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Week Four (Mon, 2/7): Under the Knife, or the Politics of Appearance


I. coursekeeping

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today's notetakers:
rubikscube and vgaffney

for Wednesday, (as a compliment to today's essays,
on the technologies of enhancing gender identity),
read 3 articles about various technologies of altering
gender identity (all in the password-protected file):

Erik Parens. “Thinking about Surgically Shaping Children.” Surgically Shaping Children: Technology, Ethics, and the Pursuit of Normality. Johns Hopkins, 2006. xiii-xxx .

Bernice Hausman. “Introduction: Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender” and “Epilogue.” Changing Sex: Transsexualism, Technology and the Idea of Gender. Durham, North Carolina: Duke University, 1995. 1-19, 195-200.

Sherry Turkle. “Tinysex and Gender Trouble.” Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet. Simon and Schuster, 1995. 210-232.

We will be joined by Kim Surkan,
who is teaching Gender and Technology @ MIT this semester, and wrote her Ph.D. thesis in English on gender passing and the performance of identity.

A reminder that Anne's daughter-in-law (!)
will be talking about intersex in Park @ 5:30 on Wednesday. Here's the invitation sent to the post-bac mailing list (and us!):
....delighted to invite you to hear an engaging presentation by Katie Baratz Dalke, President of the advisory board for Advocates for Informed Choice, member of the medical advisory board for the Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome Support Group, and a fourth year medical student at the Unversity of Pennsylvania.  Katie will be sharing her experience with Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome from both a personal and medical perspective.

Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS) is a condition in which a genetically male (XY) individual is resistant to male hormones called androgens, resulting in the presentation of some or all female physical characteristics.  Katie will be discussing the medical, ethical, and personal dimensions of Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (AIS).  She’ll also speak about ethical issues focusing on decision-making at birth, disclosing a diagnosis (at what age, in what way, and to what degree), and care throughout adulthood (sex, relationships, and psychological well-being).  Katie is a delightful person and engaging speaker; plus, pizza will be provided!

Save the date; we look forward to seeing you there!

Speaker:  Katie Baratz Dalke
Date:  Wednesday, February 9th
Time:  5:30 PM
Location:  Park Science Building (specifics coming soon)
Amenities:  Pizza, knowledge


A reminder, too, about your first
web project upcoming this Friday

Read up on something (varieties of intersexuality?
surgeries for children with cleft palate??)
that you want to learn more about; figure out how
most effectively to present and share what you've learned.

A few general tips:
--Use titles to draw folks in (don't have your usual captive audience, the prof who has to read the papers)
--Use images to draw folks in (but follow all guidelines for fair use: cite the source; and attend to image size--large images slow down the loading of everyone's pages!
--University of Maryland University College: Copywright and Electronic Publishing
--Don't assume that your audience is this class. Don't (for ex), say "Haraway says," say rather that, "In our class on Gender and Technology, we discussed Donna Haraway's 1991 essay, "A Cyborg Manifesto" (then footnote it).
--Better: create an active link. Think of links as windows into further research.
--Paragraph. Spaces between each stage of your argument makes it easier to read.
--Chose a readable type. Visuals matter.
--What else might you do to write for the world rather than for us and/or a grade?

Consult the course home page for general guidelines to writing webpapers; and an invitation to go on beyond webpapers; see, too, the EdTech Data Base, and the evolving list of Humanities Tech Tools.

Okay, continuing to get to "know your audience": introduce your neighbor on the right (by asking 'em what portion of their body they would be willing to "put under the knife"...)

II. Reporting back on "The How and the Why":
Anne and Liz--on the generational differences between mother-and-daughter scientists doing evolutionary biology (between you all and us?)
MissArcher2 and rubikscube

III. Let's look back a bit
@ our afterthoughts from last
week's discussion of the "rainbow" of ecological diversity.

First! showcasing our own diversity:

Liz, second, on the boundaries of science:
Is Roughgarden's language of social cooperation more justified than Darwin's language of competition?

"I appreciate the gravity of discrediting a discipline's master text. However, I doubt that the factual difficulties in Darwin's theory of sexual selection can be easily smoothed over. I also believe that this theory has promoted social injustice and that overall we'd be better off both scientifically and ethically if we jettisoned it" (Roughgarden, 164).

Is she making the same error that
she criticizes other scientists for


How do you identify the boundary between science and
other human practices, e.g.,  ethics, social justic

Are some accounts better than others?  Why?

* Making and refuting claims--a numbers game?

Roughgarden's tactic for countering the universal claim of sexual selection is to provide a plethora of counter-examples which admit a different interpretation.

Does it matter that the counter-examples are in the minority in many cases?

What weight does a single example have in our different spheres of meaning-making?  In science?  In culture?

What happens to the claim in each sphere?

This seems another example of a binary in category making: 

Refuted claims, and everything else-- the world becomes dichotomous to what we know is not true, and what might be true.

Roughgarden participates in Haraway's continuum--science is practiced in a cultural context, as it seeks to maintain its own rules to promote objectivity.

Several interpretive accounts may describe the observational data,
but one doesn't prevail prematurely, the interaction of accounts leads to new questions that drive more observations.  Some accounts are then eliminated, others remain possible.

