Sexual Differences Versus Sex and Gender

[an error occurred while processing this directive] Sex and Gender

2005 Second Web Papers

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Sexual Differences Versus Sex and Gender

Talya Gates-Monasch

One of the biggest debates throughout history is over the idea of creation versus evolution. Most likely, it will remain one of the most fought over issues in the future. The people who believe one or the other lead their lives based on this fundamental aspect of their life: where do we come from? What is our identity? Are we different? Or are we the same?

Despite the fact that sex, sexuality, and gender are some of my favorite topics to discuss and learn about it is difficult to go to the same class four times a week rather than only twice. Granted, the classes are actually two separate classes, even separate departments, and the background is not technically the same but the execution is remarkably similar.

As these topics pertain to my desired future career, I wanted and got different perspectives so that I could learn as much as possible. Looking at sex and gender from a humanistic perspective in "Playing with Categories: Re-doing the Politics of Sex and Gender" is a startling contrast to the scientific and biological view that my "Psychobiology of Sex Differences" class takes. There is an emphasis on the humanistic factor in comparison to the developmental biology and the cognitive factors in sex and gender.

A majority of the discussions and readings in Sex and Gender encompass the need to break the boundaries, categories, and labels or at least to question their necessity and use. How can we, as individuals in the core class for Gender and Sexuality, push the limits and exceed in changing the world into a more accepting place for all people regardless of sexuality and gender. In Psychobiology, there is an aspect of recognizing the categories and limits but the emphasis is on the psychology and biology behind the differences.

I never thought of myself as a person who preferred science to the humanities; however, taking these classes (Sex and Gender and Psychobiology) simultaneously has shown me that one does not exist without the other. New scientific understandings of gender and sexuality argue that sexuality is innate; using this evidence, the humanistic movement has attempted a unilateral move to increase acceptance of all genders and sexualities which increases the desire for more research.

Throughout the Sex and Gender class' first day of reflection on Eugenides' Middlesex, the conversation's focus was how to refer to Calliope/Callie/Cal throughout the book. There was discontentment through the non-uniformity of the classes pronoun use. Since the majority of Middlesex is about Cal's life as a child and young adult, at which point he was still Callie, I will refer to the main character as Callie or she.

The following class there was another heated discussion about the choice that a parent has about whether or not to surgically alter a child's sex/genitals at birth. The main argument against surgery was that it was deciding for the child, taking away their choice and therefore assigning them a gender. Surprisingly enough, or maybe not at all surprising, the next day, during Psychobiology, the same conversation was debated. Not all children are born with "boy parts" OR "girl parts," there can be a cross due to a period of development while a fetus. There were slides illustrating how one could alter the genitalia (primary sex characteristics) despite the chromosomes while the fetus was developing.

I took the following slide from the in-class lecture on Tuesday, September 27, 2005. This slide describes the effects of Jost's experiments on rabbits. The rabbits were in a sexually indifferent stage in utero and Jost altered their sex characteristics and managed to keep them alive. Over a period of three days during development, the primary characteristics are created. A removal of the primary sex characteristics can often entirely alter the structures of the rabbit at birth. When a male, based on chromosomes, has his testis removed on day 21 of development there are no male structures evident at birth, only female structures. However, when the testis is removed just three days later, on the 24th day, the male structures were present and the female structures were absent. Contrary to that, when the ovaries were removed from the female rabbit on either the 21st or 24th day only female structures appeared at birth. However, when the testis of a 24th day male rabbit was grafted into a 20th day female, the female characteristics were absent and the male structures developed. The analysis of this experiment lead to the conclusion that female structures and development is the fallback; the theory behind the reasons for claiming the female as the default is that while an embryo is developing, it is bathed in female hormones.

There were also slides illustrating how deficiencies in certain hormones could alter the primary sex characteristics of an individual despite the male and female chromosomes. One type of deficiency that can alter the sex characteristics of a fetus is Steroid 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency. This is the deficiency that Callie had in Middlesex.
Callie spent her time growing up unsure of who she was and feeling awkward; she had "different" feelings toward other girls and she had not begun menstruating which led her and her mother to a state of anxiety. She fit into the category of girl but did not, and could not, conform, physically or mentally, to that desired gender: she was different. She was treated unfairly by her peers because there is always a need and desire to pick on someone even more vulnerable than oneself.

One of the results of 5-Alpha Reductase Deficiency is incomplete masculinization. Callie was born with an "oversized clitoris" but neither her parents nor her doctor noticed. When she began puberty her hormones surged which led to the metamorphosis from "oversized clitoris" to fully visible primary male sex characteristics.

The main argument in Psychobiology over surgery on intersex children was focused on the biological approach to the discussion on intersex children was focused on the science behind the deficiency and what the results would be with and without the surgery.
I am not sure what I would do if I was put in a situation where I had to make the choice. I appreciate all the information and I know that I would not be able to make the decision unless I had as much information as possible. Both the scientific and humanistic views would be important in helping me make an incredibly difficult decision.

Works Cited

Eugenides, Jeffrey. Middlesex. New York: Picador, 2002.
Nelson, R.J. (2005) An Introduction to Behavioral Endocrinology 3rd ed. Sunderland, MA. Sinauer Associates, Inc.
Slides from "Psychobiology of Sex Differences". Peggy Hollyday and Anjali Thapar. 2005. [an error occurred while processing this directive]