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The Rainbow of Sex Difference: A Snippet from a Preteen Health Book

Gavi's picture

For my second web event, I chose to convey the concept of the healthy diversity of sex organs in the form of a preteen-and-up health book. As I was growing up, whenever I had questions about my growth or development that I might not have felt comfortable discussing with my parents or peers, I’d turn to one of these books. (The one I owned and referred to most often was the American Girl book The Care and Keeping of You.) I had a lot of questions, and most of them centered on an anxiety of normalcy. My concept of what was biologically and psychologically “normal” and what was not was almost entirely based on the information included in these colorful, approachable books. In fact, a wonderful health book to which I owe a lot of this project’s information and tone is even titled It’s Perfectly Normal. These health books are definitely valuable sources of information, but this information is often normalized and therefore presented as the only viable or healthy route in growth and development.

In this project, then, I struggled with how to tell preteens that the concept of normalcy is problematic and reassure them, in a more individualized way, that the important thing is to be “normal” for yourself (knowing your own optimal health and happiness levels and striving to maintain them). I approached these goals through emphasizing the beauty of diversity—how humans are different in many ways, including in their manifestations of sex organs. I’m not sure if I smoothed out the contradictions between form and function, but I went through some strenuous and strengthening mental acrobatics in trying.

(More about the form: this project is only one part of what would be a longer and more expansive health book. There are things I obliquely touch on, such as sexuality and the changes that accompany puberty, that would be better explained in more expanded form. There are also things within this chapter that could use fleshing out, such as the functions of the sex organs.)




Berman, Laura. “Handbook: How to Talk to Kids About Sex.” Oprah. 9 April, 2009. 28 October 2011. <>


Harris, Robie H. It’s Perfectly Normal. Cambridge: Candlewick Press, 1994.


Kimball, John. “Sexual Reproduction in Humans.” 14 October 2011. 27 October 2011. <>


“Male Reproductive System.” Teens Health. 2011.  Nemours. 28 October 2011. <>


Roughgarden, Joan. Evolution’s Rainbow. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2009.

A Rainbow of Sex Difference.PDF1.08 MB


Anne Dalke's picture

Attaching to a larger interest

I just finished reading chelseam's project, which also addresses the question of high school gender and sexuality education; hers is focused more on re-shaping science education to create critical thinkers and reflective citizens, but I see an interesting intersection with your work here in helping pre-teens cope with the "anxiety of normalcy" by celebrating "the beauty of diversity" (what a nice reponse to the first, in the second! And I'm noting, too, some strong-and-interesting echoes from your first project, on reading the diabled as beautiful.) I appreciate the "strenuous and strengthening mental acrobatics" involved in this project, as well as the effectiveness of the illustrations you've done--and am heartened that you, like so many of your classmates, are thinking about the education of children as a hopeful way to carry out the work of gender and sexuality studies. Be sure not to miss jfwright's tumblr The Stories We Tell Ourselves: The Beginning of a Book About Sex and Gender for Trans* and Intersex Kids.

Given the conversation we had after your last paper--when you admitted that you "have a lot of trepidation in using the first person singular in an essay—I feel that if I were to not attach myself to some larger interest through a plural subject, my essay might become meaningless"--I also noted that you prefaced this book with the story of your own sex education, that it grew out of your own felt need to be assured that you were "normal," combined with your more recent education into the diversity of the biological world. The health book you've made also begins w/ "you"--an address to the child reader to "look around you....what do you see?" So I think I'd like to go on thinking w/ you a bit about the relation between the "I" and the "we," especially in light of the interesting conversations we've been having on campus lately w/ Judith Butler, who's been asking us to think in terms of coalitional frameworks and unexpected alliances, and the more profound invitation of Karen Barad to recognize that "we are part of that nature we seek to understand," that "the intra-action of an organism and its environment is a phenomenon that cannot be separated out." Butler's argument is, I think, a version of what you call "attaching yourself to some larger interest through a plural subject." But what about Barad's? Does she unsettle the framework you offer here, of a self, examining itself, then re-examining itself in comparison with other selves, then looking....where?