Later on, when scientists began examining chromosomes, they once again thought they had discovered a sure, clear-cut way of determining the sex of any individual in what they deemed, “sex chromosomes”.
Viewing the diversity of sex and chromosomal make up of intersex individuals through this one gene on trait model, however, was problematic. Women, like Helen discussed in Rosario’s essay titled “Quantum Sex: Intersex and the Molecular Deconstruction of Sex”, for example, have two X chromosomes, deeming them female, but they are born with some aspects of male anatomy, including testis. Based on work done with mostly intersex individuals, several genes on different autosomes (chromosomes that are not the two “sex chromosomes”) have been linked to production of sex and control of sex determination. These and other results have led scientists to view sex and all other genetic traits as complex and multifaceted results brought about by the interactions of several genes in conjunction with the environment and socialization.
Through these new scientific advancements and discoveries, social scientists like Rosario hope that the differences between female, male, and intersex individuals can be blurred and viewed in terms of a bimodal rather than dimorphic model.
Furthermore, examining the history of science as it deals with sex, demonstrates some of the major shortcomings of science as a production of knowledge. As theory after theory about sex have been developed and then disproven, it is important that we consider our own limitation of understanding. Certainly the one gene one trait theory of gene expression was not the pinnacle of genetic science, and our current understanding is certainly not complete. Knowing this, we must continuously and actively challenge our current understanding and open them to criticism across discourses. If this peer review across discourses was properly employed, I believe it could act as a system of checks and balances, identifying subjective reasoning, results, and research agenda, and helping scientists make more informed decisions.

Jennifer L. Peper

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Throughout the years, women have been believe to “bond” in certain ways men can not understand.  Is this true? Do women understand things on a more emotional level than men and does this separate women into a group of their own?  Some may follow this idea and believe it is common nature between the sexes.  That it is common nature for a man to act masculine and women to act feminine, but how did this normality come about? After reading both Monique Wittig and Judith Butler, I have developed  a similar idea on how this dichotomy was created.

The heterosexual matrix can explain how males and females relate in terms of sex, gender, and sexual desire. Men are expected to act masculine and a part of acting masculine is to be attracted to women.  If a male is not interested in women, he therefore breaks the flow of the heterosexual matrix and will ultimately be deemed a monster.  Butler believes this heterosexual matrix forms the relationship to build the nuclear family.  Wittig feels that the matrix is simply for reasons of political and economic roles to take place between men and women.  How does anyone know what to believe?

One idea, of Whittig’s, I completely agree with….Sex is not natural, it is historical.  The differences between men and women have been expected because they have been passed down throughout history and no other way has ever been known.  Sex distinction is presumed to always be two, and only two, categories of sex.  No in betweens have ever been excepted.

Both authors refuse to recognize this sex distinction.  The only way Whittig says a woman can “break away from the heterosexual matrix” is to become a lesbian.  Becoming a lesbian, she describes, is the only way to escape.  To dis-identify with the matrix will free individuals from the specified categories of sex.  I agree with this fact, that becoming a lesbian separates a woman from the obvious female, I am still just not sure that it is the only way…

Alexandra Fath

I am a 22 year old, White, middle class, heterosexual, democratic, cis-gendered woman. Unbeknownst to me, each one of these defining characteristics of my body and mind are continuously working together to affect my experiences, human interactions, and privileges in the world. It is as if we are all marked by a series of certain distinctions; (sex, gender, race, sexuality, age, socio economic and marital status, cultural group, and religion) all of which have their own place in the hierarchy of human difference, some affording us privilege, while others only seem to set us apart from the norm.

With the endless amount of possibilities, it is impossible to assume that any two women have experienced, in the same way, what it means to be a woman in this world. While White lesbian women in the United States are fighting for their right to participate in the institution of marriage, African women are struggling to eliminate the practice of Female Genital Mutilation. Based on our very different personal experiences as women, we have created a variety of agendas all in the name of Feminism.

