The Skewed Lines Between Science and Society

Although sometimes it is hard to realize it, a lot of the ideas we believe in and the way in which we understand them falls under social ideals. Due to what we as a society have developed to be categorized as the right and normal sex, rather than one that does not perfectly fall into either of the two categories we have set up, it is difficult to understand the science portion of the reasoning as to why such “abnormalities” are actually not so easy to categorize. It has never really come to mind that there was science behind all of those that we labeled as “intersex”, rather it has always been society telling us about all those people who apparently were born strange.

However, it appears that it is actually not so strange to be a human who would fall under the ever-limited societal role of intersect. Scientists have claimed that around 1 person in every hundred has some form of disorders of sex development (Ainsworth 288). Considering how that number will actually come into play within a population shows that it is not as rare to fall within that spectrum in between fully male and fully female. The amazing thing of it all is that despite the physical abnormalities that a person might end up developing due to a lack of hormone signaling, they will still be a healthy person. Because there have been many cases in which people have not realized that their sex is actually not what they believed it to be until a much older age, it shows that despite the strangeness of it, one of the main reasons as to why it is seen as a bad and unnatural thing is because of the values of society that we grow up with.

Moving away from the constricted beliefs we have about what is normal and abnormal is difficult, so difficult that despite the vast amount of information available about cases in which someone ends up having strange sex development are still questioned about their validation. Our struggle to understand the scientific reasoning behind it will continue as long as we allow ourselves to be blindsided by the unfair constraints that society has placed among us.

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Society and Science on Sex

It has come to my understanding that sex is not defined by your physical features, but rather it is a combination of what is inside: in your DNA. From a science perspective, I’ve always believed that being male meant the prevalence of a Y chromosome, while from a societal perspective, I’ve always thought that gender and sex were separate, and that there were 2 biological sexes, and a numerous amount of gender identities. Looking through the articles and watching the video, and seeing how they propose that society’s view on sex is too limiting, I would have to agree with them on their standpoint. One of the most convincing aspect that the article brought up were the various conditions of DSD. Certain genes in the DNA of individuals such as SRY, can influence the development of certain organs, and switch individuals between sexes. Furthermore, there was the man that was discovered to have a womb in his stomach, and he had already had 4 children. So, it seems that much scientific research and case studies have been developed over the years, and I feel that sex can go beyond the idea of have female or male genitalia, and has a variety of different factors. Perhaps it is like a mosaic of things determined by genes, and depending on the majority of cells that can be categorized as male or female, you can attribute an overall label of “male” or “female”.

In addition to realizing that sex may go beyond the binary definition that we have always thought it to be, I believe there is a strong responsibility that must be attributed to science now that this has been realized. A lot of gender inequality occurs among the work force and in society in general. Thus, I believe that by making these findings on multiple sexes more public, it will motivate more individuals to regard the sexes as more interchangeable and fluid, and hopefully bring the prevalence of inequality down.

Overall, I had previously believed that the position on sex between Society and Science had been different. Both the article and the video have given many instances of how new understandings of sex have challenged contemporary societal viewpoints. It seems now that the prevalence of intersex individuals and having such a wide spectrum of definitions of sex, has caused me to reconsider what I define as sex. I believe as society becomes more accustomed to intersex individuals, there will be a new wave of ideas and social norms, and along with it, new research and definitions for what it means to be male, and what it means to be female.

 

 

 

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Science and Society Intersectionality

Science has a duty to inform, or at least update, the general public on their evolving understanding of “maleness” and “femaleness.” In general, scientific knowledge is shared with the public for the bettering of people’s lives. According to Alice Dreger, ideas of anatomy can even shape large institutions such as government.  So, in this sense, science has a duty to inform the general public on its findings.

Since the 1990’s, scientists have found over 25 genes that are involved in disorders of sex development, according to “Sex Redefined.”  Additional research in recent years has revealed that there can be much variation in disorders of sex development, and gene variation is probably widespread.  However, I am unsure of how much of the general public knows about these facts. If “maleness” and “femaleness” are perhaps important to any society, it would be useful for the members of a society to comprehend the scientific ideas tied to these concepts.

