The Rebirth of Penus

Riki's picture

The Rebirth of Penus: This image (though open to interpretation!) is meant to show the imprisonment of identity by DNA. Venus and the Vitruvian man embody societal ideologies of what women and men look like, respectively. The four images in the corners are textbook images to teach genetics students about what is “normal” and “abnormal”, in terms of sex chromosomes. These are the only four possibilities explored, although other combinations are not lethal. The supposed telltale sexual identifying features of the bodies – the genitalia of the “man” and “woman” -- are obstructed by strands of DNA.   

The Rebirth of Penus: This image (though open to interpretation!) is meant to show the imprisonment of identity by DNA. Venus and the Vitruvian man embody societal ideologies of what women and men look like, respectively. The four images in the corners are textbook images to teach genetics students about what is “normal” and “abnormal”, in terms of sex chromosomes. These are the only four possibilities explored, although other combinations are not lethal. The supposed telltale sexual identifying features of the bodies – the genitalia of the “man” and “woman” -- are obstructed by strands of DNA.  

Comments

Riki's picture

Now that several weeks have

Now that several weeks have passed, I think I can provide some sort of explanation for my image. My intention was not specifically to address classical myths and art as they are related to scientific education. I intended to understand how science and society influence each other regarding sex and gender.

Here is what we are taught: humans come in two basic forms -- male and female. These two forms can be distinguished by their genetic code – if a Y chromosome is present, the human is male. If a Y chromosome is not present, the human is female. Typically, the offspring inherits two sex chromosomes, one from each parent. (Interestingly, a person can survive with one sex chromosome, but only if it is an X chromosome. The presence of a Y chromosome without an X chromosome is lethal. From a biological standpoint, this simply means that the X chromosome contains vital genetic information. But what does this mean for the relative importance of men and women in society, if women are associated with X chromosomes and men with Y chromosomes?) Sometimes sex chromosome “abnormalities” occur, meaning a person inherits multiple sex chromosomes (e.g. XXXX, XYY, XXY). These individuals are still considered male if a Y chromosome is present, whether or not secondary sex characteristics fully develop.

One of my concerns is the role biological determinism plays in interpretations of sex and gender. Simply put, biological determinism is the reduction of identity to individual genes. It’s like saying a person (including physical and emotional traits) is nothing more than the sum of their nucleotides. Scientists now understand that the one-gene-one-trait theory is not particularly useful for disease treatment, prevention, and cure. It is more likely that many, many genes, along with many, many environmental factors, work together to bring about various traits. Something as seemingly simple as sex determination can become more complex when viewed in this light.

 

Anne Dalke's picture

On the relation between scientific and artistic education?

Riki--
I have this image --a very evocative and powerful one for me--on my desk. It operates as something of a Rorschach test for visitors to my office: some have been fascinated by it, picking it up, lingering over it, and the multiple possible ways of being it evokes; others have shuddered, turned it over, or turned away from it, with comments that range from "this is just too unsettling to look @" to "lesbians really don't like penises."

So of course what surprises and delights me here is not only your punning title, but also your decision to use images to construct a visual argument about social ideologies of sex. And of course it won't surprise you that the image you've constructed raises lots of questions for me (I love the visual, but I can't do without the verbal!).

So: what is the claim you are making, in putting out this image? Is it a challenge to the way genetic textbooks are constructed? To what they teach? Are you proposing your image as an alternative to the "normal" and "abnormal" representations? Are you speaking to the way that classical myths and artistic images undergird our constructions of science: textbook illustrations inspired and guided by Botticelli's Venus and Leonardo's Vitruvian man?

Is this, in other words, a web event about science education? And/or about the relation between scientific and artistic education? And where do you locate yourself, in the image you have made, and the various resonances it sets up (for which thanks!)?
 

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
randomness