WOMENST 1A03 Lecture Notes - Lecture 2: Herma, Zp3, Egg Cell

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The Social Construct of Sex and Gender
Introduction
Gender categories are still “real” categories that we can mobilize with and against
Feminist movements still matter
Heteronormativity
Affects all genders and people considered “excess”, “feminized” or “abject” to
the heteronormative model.
Semiotics: Sign and Signification
Theory by Roland Barthes
A “thing” to which we ascribe a way to utter it and a way to understand its
significance in our social world
I.e. the sequence of letters/symbols that is “tree”
Another level of signification: tree
Green living, fresh air, natural, nature, outdoors …
All of these significations can be deconstructed and rely on ideologies about
what is “natural and what is “fresh air” and “green living”
Ideology: set of values and beliefs within a group (i.e. within a nation)
Inform the way we understand signs
Heteronormativity
As an ideology: A system that normalizes and reinforces gender roles and gender
binaries.
The ideology of heteronormativity normalizes heterosexuality as the only
sexual orientation.
Sometimes heteronormativity includes class status (middle class) and race
(with an idealisation of whiteness)
The Five Sexes (1993), By Fausto-Sterling: 2 Sex System and Consequences for
Social Life
Western culture is deeply committed to the idea that there are only two sexes” (p.
20)
This is an example of heteronormative ideology
“Even language refuses other possibilities”
I.e. she/he and his/her
So this ideology seems natural
These categories make up our realities and have consequences for the way we live
our lives
Legally, “adult is either man or woman”
When we sign forms, use a washroom, get married …
Two people “legally registered as men cannot have sexual relations without violating
anti-sodomy statutes” (p. 21)
Having certain body parts actually determines what you’re allowed and not
allowed to do without criminal punishment
Criminalization of sex and gender role transgressions
Biological Sex
Categories:
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Male (two testes and no ovary)
Female (two ovaries and no testes)
Hermaphrodite “herms” (one testis and one ovary)
Male pseudohermaphrodite “merms” (testes and some aspects of the
female genitalia but no ovaries)
Female pseudohermaphrodite “ferms” (ovaries and some aspects of
the male genitalia but lack testes)
“Intersexual” as a catch all phrase for all kinds of sex and gender variance in
the medical community and in medical discourse but that even these other
categories don’t fully account for the variance in the percentage of male and
female characteristics among members of the same subgroup. (p. 21)
Why two sexes are not enough
“intersexuals could constitute as much as 4 percent of births”
But in Europe a pattern emerged by the end of the Middle Ages that has
lasted until now. Intersex or hermaphrodites had to choose an established
gender role and stick with it. The penalty for transgression was death” (p. 23)
The criminalization of gender transgressions.
i.e. in the 1600s a Scottish hermaphrodite living as a woman was
buried alive after impregnating a woman. (23)
“For questions of inheritance, legitimacy, paternity, succession to title and
eligibility for certain professions to be determined, modern Anglo-Saxon legal
systems require that newborns be registered as either male or female.” (p.
23)
Intersexuality and Bio Power
“The treatment of intersexuality in this century provides a clear example of
what the French historian Michael Foucault has called biopower.”
The knowledge developed in biochemistry, embryology, endocrinology,
psychology and surgery has enabled physicians to control the very sex of the
human body.”
“Society mandates the control of intersexual bodies because they blur and
bridge the great divide.”
“Hermaphrodites embody both sexes, they challenge traditional beliefs about
sexual difference: they possess the irritating ability to live sometimes as one
sex and sometimes as the other, and they raise the specter of
homosexuality.”
Hermaphrodites…do not fall naturally into a binary classification: only a
surgical shoe horn can put them there.
Reflects a “cultural need to maintain distinction between the sexes.”
“Imagine a world in which the same knowledge that has enabled medicine to
intervene placed at the service of multiple sexualities. Imagine that the sexes
multiplied beyond currently imaginable limits. It would have to be a world of shared
powers….a new ethic of medical treatment, one that permits ambiguity in a culture
that has overcome sexual division. “
In an ideal world “medical intervention for intersexuals would take place only rarely
before the age of reason; subsequent treatment would be a cooperative venture
between physician, patient, and other advisers trained in issues of gender
multiplicity…..the central mission of medical treatment would be to preserve life”
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