Tuesday, November 15, 2005
First Aired: 
Tuesday, January 4, 2005

What Is It

Are gender roles and differences fixed, once and for, all by biology? Or is gender socially constructed and culturally variable?  How does gender differ from sex? John and Ken explore whether men and women are really from different planets after all with Anne Fausto-Sterling from Brown University, author of Myths of Gender: Biological Theories about Women and Men.

Listening Notes

John distinguishes between gender and sex. Sex is biological. Gender is a set of the social roles. Gender does not always map onto sex clearly. Ken points out that not even sex is as fixed as we had once thought. Ken introduces the guest, Anne Fausto-Sterling, professor at Brown University. Fausto-Sterling once claimed that there were five sexes, meaning that there is a wider variety of sexes than traditionally thought. Are there only two natural kinds of sex? Does the world have natural joints that science carves up? 

Roughly 2% of the American population has ambiguous gender. Why are these people invisible? Our concepts of race cannot deal with multi-/interracial people, so some think we should abandon those concepts. Should the same argument apply to sex concepts? Fausto-Sterling distinguishes between intersex, which usually is an accident of biology, and the dynamics of gender, which includes changing attitudes about women playing sports and ideas about marriage. 

Ken asks if anything follows from the rejection of culturally constructed gender roles for the fluidity of biological sex. Fausto-Sterling does not think that gender roles float free from the biology. Ken says that every culture he's heard of has a division of labor between the men and the women. Why is there this division of labor? Fausto-Sterling says that it is hard to pinpoint why and how it gets set up. Ken points out that biologists would not be able to describe some kinds of problems if they stayed within a clear cut two sex conceptual scheme. Who is responsible for the socialization of gender roles? Parents and teachers teach gender roles, but little children segregate by gender all the time. The difference is universal, but is it due to biology?

  • Roving Philosophical Report (Seek to 04:37): Amy Standen interviews someone who identifies as both a man and a woman and someone who has Klinefelter's syndrome. 
  • Philosophy Talk Goes to the Movies (Seek to 45:30): John and Ken discuss the philosophical merits of the movie Kinsey.


Comments (1)

Arendt's picture


Tuesday, September 17, 2019 -- 2:03 PM

Thank you for exploring this

Thank you for exploring this challenging topic; however, I have serious concerns about several aspects of this show:

1) That the show affirmed the gender fluidity movement's premise that sex is non-binary; and, seemed to suggest that the categories of female and male may very well have outlived their usefulness.

As a woman who has experienced eight "memorable" instances of sexual harassment, including 2 instances of violent sexual assault and 2 instances of lengthy, determined and aggressive stalking that may have resulted in rape or worse...all by male human beings, human beings with penises, I found the the show's dismissal of the bathroom issue as "silly"...insulting.

Not only are human males, on average, stronger and more violent than human females, they are also far more likely to commit all types of sexual harassment, including assault, stalking, exhibitionism and voyeurism. And, there is no reliable data that men who self-identify as women (many of whom retain male genitalia and are still sexually attracted to females) are any less violent than males who don't.

As such, women (i.e. human beings born with ovaries, human beings who are, for the most part, subject to menstruation, pregnancy (sometimes, forced), child birth, lactation, and menopause) deserve sex-segregated spaces that acknowledge their material biological communal toilets, showers, locker rooms, domestic abuse shelters, and prisons...spaces where girls and women are especially vulnerable to male sexual harassment.

2) That in a show on sex and gender, zero of the four voices heard (those of Ken Taylor, Josh Landry, Susan Stryker, and Ian Shoals) were WBW (women born women). How is this even possible? How can a discussion on sex and gender exclude the viewpoint of human beings actually subject to menstruation and pregnancy?

3) That in a show on sex, gender, and queerness ( VERY controversial issues these days), where were the voices critical of the gender fluidity movement?

Philosophy Talk presents itself as a show that questions everything. But, one has to wonder: is it really ready to question the assertions of the new gender fluidity movement?