In this course, we have been carefully considering the concept of gender, how it is culturally situated, and how it is created through public acts of performing selves, themselves informed by cultural ideologies of gender. Now, for your final post, reflect on what you have learned about the relationship of gender and language—what knowledge have you gained thus far?
After your reflection, consider the relationship of the body to gender by reflecting on Laqueur’s idea that sex and gender are both “staged” according to cultural understandings of them:
- How does a discussion of the body complicate or enhance a discussion of gender?
- How does the film Is it a Boy or a Girl enhance our understanding of this relationship? Be sure and bring in examples.
- Where would you put the body in a theoretical understanding of gender and language?
The inclusion of biology in the discussion of gender necessarily complicates and enhances the context. Research efforts such as those we see in “Is it a boy or a girl” and Laqueur’s works illustrate, increasingly, the nature of sex, gender and sexuality as interconnected spectrums rather than dualities. So few things in nature are dualistic; it should be no surprise that there is little about humans that is dualistic. If forced to guess, I would hypothesize that the body is the platform for these three things. In one sense the body might be the necessary and hugely influential structural framework for gender and sexuality. Simultaneously, the body might be just the platform, from which any picture might emerge, depending on the other components.
With as much time as I have spent in the genderqueer, transgender, and intersex communities – either because of my identity or through my work – it seems that the body must be an active component of gender and sex (and sexuality). However, it’s equally apparent that the body does not play the role it is assumed to play by our dominant cultural gender ideologies. The role of the body is not cut-and-dry, nor is it dualistic in any sense. Even intersex might not be best described as ‘part boy, part girl,’ as sometimes happens in conversations. Rather, it could possibly be said that we are nearly all intersex to some degree, because nearly all of us fall short of the hegemonic gender ideals – there are no real Barbies and Kens, in other words.
Is it a boy or a girl highlighted the very interesting position that doctors are placed in when a child is born which is visually intersex (not all intersex individuals have external indications of being so – some are not discovered until the autopsy). At 3:52 of part 3 (as viewed on youtube – links below), the narrator begins a discussion of two people’s effort to instigate legislation against sex-assignment surgeries done during infancy. At 4:12, the narrator begins a somewhat-paraphrased quote of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ official position on the practice: in full, that quote is, “research on children with ambiguous genitalia has shown that a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization, and children whose genetic sexes are not clearly reflected in external genitalia can be raised successfully as members of either sexes if the process begins before 2 1/2 years.” The sentiment behind that quote seemed somewhat dated (after all, “Doctor” Money’s work has long been known to be a travesty of false pretenses at best). Some snooping around on the AAP website revealed that they have actually updated their official position on the evaluation and management of intersex ‘disorders.’ Their new policy does reflect the more recent findings concerning the biological basis of gender, and subsequently they no longer support the erroneous claim that “a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization.” (Links to the articles relevant to my findings are listed below.) I was mollified by their updated policy statements; it seems they are moving more toward an evidenced-based approach and away from the previous hegemonic ideology-based approach.
Is it a boy or a girl? – youtube version:
Intersex Society of North America – 1996 stance of
of Pediatrics (AAP): http://www.isna.org/books/chrysalis/aap American Academy
- “Research on children with ambiguous genitalia has shown that a person’s sexual body image is largely a function of socialization, and children whose genetic sexes are not clearly reflected in external genitalia can be raised successfully as members of either sexes if the process begins before 2 1/2 years.”
- At this time, the AAP made the potential fertility of the infant their primary decisive factor in determining the gender of the infant; surgery was performed to “correct” any aspect of the infant’s sex which might cause them to appear other than the sex which was most likely, in that individual, to prove fertile.
AAP revised policy (2000) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/2/e488
- Still based on potential fertility; removes direct language concerning malleability of gender to social constructs, but indirect language remains and no counter statements are offered (this revision seems more political than functional).
AAP revised policy (2006) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/118/2/e488.full.pdf
- Acknowledges limitations sociocultural as well as genetic influences on gender development of intersex people; seems to be a functional step forward.
This is the book referred to as the work of Laqueur:http://www.amazon.com/Making-Sex-Gender-Greeks-Freud/dp/0674543556/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1372916642&sr=1-1
Also, for more information on John Money’s experiments with gender, this is a decent starting point (after wikipedia): http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF01541983?LI=true