Sex and Gender Flowchart

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The following is a satirical piece assembled for an audience of youth and peers. It is meant to illustrate the importance of biology and scientific studies with regards to their influence upon dominant discourse within our culture – regardless of whether those findings are conceptually relevant, methodologically rigid, or statistically significant. Scientific studies are often grasped and cited in the process of forming policy and promoting social agendas. Such use of scientific data is theoretically ideal, so that policies might be informed by factual understanding and thus work towards aiding populations to which they apply. Unfortunately however, data is often misinterpreted and reinterpreted. The practice of drawing upon “scientific studies” in order to bolster an argument is common and widespread. This practice hinges upon a Western epistemology that privileges science and rationality, thereby conflating it with authoritative power. It is therefore no surprise when a politician throws in a statistical figure, or when a scientific study is cited by legislators. The use of such scientific data is a means by which authority is gained, as it (authority) is conferred upon the subject by an unquestioned body of knowledge that is called upon. Furthermore, the use of scientific data is by no means confined to the realm of politics or policy – it is gratuitously used in mainstream media: as the crux of an advertisement, appearing as trivia in television shows, or even disseminated as fact on the news. It is thus that data derived from scientific studies are of great importance, and scientists ought to be aware of what impact their work has. Even if a study fails to make a significant impact within the realm of scientific study, it is not useless, nor will it go unnoticed.

 

The project is a flowchart consisting of two parts. It examines aspects of biological sex, as well as subtly incurring the biological foundations for social constructions of gender. The flowchart is not meant to be cohesive. Rather, it starts as vaguely cohesive but then unravels along the way. It is meant to be a satirical illustration of how scientific data might be assembled and interpreted by the general public – with disregard for distinction between sex and gender, without cohesion between different assertions/points, and also without a distinct conclusion.

 

More about the project:

This project was definitely a challenge. The first challenge was coming up with content – I realized that liking this to current events was ambitious, considering how so much of the content consists of stereotypes that are broadly applied. Instead, I want to expand upon this project by critically analyzing its components and the process of putting it together. I've chosen to do a flow chart specifically because it is a format that is simple and straight forward, yet still interactive. Although my target audience is indeed youth and peers, this flowchart is more specifically aimed at individuals who are not intersexed, who do not have ambiguous genitalia, and who are not in question of either their sex or their gender – thus it is aimed at the “normal” individuals, who often take for granted the gender binary they fit into. With regards to intersexed individuals who may read this work, I will say that humor sometimes can be offensive and unsettling, but it is that aspect of humor which allows it to be subversive. My approach is meant to be satirical, yet I also want it to be thought provoking and informative – such that previous assumptions are subverted and new awarenesses are raised. This project is meant to unsettle readers who give no thought to their sex/gender identities by calling that identity into question. At first, the biological questions follow some logical structure, but then depart from this structure. Once the cultural aspects are broached, pretty much all structure is lost. The reader is faced with a chart where the “right” answer isn't always obvious. In many ways, the flow chart is a model that reflects dominant discourse (and especially medical discourse): the flow chart is a very goal oriented model that attributes identity through a process of categorization and exclusion, very much like the societal performance of gender. It is thus that the subversion of this chart is analogous to subverting the processes of identity formation. Instead of proceeding logically, there are times when the progression of thought is circuitous, leading back to previous questions that have already been addressed. At other times the questions breach the binary and oppositional structure inherent of flow charts. It is through such disregard for structure and logic that the reader is invited to question the construction of their own gender; the reader is placed in position of confusion and perhaps doubt...in what is an attempt provide a different perspective, one that subverts the reader's privileged position of gender identity. It is thus that the flow chart gives answers that are ambiguous and multiple, that may be interpreted how the reader wishes. Along with the actual chart are accompanying notes. Those notes aren't meant for only class purposes, but ought to be seen by the hypothetical reader too. Although humor and subversion can be very effective tools in expressing a sentiment, they can also be lost to some people. It is thus that the accompanying notes are meant to explicitly convey the message of this project.

Notes:

1)This first question is vague, rude...it purposefully constructs gender as an object – a “what” - that has yet been defined and referred to with condescension. Butler writes that, “If gender consists of the social meanings that sex assumes, then sex does not accrue social meanings as additive properties but, rather, is replaced by the social meanings it takes on; sex is relinquished in the course of that assumption, and gender emerges, not as a term in a continued relationship of opposition to sex, but as the term which absorbs and displaces 'sex'” (Butler: 5). Thus, culture precludes the existence of nature with regards to sex and gender. Furthermore, Butler presents a model of construction where both gender and subject formation are achieved through a process of “exclusionary means”, which defines what is human (or what is male/female) and excludes what isn't (Butler: 8)

2)When a child is born, gender is assigned based on the appearance of external genitalia. Roughgarden notes that “a phallus less than 1.5 ± 0.7 cm is cause for grave concern”. In fact, there is a “phallometer” ruler used to measure genitalia, “with 0.20 to 0.85 marked off as female and 2.5 to 4.5 marked off as male” (Roughgarden: 300). The fact that a “phallometer” exists is indicative of two important things: that culture and society create a discourse of “normal”, and that such a discourse is both influenced by and acted out through the hegemonic institutions and authoritative knowledge of medicine and technology.

