Does Biology Have Anything to Contribute to Thinking About Sex and Gender?

Paul Grobstein
General Programs 290
Bryn Mawr and Haverford Colleges
19 October 2004
First Session

From the forum: I think biology is a HUGE influence and factor in determinants of sexuality, which I guess to me is more interesting then debating ideas of biological sex vs. social gender, which we've already covered ... Deborah

Biology seems to be helpful in our understanding of sex as a biological reality, but a lot less us in our understanding of gender, which is to a great extent/completely a social construct ... Gilda

I don't want to be misunderstood though as I do see the importance of biology's presence in the study of sexuality and gender, yet I can't deny that my concerns, interest, and activism stems from the treatment of the "subject" in life, not in how the "subject" came to be who they are ... Sara

All too often, scientific theories based on social assumptions or dependent on moralistic interpretations parade around as scientific, objective, and unchangeable facts ... Jessie

sometimes when biology is brought into the conversation, it becomes ... a matter of superiority/inferiority instead of an acknowledgement or appreciation of differences ... Beth

my main issue with biology is that when people start talking about the "differences between men and women" because I wish more people talked about it as a continuum with a bell curve rather than a dichotomy ... Jana

For many, biology has the ability to identify a definitive causation ... When exploring a topic as socially, politically, and personally loaded as sexuality, a definitive cause and effect explanation is expected in order for it to become a strong method of explanation ... Biology is only part of the story of sexuality. In studying causation; an individual is forced to look beyond the mere biological terms to social and personal consequence ... Mo

I rue the day (if it's even ever in our realm of possibility) in which homosexuality, bisexuality, transsexuality is scientifically pinned down. If we had the chance to 'prevent' the coding* for homosexuality in our offspring, would we committ genocide of the homo/bi/transsexual? ... Nancy

This subject, though, intrigues me - I think I will try to learn more about it on my own ... Mar

This question has been trapped within the mindset of binary opposition: nature versus nurture ... A logic system based on nature-nurture polarities misses the interactive relationship between the two that provides valuable information about the ways in which we can actively design our environment to maximize the expression of favorable traits. We already plan our communities to privilege certain behavior, many of which contribute to hierarchy, why shouldn't we use biology to counteract the existing systemic violence? ... Rebecca


Biology (like all science) doesn't answer questions (or solve problems) but it may (depending on one's degree of familiarity with it and other aspirations/commitments) provide observations and perspectives that are novel and useful for developing improved stories about particular phenomena (including sex and gender?). As is the case with all story-generating systems, biology (and science) creates risks as well as benefits in this regard. Appropriately used, perhaps it can contribute to counteracting "existing systemic violence"?

Some relevant area re "sex and gender":
Let's take material body for today

Leave genesis/evolution for Thursday

Genesis Material body

A collective starting place ... sex = biology
gender = culture
identity = ?

Is this a good story? What are the problems with it?
Self can be different from body AND experience/culture TOGETHER

Nervous system and body and body can conflict

Self can change body

From Jenny Boylan:

An alternative story

Self inside brain inside body surrounded by other bodies/things

A different story? A "better story"? Pros and cons?

Put thoughts in forum area

To be continued ...

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