Interestingly enough, the article artifact’s title is “Sex Redefined.”  This perhaps suggests that the general public’s knowledge of sex (“maleness” and “femaleness”) needs to be updated.  I am not sure how much detail the scientific community must go into when informing the general public, but again, informing the general public seems necessary.     

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Sex Determination

Image result for sex determination

It is fair to say that I have never thought about gender this way before reading “Sex Redefined” and watching “Is Anatomy Destiny?”. I have heard of several disorders that influence one’s perception one’s sex but never knew about the genetic and physical aspects of these places on the gender spectrum. Much of the information in these sources was completely new to me. This includes the basis for the determination of sex as an embryo forms and different genes that can affect gonad development.

Before reading watching the noted article and Ted Talk, I had always thought that gender should be solely determined by whether someone has XX or XY sex chromosomes. Now, I understand how there is an area of overlap where some people can’t easily define themselves within the binary structure. For instance, there are genes that actively promote ovarian development and suppress the testicular program, such as WNT4. Changes in the activity or amounts of molecules (such as WNT4) can tip the balance towards or away from the sex determined by the chromosomes. Ultimately, I learned that there are many factors that affect one’s perceived gender than just the sex chromosomes.

These sources also argue that our society’s understanding of sex is too limiting. In “Sex Redefined,” Claire Ainsworth cites an instance of gray area surrounding individuals with DSD. A child known as MC was born with ovotesticular DSD. When MC was 16 months old, doctors performed surgery to assign the child as a female. However, who is now eight years old, went on to develop a male gender identity. This resulted in a malpractice lawsuit against the hospital that performed the surgery. In “Is Anatomy Destiny,” Alice Dreger talks about how Texas, at one point, decided that what it means to marry a man is to mean that you don’t have a Y chromosome, and what it means to marry a woman means you have a Y chromosome. However, this does not account for individuals with DSD. There are plenty of other examples of how forcing individuals into a binary system of male and female could be harmful. Both the article and the Ted Talk argue sex is a spectrum. However, how will society draw the line? In any case, the binary system should definitely remain. Considering only 1/100 of all humans have DSD, I do not think it is a necessity to change the system we already have. Furthermore, since the whole archetype of male and female characteristics is fundamentally a societal construct, would it not be easier to simple base gender on XX/XY? Sure, there may be some exceptions, but if diagnosed early, there could be more expedient and proper ways to address those specific situations. Another option is to simply let the individual assign his or her own sex. I feel that Ainsworth’s concluding statement sums it up well: “If you want to know whether someone is male or female, it may be best just to ask.”

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Science and Society Intersectionality: Sex Spectrum

The first time I heard of sex reassignment surgery, I could hardly believe it. How could it be possible to change the body you were born with? Of course, I was only ten years old; my knowledge was limited to fourth grade science. With my growing understanding of biology, I know now surgery is not the only component when undergoing sex reassignment; hormones and genes as well as a person’s mentality are also in play. With that said, determination of one’s sex is complicated.

 

Currently, it feels as though I am ten years old again. Although I was aware of a gender spectrum, I had always believed sex to be based on a binary system: female and male. In “Sex Redefined,” Ainsworth stresses that almost everyone has genetically distinct cells and some of these cells have a sex that might not match the rest of the body. In other words, our body is like a quilt: a patchwork of different cells. Another study supports this idea where women pregnant with a male have been shown to carry some of the male cells (even after the child is born) while men have been shown to carry some of their mother’s cells. Therefore, almost no one is truly “male” or “female.”