What other scientific debates are happening now that reveal a pressure to resolve into black and white?

Your after-thoughts, from the forum:
: "Whether or not we are favorable to categories, they are so fixed and basic to our culture and every day lives that we treat them as immutable facts. And maybe the need for categories is something basic to humans as a way to make sense of the world. But the categories themselves and their implications and applications are of our own making. If this is the case, then maybe the question shouldn’t be, are categories good?  But why these categories? We will never live in a gender neutral world, just like we have never and will never live in a world (biologically speaking) of binary genders. Maybe if these categories held less sway and were as fluid as the people they collect, we would come to rely less on gender as an indicator of traits and potential."

Something to think about:  the role of tension in generating new knowledge, new social understandings, individual growth, organizational growth, and adaptation.


Categories seem inseparable from their boundaries and vice-versa.   Should the resolution of conflict, the elimination of oppositional perspectives be our goal?

What are our objectives?  

IV. Anne: So, let’s talk about enhancing
gender identity
w/ cosmetic surgery....

In their 1991 article, "Accounting for Cosmetic Surgery," Dull and West
look @ the physical reconstruction of bodies in accord with prevailing cultural  conceptions; they explain that
* plastic surgery offers two --not always clearly distinguishable--
kinds of procedures: reconstructive and cosmetic ("unnecessary," "normal," "natural"?)
* which are based on normative assessments of men and women's "essential natures" (cf. Roughgarden's warning about essentialism)
* surgeons are not "sociologically reflective" re: race, ethnicity
* class influences people's perceptions of surgery as "luxuries" or "investments"
* "problem patients" are most often men, who show "inappropriate" expectations
* surgeons' preference for patients "doing it for themselves" obscures outside influences
* creating realistic expectations by reducing bodies to component parts
* the "accomplishment of gender": essential for women to be concerned for their appearance, but for men to have only an "instrumental" interest
* surgeons are co-participants, technological facilitators of gender's accomplishment, cultural gatekeepers in fine tuning gender's presentation

In her 2005 article, "The Face Value of Dreams," Bañales examines the gendered, raced and classed politics of cosmetic surgery:
* a means of accessing the benefits of socioeconomic power=Western beauty ideals
* not a choice, but an economic necessity
* cosmetic surgery part of gender, racial, class-based systems of domination: a "politics of beauty"
* goal is "ordinariness," not beauty
* not possible for a woman to get cosmetic surgery "for herself," given uneven power relations
* cf. Marxist "use-value," vs. "exchange-value" (of a straight nose)
* medical method of "cleansing," "purifying" racial/ethnic phenotype
* "disciplinary regime" w/ "illusory rhetoric of choice"
* offers possibility of socioeconomic mobility @ individual level
* but @ macro-level, disempowering: fail to challenge oppressive system

And in their 2008 article, Sciolino and Mekhennet attend to hymenoplasty, the restoration of a hymen to create the illusion of virginity: empowering patients by giving them a viable future?

What might Haraway, Clark and/or Roughgarden say to the authors of any  these articles?

(Is the body inscribed on through cosmetic surgery a contrast to/reversal of Haraway and Clark's ideas of inscribing ourselves on/extending ourselves through technology?)

V. What do we say? A Visual Exercise with stick-on stars

How do we feel about such procedures?

Where do we draw lines?

What’s at stake?

On the walls/tables are posted a range of procedures that can be used to shape our bodies to conform to gender norms.  You have access to stars of various colors. Silently, stick your stars next to the procedure according to the following scheme:

I know someone who wants this procedure.


*I think it should be covered--> BLUE.


*I need to think some more about whether this procedure should be covered by health insurance--> PURPLE.


*I do not think this procedure should be covered --> RED.

I am a member of Congress who


*is voting to have this procedure covered by health insurance--> GREEN.


*needs lobbying: I don't know how to voteI--> ORANGE.

*is voting against having this procedure covered by health insurance--> YELLOW.

a working list of "self-shaping"/"appearance-normalizing" technologies (to make ourselves --or others?-- feel better):

cosmetic dentistry
repair for cleft lips and palates
a nose job
a facelift
normalizing the appearance of children w/ Down syndrome
limb-lengthening for a child w/ dwarfism
surgical breast enlargement/reduction 
breast reconstruction (after a masectomy)
masectomy as part of an F to M transition
a "tummy tuck" (as part of breast reconstruction surgery:
get a tighter belly and a new breast all in one procedure)
hymenoplasty ("reconstructing virginity")
double eyelid surgery (forms or enhances an Asian upper eyelid crease)
LASIK surgery (Laser-Assisted In Situ Keratomileusis:
permanently changes the shape of the cornea using an excimer laser)
penis enlargement (lengthening, widening)
penis building as part of a M to F transition
surgery to normalize the ambiguous appearance of an intersex condition
hormones to transition into a different gender
Prozac to improve/manage moods

What other procedures do you want to add to those listed??

Let’s see what the patterns are, think about the way these procedures shape gender, and our own investments in/critiques of these activities.

Course notes by rubikscube and vgaffney