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Gender and Categories. WebPaper1

MSA322's picture

Muna Aghaalnemer

Prof. Anne Dalke

Gender and Technology paper 1
February 11th 2011

Gender and Categories

    What is gender? This question is now often asked in my mind. Being in a scientific field and entering the world of gender and sexuality is like entering a foggy forest. How diverse our “world” is has become more clear to me ever since taking this class of Gender and Technology.  After reading Roughgarden’s book Evolution’s Rainbow and being exposed to how oblivious of our natural diversity we are, I started thinking about identities in a different way. Identifying one’s self is different from one person to the other. In this world we live in, almost everything is put under a category or a label. We excessively use categories to “sort” things, to make them more “identified” but have we really been doing a fair job of identifying ourselves? I have come to the decision that we have not. Diversity has always been “called” upon, we all claim to want to have a diverse community, but will we ever reach to the point where we accept all categories?

    Stereotyping and categorizing are used quiet often in our lives. I believe that categorizing has the advantage of identifying us, of letting us exist, because without the word, the name, how would we become “known”, how would we exist? We put everything under a category where we think it would fit, but we-very often tend to use the either or, black or white category. Moreover, we often forget the grey shades in between. Sexuality is one of these things where categories are misused within. The spectrum of sexuality is not very clear to us, and we have ye to come to acknowledge the existence of some of these levels of the mighty spectrum.  

    I was often surprised and astonished while reading Roughgarden’s book. Her examples of the diverse “world” or “universe we live in is astounding. Her argument against Darwin regarding sexuality and accepting the categories outside our norms is very strong, effective and continuously valid. She talks about the different variations of sexualities within species. Our natural world embraces these differences, these diversities, these categories that we have often failed to come close to accepting let along talking about.

    Gender and sexuality were a blur in my mind before reading this book, one section of this spectrum that continuously surprises me is the existence of hermaphrodism. As a person in the scientific field, I have accepted this case of hermaphrodism, but I guess applying it to humans was not often on my mind as something absolute.  
    I came across the article regarding the athlete Mokgadi Caster Semenya  who is a south African woman athlete that competed in the Berlin Olympics 2009 and won the golden medal for the women’s 800-meter event. Her body looks very muscular, built like a body of a male. She was denied her medal when she was found to have high testosterone levels in her body. She was tested for gender and turned out to have testes inside her which secreted the testosterone although she has an XX chromosomal orientation; i.e a woman. Testosterone is a male hormone that plays a huge role in building muscles.  Semenya was taken out of the competition and put on trial. Controversial arguments took place in response to Semenya, many have argued that hermaphrodite should not be allowed to compete, that Semenya should not be allowed to compete in the women’s events since she has the advantage of being much stronger as a result of the testosterone in her body. The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF), after denying Semenya her medal and forcing her to undergo gender tests decided to give Semenya her golden medal back. This controversial issue brought about many disagreements and debates regarding the gender of this athlete. Our world is too diverse for us to become close to understanding and accepting the differences we have among us. The people with opposing opinions used her appearance to add to their argument asking us to look at her, and believe that she is a man, using the look from the outside to define and label her.   

    Semenya’s identity was long ago defined by her, she had always seen herself as a woman and lived by it. She lived in her body that she was born with, despite the outer appearance, she saw herself as who she is, and did not care to what she might look like to others. It is rather important to state how difficult it still is for us to come to the acceptance of this vast difference within ourselves, the people who were against her, argued using gender categories, putting aside sexuality and identity.
    In every aspect and sector of our society, even in our sports we use categories, we put things under labels. I believe we automatically, unconsciously do that, it is the way we are primed and programed. Categories and labels identify us, though they could be harmful when they are misunderstood, or when they are given a certain connotation to them that does not necessarily gives full explanation to the members of the category.



Anne Dalke's picture

In the foggy forest

You trace here your astonishment and surprise @ the story of diversity we have been co-constructing in this class, with particular reference to Roughgarden's description of "evolution's rainbow," and with particular application to the question of "sports gender," as demonstrated in the infamous case of Castor Semenya.

I have three responses to your paper. First: your place yourself somewhat ambiguously here--"as a person in the scientific field," for whom the question of gender "is now often asked in my mind."  I'd urge you to fill out that placement, and claim some agency for the asking of that question (you make it sound as though that question happens "to" you!). You are a bio major, soon to be double-major in computer science. What has your education into biological diversity been? Does Roughgarden's story surprise you because it runs counter to the Darwinian story you've been taught in bio classes? You speak quite strikingly of how "entering the world of gender and sexuality is like entering a foggy forest," for someone trained in science as you have been. But give me specifics. What did you know with clarity, that has now been fogged up??

My second question has to do with the social implications of the fog you've encountered. You sound a little overwhelmed: "Our world is too diverse for us to become close to understanding and accepting the differences we have among us," you say. "How difficult it still is for us to come to the acceptance of this vast difference within ourselves....we automatically, unconsciously" put one another in categories; "it is the way we are primed and programed." Do you have any ideas about how we might re-write that script, re-program ourselves? Do you think that might be possible?

My last nudge is for you to try, on the next assignment, to make your paper more internet friendly: look over the various projects your classmates have done, and try for a format that looks less like a paper, more like a web "event." Form signals content, and this project, which calls for us to be more attentive--REALLY attentive--to diversity, might itself begin to play with more diverse forms of student intellectual work.