 

While cells and gonads help establish a sex spectrum, hormones and genes are just as important. Just as we learned in class, both the TED Talk and the article make it clear that babies’ sex are determined by the influx of hormones in the womb; if the human embryo has more estrogen than testosterone, it is determined a female (and vice versa). However, what would you label the 70 – year – old man with a womb? Or the female with both male and female gonads? It amazes me turning on and off a gene, such as the RSPO1, could cause such difference in sex. What amazes me even more is that turning off a different gene could also lead to complete sex change. In mice, turning off gene Dmrt1 turns female mice into male. Genes could lead to anywhere on the sex spectrum and placing intersex on a binary system can make them feel excluded, dehumanized, or marginalized.
Dreger, from the TED talk, however, questions if people can actually change their perception of sex. For all we know, the majority could all feel like ten – year – old me. It would completely change the personality and role the world assigns to each sex. Dreger points out, though, that if our founding fathers were able to change our perception on status, we should be able to change our perception on sex. Instead of basing off ideas and roles on sex, we could instead base it off on “content of character.”  Although, I think Dreger’s idea is tangible, I do not know if it would be the best idea. Our character is also on a spectrum and judging by character could lead to a dystopian society displayed in Divergent. I am left with the question of how we can change perception of sex without causing chaos. Perhaps, we can introduce it slowly in the classroom as my classmates and I have been.

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Science, Sex, and Society

Usually, when we think about the role of science in society, it is to clarify and make life simpler. People often look to science to explain certain phenomena and give definitive answers to questions. As science continues to evolve, however, people are finding that these answers are not as simple or clear-cut as they were once made out to be. One of the areas in which these scientific discoveries intertwine with society is the classification and division of the sexes.

What really struck me from these sources is just how over-simplified most ideas about a sexual binary are. Personally, I had known about intersex individuals and how they do not fit into this set binary, but I never knew the full extent of these DSD’s. For example, the fact that someone could go their entire life thinking they were a completely normal male or female just to discover that they possessed cells and even organs of the other sex, or even that they were, chromosomally, the other sex. This sounds like it should be an extremely rare occurrence, but it seems to be much more common than many people realize.

These developments, of course, could have great effects on societal structure, roles, and norms, as the idea of gender classification becomes much more complex. In my opinion, divisions based on sex and gender are very important in certain areas such as sports, where men and women often compete in vastly different ways, but Alice Dreger makes a very interesting point in her TED Talk when she says that we should just treat people as people. Of course, the differences between the sexes cannot be ignored outright, but we as a society could focus more on how those differences are expressed individually. This individuality would also benefit those in society with DSD’s that do not fit into either sex. Before, parents and doctors were often pressured to perform surgeries on infants to allow them to fit into society easier, resulting in complications and increased struggle such as in the case of MC in South Carolina. By putting less of a focus on societal expectations of the sex binary, these individuals and others like them will not feel the need to conform exactly to the norms, resulting in a more inclusive world where people do not feel threatened because of the way they were born.

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Alteration of the Understanding of Sex Determination

Sex determination is typically regarded with a binary mindset, assigning newborn infants a sex at birth based on chromosomal makeup and gonadal sex. However, this method has received much contention especially in regard to intersex individuals who do not easily fall into either category of male and female.

In Sex Redefined, Claire Ainsworth notes how “gene mutations affecting gonad development can result in a person with XY chromosomes developing typically female characteristics whereas alterations in hormone signalling can cause XX individuals to develop along male lines.” It is characteristic of society to attempt to neatly categorize people into concise groups, often leading to pressure for individuals to conform to the binary model of sex established. Seeing as how gonadal and chromosomal sex may not always align, this is a difficult task when taking both into consideration. Because of this, rather than solely having two sexes or a single sex spectrum, a person should simply be able to choose which sex they identify with in regard to a certain aspect.

This is somewhat related to what Alice Dreger discussed in her Ted Talk Is Anatomy Destiny? regarding race, in that these parts of our identity are extremely complicated and cannot be easily defined by a few concise societal views. However, much like how a person’s cultural heritage is broken down into several distinctions such as race, nationality, and ethnicity, sex can similarly have multiple categories in regard to gonadal, chromosomal, and personal identification.

Ainsworth notes in her article how “many transgender and intersex activists dream of a world where a person’s sex or gender is irrelevant.” While I agree that the weight placed on having people socially conform to the binary model can be excessive, sex is part of our identity and the concept should not be completely gotten rid of, especially seeing as how sex is a biological characteristic. Therefore science has a responsibility to inform the general public of their evolving understanding of supposed male and femaleness but overall it is up to society themselves to adjust their understanding that sex is nuanced and cannot be boiled down into a single identifier.

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