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Gender and the Science of Difference

Gender and the Science of Difference: Cultural Politics of Contemporary Science and Medicine

Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Gender and the Science of Difference
    Book Description:

    How does contemporary science contribute to our understanding about what it means to be women or men? What are the social implications of scientific claims about differences between "male" and "female" brains, hormones, and genes? How does culture influence scientific and medical research and its findings about human sexuality, especially so-called normal and deviant desires and behaviors? Gender and the Science of Difference examines how contemporary science shapes and is shaped by gender ideals and images.

    Prior scholarship has illustrated how past cultures of science were infused with patriarchal norms and values that influenced the kinds of research that was conducted and the interpretation of findings about differences between men and women. This interdisciplinary volume presents empirical inquiries into today's science, including examples of gendered scientific inquiry and medical interventions and research. It analyzes how scientific and medical knowledge produces gender norms through an emphasis on sex differences, and includes both U.S. and non-U.S. cases and examples.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5079-4
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. 1 Gendering Science: Contextualizing Historical and Contemporary Pursuits of Difference
    (pp. 1-24)

    During the last ten years, there has been a resurgence of popular interest in the biological differences between women and men. Not surprisingly, given cultural obsessions with the brain, the primary site of these differences is often described as neurological. Books with titles such asThe Female Brain, The Essential Difference, andWhy Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, among others, have been bestsellers as they promise readers knowledge about why men and women think and act differently. Computer metaphors are frequently mobilized so that differences between men’s and women’s brains are cast as “hardwired,” communicating that they...

  5. PART ONE Investigating Difference

    • 2 Sex Differences Are Not Hardwired
      (pp. 27-42)

      Although many examples of sex differences in behavior are exaggerations of minute and even trivial differences, there is no denying the existence of some sex differences in perception and cognition; and, therefore, it is important to ask whatcausesthem. There are two radically different types of explanation of the cause: (1) unitary explanations and (2) interactive explanations. Unitary explanations claim that the differences are determined by the genes. In these explanations, higher-level accounts of sex differences in behavior and social position are reduced to accounts at the molecular level, and differences in behavior are said to be “hardwired,” “a...

    • 3 Looking for Difference? Methodology Is in the Eye of the Beholder
      (pp. 43-66)

      With increased legitimacy in studying homosexuality from a more nonjudgmental stance, much research over the past three decades asks: What are the biologically recognizable differences between gay people and straight people (sometimes adding a third, in-between category, bisexual people)? Asking the question that way is a choice that reflects a biological determinist (BD) view that different sexual orientations have a tangible “cause.” The work of Dennis McFadden illustrates the quest for biological differences in sex and sexuality for the purpose of finding the cause of homosexuality.¹ In this chapter, we challenge McFadden’s research on its methodological approach and its scientific...

    • 4 Evaluating Threat, Solving Mazes, and Having the Blues: Gender Differences in Brain-Imaging Studies
      (pp. 67-88)

      The aim of this chapter is to highlight gender norms that are embodied in and reinforced, produced, or revised by functional magnetic resonance–imaging (fMRI) research on gender differences. Because assumptions about gender are oftentimes written into the design of a study, some fMRI studies produce or reinforce common gender stereotypes with regard to cognitive functions, such as the claims that women can’t read maps or that surgeons are mostly male because they are better at mental rotation. Research finds that women are more “sensitive” and responsive to social cues, more prone to sadness and depression, and less angry than...

  6. PART TWO Animal Obsessions

    • 5 Telling the Rat What to Do: Laboratory Animals, Science, and Gender
      (pp. 91-107)

      Other animals provide us with myriad metaphors and mirrors of our own behavior. We may at times see nobility in the characters of other animals—or parallels with our own mindlessness. Sometimes, animals seem to provide mirrors of our own society, seeming to behave in ways that fit with particular expectations of gender, for example, as Mariette Nowak (1980) implies. Often, too, the behavior of other animals is used to indicate that something is fixed, instinctive, hardwired into the brain—circuits “telling the rat what to do.”

      Much of what we know about animal behavior, however, comes from scientific investigations—...

    • 6 “Why Do Voles Fall in Love?” Sexual Dimorphism in Monogamy Gene Research
      (pp. 108-125)

      In recent years there has been much talk in the popular press and in popular culture about monogamy and animals (e.g., Jacquet 2005). Voles have become popular in recent monogamy research because they are reported to form monogamous relationships or to be promiscuous, depending on their species. As the story above—told by chastity educators with Pregnancy Center East in Cincinnati, Ohio, on their blog,The New View on Sex(Andrea and Alicia 2008)—explains, prairie voles are considered a monogamous species, while the meadow vole is said not to pair-bond. Vole research on “the monogamy gene” since 2004 has...

