Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Notes Towards Day 4: More on (the Usefulness, and the Costs of) Category-Making

Anne Dalke's picture


Image from Women's Day:
25 Must-Have Organizing Products



Last iteration of this course: "Playing with Categories: Re-doing the Politics of Sex and Gender"

Before we get to work on category-making....
a few words about...
next week: read the last third of Evolution's Rainbow (again, select your own 50pp.)
and if you haven't posted yet, do so.

if your postings are up anonymously, log in and re-post w/ your names
(for the archive; also, @ end of semester, you'll be able to search and find 'em!)

some general thoughts on WRITING for the world (in the form of your papers):

My responses are going up, a few each day; I hope to finish this evening.
I am responding in public because
1. I'm not interested in correcting you; I'm interested in talking w/ you about what you have to say;
2. i'm also interested in getting you talking to one another (see links to others' papers; respond to them);
3. ...and to me: talk back--keep the story(telling) going!

Quite a few interesting stories (some shocking h.s. ones...)
very powerful technique (picked up from McIntosh) to write about yourself in third person;
gave those essays a quality of reflectiveness, of distance on your own experience;
added another layer to saying "I"-->
how "I" looks from the outside

but very little guidance (aside from having the "I" in it!) for constructing this class.
(though Terrible2s wants no conditions, no boundaries...)
We'll come back to that in a few weeks, as we co-design the remainder of the syllabus together....

A few general responses, for us all to consider:
1. Is everyone
2. Use titles to draw folks in (don't have your usual captive audience, the prof who has to read the papers)
3. 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
4. Don't assume that your audience is this class. Don't (for ex), say "McIntosh," say rather that, "In class, we discussed Peggy McIntosh's 1983 essay on "interactive phases of curricular revision" (then footnote it).
5. Better: create an active link. Think of links as windows into further research.
6. Paragraph. Spaces between each stage of your argument makes it easier to read.
7. Chose a readable type. Visuals matter.
8. Select a gr/avatar?
8. What else might you do to write for the world rather than for me and/or a grade?

II. Paul, on Tuesday--> What Biology Has to Contribute to Thinking about Sex and Gender: Some Suggestions
"There is a serious cost of categorizing: it imposes similarity."
Why do we use categories, if they are so inaccurate? "It's not in the biology."
"Sex and gender are not biological concepts."

Joan Roughgarden on "Cultural Rainbows" (p. 396):
"...what won't work is stuffing our species into two small categories of gender and sexuality....Social scientists...think diversity results from society producing difference among people who are biologically the same. I don't agree. The biology I know tells of endless variation, not of a few universals. This endless biological variation is always poking through social categories, spilling over the borders, fudging the edges."

Roughgarden's book is filled with examples of border-spilling over and edge-fudging:

For ex, Androgen Insensitivity Syndrome (pp. 290-291):
"AIS is characterized by a very feminine body in an XY individual, as
a result of receptors that don't bind strongly to testosterone so that
the body's testosterone has little effect on the body's appearance."

Katie Baratz, HC '07:
Growing Up "Intersex," Going on Oprah. Haverford College News Room.

"We're a same-sex couple" (?).

III. Roughgarden has overwhelmed us w/ examples.
Paul left us w/ these questions (if we can't "blame" biology):

  • why do we have sex/gender categories, individually and culturally?
  • in what ways have they been useful?
  • do we want to continue to use them in those ways?  are they useful in new ways? 
    would it be better to replace them with .... ?  to get rid of them? individually?  culturally?

    Karina's response to the first question:
    ...why we continue to keep the story of a gender binary. The notion of convenience is what first comes to mind. I do not simply the mean the convenience of black and white categorization, but also the convenience of constancy and consistency as far as the ongoing story is concerned. It’s far more convenient to believe in a permanent truth, a set of facts, then to take a conditional approach to reality and always be ready to adjust to a shift, to embrace paradigm shifts. Predictability is valued and defended to the point of obstinacy. It is far more difficult to live with the notion of a relative and temporary truth.

    without categories there would be this sense of chaos as if people would no longer know how to interact with each other.

    justouttheasylum: it does simplify things. If we didn't have the category of food/edibles, I might have to spend 5 hours in the kitchen tasting the cookbooks, the seran wrap, the cutting board, when I could have pulled up the category "food" in my head and knew what to stick into my mouth to overcome my hunger. But people aren't food.

IV. Let's break into small group discussions...
reporting back, then, to the large group

apply Paul's questions to the categories of
1) male and female sexes (defined, p. 23f)
2) masculine and feminine genders (defined, p. 26f)
3) gay and straight sexualities (function of homosexuality, p. 155f)
4) male and female homosexuality (genital geometry, p. 157f)
transgender and nontransgendered peoples (transgender experience, p. 263f)
intersex and nonintersexed conditions (nor intersexes, p. 299f).

What uses have these categories served?  Can they still serve?
What damage have they done?
Do we want to continue to use/replace/get rid of them?

skindeep and owl have also been discussing the matter of freewill:
do you think that you have chosen your gender?
What does "choice" mean in this context?




Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
3 + 2 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.