. . .if the state and the legal system have an interest in maintaining a two-party sexual system, they are in defiance of nature. For biologically speaking, there are many gradations running from female to male; and depending on how one calls the shots, one can argue that along that spectrum lie at least five sexes – and perhaps even more.Anne Fausto-Sterling, “The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not Enough” in The Sciences March/April, 1993, pp. 21
Anne Fausto-Sterling was trained as a biologist and has an undergraduate degree in zoology with graduate work in genetics. She approaches her research through a feminist lens. Her main contribution to feminist theories of gender is her insistence that biological knowledge is often guilty of being limited and limiting. She is committed to drawing on biological research in order to argue that what we really need are theories of the biological body that recognize and value the richness of human variation. In other words, Fausto-Sterling reveals that people are different, that human bodies exist in a wide variety, and that we ought to be open to new languages for describing gender variance.
As you read:
- Note that Leslie Feinberg, in “To Be or Not to Be” mentions the influence of Fausto-Sterling’s work for early transgender liberation projects. How might the material we are reading today contribute to contemporary trans projects?
- Think about the children in your life—how important is gender identity to them? How have they learned to express this identity? How have they changed over time?
Find the Fausto-Sterling readings here. (NOTE: we’re reading Ch. 8 and 9, pp. 109-118)
It is remarkable how “femininely” the egg behaves and how “masculinely” the sperm. . .Emily Martin, “The Egg and The Sperm” in Signs, 1991, pp. 489
We’re now reading Emily Martin’s “The Egg and The Sperm,” which was first published in the feminist journal Signs: A Journal of Women and Culture in 1991. It is a well known article that is often assigned in Women’s and Gender Studies classes—you might read it again in a class about body politics, or in a class about feminism and science!
Emily Martin is an anthropologist who is centrally interested in science, biology, and gender. In this article, she looks at the language used in textbooks to describe male and female gametes, and argues that biology may not be the neutral enterprise we imagine it to be.
As you read:
- Keep a running list of qualities and characteristics that biology textbooks in Martin’s research associate with male gametes, and another list of qualities and characteristics associated with female gametes
- Do Martin’s descriptions of high school biology class ring true to your own experience?
- Do you think that Martin is arguing for a “gender-neutral” approach to biology education? Is such a thing possible?
Find the Martin reading here.