As explained by Patricia Hill-Collins’ concept of intersectionality, described in her book, Black Sexual Politics, there is no such thing as “just” a woman. Every woman belongs to a certain cultural group, has a certain color of skin and hair, practices some sort of belief system, earns a certain amount of money, ect. Each one of these features cannot be considered singularly, but must be examined in context with all of the others. As women from hundreds of different backgrounds come together at the feminist front, it is crucial that these differences are not ignored! As Audre Lorde, a Black, lesbian feminist, points out, “white women ignore their built-in privilege of whiteness and define women in terms of their own experience alone, then women of Color become “other”, the outsider whose experience and tradition is too “alien” to comprehend”.

This limited mindset of what it means to be a woman has grave consequences and limits the effect of the feminist movement.  I believe the incorporation of intersectionality into feminist theory can bring about great social changes. As women continue to broaden their ideas of “women” while noticing their own privilege and building an awareness of others experiences, the differences that seem so numerous between us will work instead to unite us. Through the confrontation of our own prejudices on a day-to-day basis we can begin to use difference in the way it was intended. It is in this way that feminists can grow and change, claiming and supporting new identities and actively working together to form a better future.

 

Jennifer Peper

I was struck in class by our conversation regarding “For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house” (Lorde 123).  This, of course, refers to Audrey Lorde’s essay “Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference.” The conversation evolved into how people can use the master’s tools in order to get into the master’s house. Do we use the power of one of the groups (age, class, race, marital standing, etc) we belong when it works for us?

I wanted to take it a step further. How do other people use these tools against us, perhaps in less detectible  ways? Microaggressions, defined as “the subtle ways in which body and verbal language convey oppressive ideology about power or privilege against marginalized identities” (microaggressions.com/faq).   This website captures the offhand, overheard comments made in public, moments in conversations that cause a shock and stunned reaction, or moments when discrimination is completely obvious. The point is that, in capturing these moments, we recognize the way in which we notice differences between each other, and at the same time, rank each other as superior and inferior. While some of the moments described on the site are discriminatory (especially to the person experiencing them), I also think that they create a glimpse of our general lack of education regarding groups of people different from ourselves. For example, this post is about the feelings described by an asexual woman. While the general public may be (slightly) more educated about the sexualities described within LGBT, most people are certainly not as educated regarding less widely explained sexualities. This returns to Lorde’s ideas about how most of us understand the groups that we fall into, but do little to understand groups we are not a part of.

Shannon Skloss PhotographyOn Friday morning, I saw an interview with Nancy Upton on the Today Show.  You access that interview here. Nancy Upton entered American Apparel’s XL model search contest. American Apparel is expanding their clothing line (a few select styles) to including XL sizing.  XL? Seriously? It’s 2011 and American Apparel is just now offering a few styles of their clothing in XL?  I think that this is a microagression that affects me. Currently, I don’t think there is a single item of clothing available at American Apparel that would fit me. By including a size XL, to me, American Apparel is saying “Those of you who are on a little on the curvy side, you can come into our club. If you are bigger than a size 14, stay out fatties.” In their attempt to create a clothing line that fits more people, they belittle others.

How do we rearrange our definitions of difference in order to “imitate progress, [but] still condemn us to the same old exchanges, the same old guilt, hatred, recrimination, lamentation, and suspicion” (Lorde 123)? We act like American Apparel and use words like “bootyful” instead of beautiful in order to describe women with larger butts in their XL campaign advertising. Bootyful is clearly less than beautiful.  Why can’t women of all shapes and sizes be called beautiful?