3)By asking this, I am questioning the reader's embodied experience and knowledge. Thus far, the reader has progressed along the chart without any ambiguity regarding biological sex. It is at this point then that I want to subvert what understanding and answers the reader has given: by proposing the absurd (that the reader is either wrong or confused regarding their sex), and then subsequently taking away the structure of choice within the flowchart...such that subsequent steps in the chart are leading, imposing, and also insulting to a degree.

4)Hypospadia is a condition in boys, where the urethral opening vents below the tip. The condition ranges from mild to severe wherein the urethral opening is located either along the shaft or on the body wall. (Roughgarden: 288)On the left is testosterone and on the right is estradiol.

5)Despite the highly different functions within the human body, testosterone and estradiol are actually very similar at the molecular level. Estradiol is actually a derivative of testosterone, created when testosterone interacts with and is catalized, or “processed” by the enzyme aromatase. As these two images are presented side by side and without label, the reader is forced to take a stab in the dark. This stab in the dark is very much representative of our (often) blind belief in science and medicine. As Spanier and Horowitz write about in "Looking for Difference? Methodology Is in the Eye of the Beholder.", science isn't an entirely objective study, and there is much room for interpretation. It is often researchers do have agendas, and that such agendas are reflected in the findings that are published.

6)In their study regarding testosterone and career choice, Sapienza et al. used index and ring finger digit ratio as an indicator of prenatal testosterone levels. I am not denying that there is a correlation between prenatal testosterone and digit length, but we must keep in mind that there are varying degrees of correlation, and that correlation does not amount to causation.

7)“Reading the Mind's Eyes” is the Baron-Cohen test in which subjects are asked to interpret emotion based on a series of eye pictures. The experiment was designed to measure sociability and the ability to empathize; and results suggest a correlation between testosterone and lower ability to socialize/empathize.

8)It is believed that an individual's prenatal testosterone level is raised if they have a male twin, since the other twin would be synthesizing and therefore putting out testosterone into the uterine environment.

9)Sapienza et al. Conducted research regarding testosterone and risk in career choice. What they found was a negative “correlation” between testosterone level and risk aversion in women. In response to Sapienza, Joel and Tarrasch have written a paper that criticizes the strength of correlations found, and argues that there are other factors besides testosterone that would factor into risk and career choice. It is important to note the debate within the scientific world that is is never realized within popular discourse. Studies such as these are often seized upon by the media, where they are subsequently modified and then widely disseminated – thus turned into overarching categories and stereotypes.

10)In this question, I am conflating questions of risk and empathy in a somewhat illogical manner– stressing the notion that variables can't always be isolated in the real world.

11)This comment might seem crass and dismissive of children, but it is meant to provoke thought regarding societal pressures and gender conformity. Children, undoubtedly, face issues of gender identity and expression – but one must question where and how the line is drawn between confusion/curiosity/exploration and anxiety/distress/shame regarding gender. I propose a dismissal, not of personal queries and concerns, but rather of the oppressively hegemonic discourse which constructs a rigid gender binary and through which personal subjectivities are diffracted.

12)There was controversy over this issue of Dossier, wherein Barnes and Noble required the magazine to be covered (the way porn magazines are covered) because of model Andrej Pejic's bare chest. The precedent has been for the censoring of nude female breasts, but not for nude male chests. Barnes and Nobles cites the concern that customers might mistake Pejic for a woman.

 

Works Cited

Butler, Judith. "Performative Acts and Gender Constitution: An Essay in Phenomenology and Feminist Theory." In Writting the Body: Female Embodiment and Feminist Theory. New York: Columbia University Press, 1997.

Joel, Daphna and Ricardo Tarrasch. The risk of a wrong conclusion: On testosterone and gender differences in risk aversion and career choices.  Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 107, 5 (2010): E19

Roughgarden, Joan. 2004. Evolution's rainbow: diversity, gender, and sexuality in nature and people. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Sapienza, Paola, Luigi Zingales and Dario Maestripieri. Gender differences in financial risk aversion and career choices are affected by testosterone. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, 36 (2009): 15268-15273

 

 

 

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