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Lecture 3

Week 3 Introduction to Gender and Women Studies.docx

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York University
Social Science
SOSC 1502
Alison Crosby

Introduction to Gender and Women Studies th Week 3 Tuesday September 24 Social Constructionism Grewal and Kaplan Introductory Essay to Part One  One of the primary hallmarks of Western science is the division of the world between nature and culture. In this division, nature stands for the untouched and unchanging natural world, while culture stands for changing ways of human beings across time and space.  Europe gained power and authority through the new sciences that supported entire new industries and technologies. The “new” science opposed practices of magic and superstition, marking anything that was not seen as “rational” as unscientific and false.  Once difference between the sexes took on a meaning influenced by the “new” science, with male bodies believed to be completely different from and superior to female bodies, the position of women in society in general, and in science and medicine in particular, became increasingly marginal or subject to male control.  Feminist scientists historicize their fields not to discredit science and medicine but to help us see that these fields are always produced by people – by human beings- who are neutral, objective, or uninvested in what they do. All science tries to solve problems or raise new questions by identifying new problems to explore. But problems or questions are cultural; they are human made – that is political. th  Middle of the 19 century in Western culture, while, well-to-do women came to stand as the symbol of ideal motherhood to propagate the race and the nation, thereby preserving Western civilization.  This notion of ideal motherhood became normative in certain societies to the detriment of all those women who were neither white nor middle class nor heterosexual.  Normative femininity became associated with qualities that supported the two-sex model of biological differences; normal women were perceived to be less intelligent, less assertive, and less able than men even as they were supposed to be exceptional in the domestic realm of home and mothering.  Non normative femininity became associated with perversion, marginality, and non reproductive sex and increasingly came to be seen as a pathology- something to be cured by th th biomedicine. The challenge for late 19 and early 20 century middle-class feminists in the west was to capture one of the characteristics of non normative femininity- non reproductive sex- and make it normative, part of middle-class life and marriage.  Margaret Sanger – ‘mother’ of the birth control movement.  Sanger directed her argument for birth control to the group that seemed to have the most potential to win political power; white, middle class women.  Margaret got arrested: these experiences convinced her that advocating birth control for middle-class women as a way to enhance their sexuality and increase their independence was not going to work in a conservative political climate.  Esp in the third world, where population control is a high priority for governments and Western aid agencies, sterilization has been advocated through coercive means.  For a poor country to become ‘developed’ – that is to become ‘modern’ – it must show that population control is part of the way a nation-state can look after the welfare of its people. Even in the so-called developed countries, in poor and disenfranchised communities, sterilization is offered more often that the full range of possible forms of birth control.  One of the biggest problems women around the world face is the way that biomedicine has turned women’s ability to menstruate, to become pregnant, and to give birth into a medical condition that requires scientific intervention and control. The Egg and the Sperm – Emily Martin  By extolling the female cycle as a productive enterprise, menstruation must necessarily be viewed as a failure.  Medical texts describe menstruation as the ‘debris’ of the uterine lining, the result of necrosis, or death of tissue. The descriptions imply that a system has done awry, making products of no use, not to specification, unsalable, wasted, scrap.  “ceasing”, “dying”, “losing”, “denuding”, “expelling”  One of texts that seems menstruation as failed production employs a sort of breathless prose when it describes the maturation of sperm.  “all of the ovarian follicles containing ova are already present in birth. Far from being produced, as perm are, they merely sit on the shelf, slowly degenerating and aging like overstocked inventory”  The text celebrate sperm production because it is continuous from puberty to senescence, while they portray egg production as inferior because it is finished at birth.  Degeneration continues throughout a woman’s life; by puberty 3000,000 eggs remain, and only a few are present by menopause.  “during the 40 or so years of a woman’s reproductive life, only 400 to 500 eggs will have been released” – “ all the rest will have degenerated. It is still a mystery why so many eggs are formed only to die in the ovaries”  The real mystery is why the male’s vast production of sperm is not seen as wasteful. Assuming that a man “produces” 100 million (10⁸) sperm per day ( a conservative estimate) during an average reproductive life of 60years, he would produce well over two trillion sperm in his lifetime. Assuming over 2 trillion sperm in his lifetime. Assuming that a woman ‘ripens’ one egg per lunar month, or 13 per year, over the course of her 40 reproductive life, she would total 500 eggs in her lifetime. But the word ‘waste’ implies an excess, too much produced. Assuming two or three offspring, for every baby a woman produces, she wastes only around 200 eggs. For every baby a man produces, he wastes more than one trillion sperm.  Take the egg and the sperm. It is remarkable how ‘femininely’ the egg behaves and how ‘masculinely’ the sperm.  Egg and the sperm do interact on more mutual terms, making biology’s refusal to portray them that way all the more disturbing.  What we are seeing is that; the importance of cultural ideas about passive females and heroic males into the ‘personalities’ of gametes. This amounts to the “implanting’ of social imagery on representation of nature so as to lay a firm basis for reimporting exactly that same imagery as natural explanations of social phenomena. The Biological Connection – Anne Fausto-Sterling  In analyzing male/female differences these scientists peer through the prism of veryday culture, using the colors so separated to highlight their questions, design their experiments, and interpret their results. Women’s Brains – Stephan Jay Gould  Broca believed that women had smaller brains than men and therefore could no equal them in intelligence.  His arguments rested upon 2 sets of data; the larger brains of men in modern societies, and a supposed increase in male superiority through time.  His most extensive data came from autopsies performed personally in 4 parsian hospitals. For 292 male brains, he calculated on average weight of 1325grams; 140 female brains average 1144 grams for a different of 181 grams, or 14 percent of the male weight. Broca understood, ofcourse, that part of this difference could be attributed to the greater height of males. Yet he made no attempt to measure the effect of size alone and actually stated that it cannot account for the entire difference because we know, a priori, that women are not as intelligent as men (a premise that the data were supposed to test, not rest upon): o We might ask if the small size of the female brain depends exclusively upon the small size of her body. Tiedmann has proposed this explanation. But we must not forget that women are, on the average, a little less intelligent than men, a difference which we should no exaggerate but which is, nonetheless, real. We are therefore permitted to suppose that the relatively small size of the female brain depends in part upon her physical inferiority and in part upon her intellectual inferiority.  In 1879, Gustave Le Bon, chief misogynist of Broca’s school, used these data to publish what must be the most vicious attack upon women in modern scientific literature.  Le Bon concluded: in the most intelligent races, as among the Parisians, there are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas that to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment: only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women, as well as poets and novelists, recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. They excel in fickleness, inconstancy, absence of thought and logic, and incapacity to reason. Without doubt there exist some distinguished women, very superior to the average man, but they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity, as, for example, of a gorilla with two heads: consequently we may neglect them entirely.  Le Bon was horrified by the proposal of some American reformers to grant women higher education on the same basis as men.  The best modern data I can find (from American hospitals) records a full 100 gram difference between death by degenerative arteriosclerosis and by violence or accident.  Manouvrier tried to measure this elusive property in various ways and found a marked difference in favor of men, even in men and women of the same height. When he corrected for what he called “sexual mass,” women actually came out slightly ahead in brain size.  Maria Montessori discussed Manouvrier’s work at length and made much of his tentative claim that women, after proper correction of the data, had slightly larger brains than men. Women, she concluded, were intellectually superior, but men had prevailed heretofore by dint of physical force. Sex and The Body – Nelly Oudshoorn  Medical texts from the ancient Greeks until the late 18 century described male and female bodies as fundamentally similar. Women had even the same genitals as men, with one difference: “theirs are inside the body and not outside it.” In this approach, characterized by Thomas Laquer as the “one-sex model,” the female body was understood as a “male turned inside her self,” not a different sex, but a lesser version of the male body. th  It was only in the 18 century that biomedical discourse first included a concept of sex that is more familiar in our present day interpretations of the male and the female body.  The female and the male body now became conceptualized in terms of opposite bodies with “incommensurable different organs, functions, and feelings.  Following this shift, the female body became the medical object par excellence, emphasizing woman’s unique sexual charac
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