-Jenna Graham

In the lecture “Abnormal” Michel Foucault, when talking about the figure of the masturbator, says, “Almost no one knows what everyone does,” (59). This idea of shared ignorance about sexual practice which Foucault applies to the practice of masturbation, seems to me to be applicable in regards to a myriad of sexual behaviors. I am reminded of the impact of the publication of the Kinsey Reports in the late 1940s and early 1950s: before the debut of this document, many Americans had no idea what other Americans like themselves actually did when they were sexual. As Foucault implies in his lecture, masturbation is that thing that everyone does, but nobody talks about; this secrecy fosters a climate of guilt surrounding the unspeakable practice and prevents those partaking from truly enjoying the experience. Arguably, such was also the case with many other taboo sexual practices (oral sex, anal sex, homosexual contact of any kind, etc) before the publication of the Kinsey Reports (but also persisting to the present).
As can be seen from examining the Dear Dr. Kinsey Collection (a collection of personal letters addressed to Dr. Kinsey during the 1940’s and 1950’s), the cycle of secrecy, guilt, and subsequent sexual anxiety about behaviors persists when “no one knows what everyone does.” I had the wonderful chance to examine some of these personal letters, and one profound conclusion I came to was just how little most people knew about what was common and healthy sexually (not to mention how often “healthy” and “moral” wound up tied together). Many letters were from anxious writers in the 40s and 50s describing behaviors such as cunnilingus or fellatio (which are commonly accepted today) and asking whether they were going to develop a physical or moral disease as a result of their behavior. Insofar as behaviors which have no empirically proven physical detriments are blamed for unrelated health problems, the depiction of sex as immoral or unhealthy does no one any favors: when “no one knows what everyone does,” we all spend a lot of unnecessary energy feeling bad about what we like.

Difference is an all encompassing word. In Audre Lorde’s piece Age, Race, Class, and Sex: Women Redefining Difference; we read about the complex aspect of difference within western european history and the affects that it has had on social construction and human interaction. Difference can be see simply through binaries like “dominant/subordinate, good/bad, up/down and superior/inferior” (114). Though these binaries give a basic understanding of what difference can circumscribe, the conflict that difference creates is much deeper.

Lorde says, “Too often, we pour the energy needed for recognizing and exploring difference into pretending those differences are insurmountable barriers, or that they do not exist at all” (115). Lorde makes a very valid point stating that the differences of intersectionality are not to be overlooked. Growing up as a white, upper-class, privileged woman, difference was not something that I experienced every day. Because of that, my understanding of racial segregation as well as general hostility between people was minimal. Not until I came out, was difference something that became apart of my every day life. There is a dynamic to difference that perpetuates social interaction as well as the education of society. If we do not continue general education of the differences that we all share, diversity will get lost in the shuffle. It’s not about homogeneity, it’s about having an identity that can be brought to the collective.

When Lorde talks about the ignorance of white women who only focus on their oppression as women and their disregard of race, sexual preference, class, and age , I agree that they are important issues to a point. Lack of intersectional exposure can limit an individuals ability to see oppression outside of their social surroundings. It is hard to understand difference when diversity is lacking in your environment or the generational gap between individuals is seen as a span of time not worth breaching. We can learn so much about race, class, age and sex from the people around us each day. Continuing a relationship with your elders or working to enlightening younger children can help break the disconnect that is shared between generations, classes, sexes, and races which makes difference less consequential. This also allows for intersectional growth so that “we don’t have to invent the wheel every time we have to go to the store for bread” (117).

To recognition difference like diversity would create an opportunity towards a more balanced society. The hostility that is shared across these intersectional barriers is worth being heard. Homophobia, racism, etc is not going to disappear overnight. Like the repeal of DADT, you may be able to openly serve in the military as a homosexual but does that mean you will receive the same respect as others? Can we change decades of behavior and opinions that are so strongly against gays just because a piece of legislation makes it so. As Lorde states, difference is not a subject to be ignored. We need to talk about the differences that we all share or the world is going to keep perpetuating bad habits and hatred towards people that are not apart of the norm. The subjugation of those in the minority reflects complete disregard for the diversity that our nation shares. We would not be the melting pot of the world if we didn’t have the diversity that we do.

