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.

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Professor of Biology and Gender Studies, Brown University


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