    • 7 What Made Those Penguins Gay? Gender and Sexuality Politics in the Zoo
      (pp. 126-144)

      The opening epigraph refers to penguins, more precisely, to male penguins that show same-sex sexual behavior and the ability to procreate and to build a family.¹ Why might the sexual activities of penguins be important for people of Western industrialized societies? Why do some U.S. parents not want their children to read a children’s book about gay penguins? And for what reason do gay and lesbian communities fight for gay penguin couples in a German zoo to stop the zoo from encouraging them to mate with females? Our chapter explores the following key issues: homosexuality, families, hetero- and homonormativity, and...

  7. PART THREE Categorizing Bodies

    • 8 Intersex Treatment and the Promise of Trauma
      (pp. 147-163)

      Whenever journalists contact me to say that they are making a documentary about intersex, their first question is always, How often are people born with anatomies that are neither clearly male nor clearly female? It is customary, in not only media coverage but also scholarly discussions of intersex, to begin by listing different types of intersex and their prevalence before analyzing the ethics and politics of their medical management, especially critiques of genital surgery. But such an approach gives several false impressions—that bodies can be separated from discourse; that naming intersex and measuring its prevalence happens outside of discourse;...

    • 9 The Western “Lesbian” Agenda and the Appropriation of Non-Western Transmasculine People
      (pp. 164-186)

      In July 2008, Evelyn Blackwood, one of the two organizers for a conference (the other was Saskia Wieringa) sent out a flyer over e-mail announcing an International Female Masculinities Symposium to be held at the University of Amsterdam in early September 2008. What was noticeable about this flyer was the conflation of “female masculinities” with “gender-ambiguous women.” When I pointed out to Blackwood this problematic conflation in that Blackwood herself had published a book chapter (1999) in which “gender-ambiguous” Indonesian transmasculine individuals did not identify as women, but rather as men, Blackwood subsequently changed the flyer so that “female masculinities”...

  8. PART FOUR Medical Interventions

    • 10 Facial Feminization and the Theory of Facial Sex Difference: The Medical Transformation of Elective Intervention to Necessary Repair
      (pp. 189-204)

      In the 1980s and 1990s, a Northern California plastic surgeon with extensive experience in reconstructive surgical techniques developed a unique collection of procedures marketed to male-to-female (MTF) transsexuals for the purposes of changing facial appearance.¹ In the United States, facial feminization surgery (FFS) is promoted and practiced as a distinct set of procedures by primarily four surgeons.² What distinguishes facial feminization from cosmetic surgery, more generally, is that FFS is expressly aimed at making the face more feminine, rather than simply more attractive—although some accounts of what constitutes beauty suggest that the most feminine faces are often perceived as...

    • 11 The Proportions of Fat in Genetics of Obesity Research
      (pp. 205-223)

      If taken separately, the meanings conjured up when the word “gene,” or the word “obesity,” is headlined hold a unique and powerful currency in the current public imagination. For example, the gene has become an instantly recognized symbol of the recent developments in the discipline of science. The oft-told story of Frances Crick running in to the Cambridge pub the Eagle declaring the discovery of “the secret of life” (Watson 1999) has become a cultural trope of our era. As much as it can be said that the gene is featured as a cultural icon, in similar fashion the current...

    • 12 Making Male Sexuality: Hybrid Medical Knowledge and Erectile Dysfunction in Mexico
      (pp. 224-238)

      Urology patients at the Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social (IMSS) hospital in Cuernavaca, Mexico, often say that Mexican men are “sex obsessed.” These older, mostly working-class men suffered from problems like prostate enlargement or cancer, heart disease and type-2 diabetes, which often hindered erectile function. The IMSS environment, where Pfizer-funded¹ wall posters labeled less-than-ideal erections as the medical pathology “erectile dysfunction” (ED) and the doctors frequently breakfasted with the friendly Cialis sales representative, might seem conducive to the application of medical treatments to sex-obsessed patients’ faltering erections. However, IMSS urologists rarely recommended medical ED treatments, and the vast majority of...

    (pp. 239-242)
  10. INDEX
    (pp. 243-249)