-Sarah Klapperich

I was thinking about Foucault and his thoughts on abnormality and it reminded me of another conversation I had about binaries; how one is component valorized and while other is devalorized in relation to each other. With normality and abnormality, it’s easy to spot which one is higher ranked. Good/bad, hot/cold, male/female, straight/gay etc. there’s always a ranking involved. It becomes far more than a simple “one of these things is not like the other” question; there’s an implicit whisper hidden underneath saying “one of these things is worse than the other,” as if the comparisons are stacked rather than side by side.

It’s understandable to use binaries to understand the world, but what happens to the things in between? What happens when male/female isn’t enough to describe ambiguous genitalia? What happens when genitalia isn’t ambiguous, but an individual doesn’t identify with either sides of the binary? Though one component of this binary of male/female is ranked higher than the latter, those who don’t easily identify with either options are ranked lower.

In this case the normal/abnormal binary would step in to make things a little more clear; if said individual doesn’t fit this binary, at least they fit into that binary.

I think this is incredibly limiting. The logic we use to describe the world takes away the breadth of expression and color and creation we can use, or at least use in a socially acceptable manner. Why can’t difference be unique rather than pathological? I know the queer community may be more accepting to those bodies that don’t fit common sense understandings, but there’s still a policing of norms. Bisexuality, for example, has such a strange place in either heterosexual or queer communities. I lot of people seem to think bisexuality doesn’t actually exist; that being bi just means someone is gay and isn’t quite ready to admit it. Bisexuality doesn’t fit into a straight/gay binary so it must not actually exist. What depressing logic.

I suppose it’s easy to take the world and neatly organize it into one of two categories, but I’d prefer if differences in bodies, sexualities, and gender performance were viewed as diverse, unique, and full of endless combination. Maybe I’m a dreamer, but really, what’s the harm in trying?

-Lucas Zigler

P.S. I know this would make more sense in the “Beyond Binaries” category, but my musings on Foucault and abnormality led me here in this very week.

After reading Michel Foucault’s Article “Abnormal” I was truly in disgust of how society looked at those who were Siamese twins and hermaphrodites. They considered them monsters mainly because they didn’t know how to fit them into the law. The Siamese twins were seen as “the monster that is both man and beast. (Foucault, pg66)” They didn’t know how to punish them legally in crimes or how to understand them in the medical field and religion didn’t know where they fit into their world. So in fear they gave them a name the monsters for a way to understand them and put them in their corner of society away from them. Then you have the Hermaphrodites which Foucault state “that form the Middle Ages to the sixteenth century and until at least the start of the seventeenth century, hermaphrodites were considered to be monsters and were executed, burnt at the stake and their ashes thrown to the winds (Foucault, p67).”  Later in the Seventeenth century they were not put to death but Foucault said that “individuals recognized as hermaphrodites were asked to choose their sex, their dominant sex and to conduct themselves accordingly, especially by wearing appropriate clothes.” He goes on to say that “they were subject to criminal law and could be convicted for sodomy only if they made use of their additional sex (Foucault, pg67).”  Of course rumors could go around which were not true about them using their additional sex and they would be convicted which Foucault tells an account or two of that happening. As I read all this I Thought how horrible to not be yourself and having to choose and be punish if you broke their rules for all this. I thought Thank goodness we don’t do this anymore and then it hit me. We may not call Hermaphrodites or Siamese twins Monsters in today’s world but we as a society still sometimes do not accept them. People judge them and make jokes about them. We have TV programs that put them on display as abnormal people who need to be fixed. I don’t know how many TV shows that I have seen about Siamese Twins were they are talking about having to surgically remove them and so forth that way they can fit into our society.  Why do they need to be fixed why can’t we just except them as them.  Why do we as society have to come up with jokes about Hermaphrodites? Is it our way of still trying to understand it or help ease our fears of why they are so different. I mean if you want to look at it form a religious view point God made them that way so if God made them that way than he wanted them that way so why judge and make fun and try to change them. Why can’t we just embrace them and see them as the wonderful people that they are. Yes we may not be as crazy as the people in the eighteenth century and so forth where we put them to death, but are we any better.

