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Challenging the biological basis of sex


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The New Inquiry has an interview with Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor of biology and gender studies at Brown University and author of the books Myths of Gender and Sexing the Body. Her work shows that scientific knowledge is far from neutral, but instead deeply shaped by prevailing cultural norms, including the male-female gender binary. An excerpt of the interview is below, or read the full text here.

Basically I did embryology, and then I got involved in feminist theory. Then I wrote Myths of Gender, which was sort of aimed at trying to use my skills as a biologist to look at scientific claims about what women can and can’t do. I was also teaching embryology, and one of the things you teach in embryology is the development of the urogenital system, and that led me naturally into intersex and the work of John Money, because that’s part of how you lecture on the development of the urogenital system.

Only, at some point, with feminist theory in my head, I began to look at that story more critically. I began thinking about well, how does science actually work? It moved me away from being able to claim that science was sort of neutral and objective, because here I was finding with Myths of Gender, all these ways in which that clearly wasn’t true, in which culture became woven into the fabric of scientific knowledge.

And that was the same thing people were finding in other fields of women’s studies. Gender was neglected or treated in particular ways in science, gender was neglected or treated particular ways in history, and so on and so forth. The people who were doing feminist science studies, of whom I was one, began looking at gender as cultural knowledge that became part of scientific knowledge.

Image via The New Inquiry.