 

~Kielly Perkins~

As I was helping my six year old brother with his homework this weekend, I realized with startling clarity that his basic math worksheets really weren’t basic at all. I’d bet that you probably don’t remember your 1st grade homework, but if your assignments looked anything like his do, you probably spent a good deal of time trying to figure out which one “didn’t belong.”

 As we’re going through one particular sheet, he comes to a set of pictures and instead of quickly determining which one was “different,” he looked  at me with a questioning expression and said: “Mika, these are all the same…?”

 He was starting fixedly at a picture of an apple, orange, peach, and banana. This was the last and most difficult question on the page because they are all the same in that they’re fruit. But, the correct answer was clearly the banana since its shape is significantly different from that of the other three. I probably wouldn’t have thought anything of his dilema with the fruit picture if I hadn’t just finished reading Michele Foucault’s lecture on (ab)normality. While Foucault discusses the concept of abnormality in the context of the human body and “hermaphrodites,” the link between his lecture and this simple homework problem was obvious to me.

We’re still teaching our children to quickly, almost reflexively, decide which member of a group “doesn’t belong.” This wouldn’t be such an issue if a negative connotation weren’t almost inevitably attached to being different. Practically everyone is guilty here… even Sesame Street!

 I realize that categorization and differentiation are critical skills, but it just makes me wonder what deeper lessons I’m teaching my brother if I make him single out the banana just because it looks a little different. This is a little overdramatic, but is he going to go to school and shy away from a child of a different ethnicity because he’s worried that this child is the metaphorical banana? Or, what if my brother feels like the banana for whatever reason? Is he going to be afraid to play with the apples and oranges?

I found this whole situation interesting because as I was reading Foucault (prior to the homework episode), I found myself wondering how so long ago they came to the conclusion  that someone had broken the “cosmic law” or was a “monster” just because their genitals looked different, and how even today we still sometimes think in a similar way. Even after finishing the piece I’m still not sure where they got the idea that it is somehow OK to pass judgments on the entirety of a person just by looking at one physical characteristic. I mean, think about it… What if people with green eyes were “abnormal”, problematic monsters who violated the proper working of the universe? Where would we be then?

In the end, I simply explained to my brother the reason that circling the banana would be the correct option. Of course, this was only one small homework assignment and I have far more confidence in my ability to share the right messages with him than apprehension about what stereotypes and detrimental lessons he might learn in first grade. I suppose the point here is that we can do anything and everything to try to teach children that we shouldn’t be mean to Johnny just because his skin is different or make fun of Katie because she has two daddies, but there are still so many forces counteracting this effort; most of which we likely don’t even notice.

-Mika Baugh

Live Science, a website based on scientific news, published an article this past summer on the male brain. The article, “10 Things Every Woman Should Know About a Man’s Brain”, attempts to debunk/explain 10 behaviors commonly associated with “men”. Many of the behaviors have been labeled as more masculine already, but this article also gives the biological basis for these behaviors.  The article associates many behaviors with testosterone, which Angier writes about extensively in her book. Aggression, competition, commitment, and aging are addressed in this article. The aggression and competition are explained by high testosterone levels. The article labels the  competition, specifically protecting one’s assets, the “defend my turf” part of the brain. This “fact of the male brain” is accompanied by a photo of a fighter wielding a weapon in front of fields. Different behaviors associated with commitment are also explained by different levels of testosterone. Apparently, aging and wanting to get married are caused by lowering testosterone levels in men. Nothing else seems to explain male behaviors, according to the writers of the website.

Does anybody else see the girl's expression?

Evolutionary psychology, which Angier also discusses in her book, seems to also be a great influence on this article. All of the things that a “woman should know about a man’s brain” deal with commitment issues and family life. Fathering is mentioned and of course explained by lowering testosterone levels. Women have no need to worry about men wanting to get married, and they can rely on men to defend their land and be emotional as well. The authors of the different things seem to adhere to the ideals of evolutionary psychology, appealing women to relationships and love.

http://www.livescience.com/14422-10-facts-male-brains.html

-Eleanor Stevenson