Gender and the Science of Difference: Cultural Politics of Contemporary Science and Medicine

Gender and the Science of Difference: Cultural Politics of Contemporary Science and Medicine

Gender and the Science of Difference: Cultural Politics of Contemporary Science and Medicine

Gender and the Science of Difference: Cultural Politics of Contemporary Science and Medicine

Synopsis

How does contemporary science contribute to our understanding about what it means to be women or men? What are the social implications of scientific claims about differences between "male" and "female" brains, hormones, and genes? How does culture influence scientific and medical research and its findings about human sexuality, especially so-called normal and deviant desires and behaviors? Gender and the Science of Difference examines how contemporary science shapes and is shaped by gender ideals and images.

Prior scholarship has illustrated how past cultures of science were infused with patriarchal norms and values that influenced the kinds of research that was conducted and the interpretation of findings about differences between men and women. This interdisciplinary volume presents empirical inquiries into today's science, including examples of gendered scientific inquiry and medical interventions and research. It analyzes how scientific and medical knowledge produces gender norms through an emphasis on sex differences, and includes both U.S. and non-U.S. cases and examples.

Excerpt

Jill A. Fisher

Clearly, not all women and men are the same. But for many the science is
undeniable: powerful hormones and the complex circuitry of the brain do
shape our behavior and, therefore, our destiny.

—ABC News, “The Truth behind Women’s Brains”

In analyzing male/female differences, these scientists peer through the
prism of everyday culture, using the colors so separated to highlight their
questions, design their experiments, and interpret their results. More
often than not their hidden agendas, non-conscious and thus unarticu
lated, bear strong resemblances to broader social agendas.

—Anne Fausto-Sterling, “Gender, Race, and Nation”

During the last ten years, there has been a resurgence of popular interest in the biological differences between women and men. Not surprisingly, given cultural obsessions with the brain, the primary site of these differences is often described as neurological. Books with titles such as The Female Brain, the Essential Difference, and Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps, among others, have been bestsellers as they promise readers knowledge about why men and women think and act differently. Computer metaphors are frequently mobilized so that differences between men’s and women’s brains are cast as “hardwired,” communicating that they are both absolute and unalterable. Men and women are framed as inherently, biologically different, which is meant to explain and naturalize the social and behavioral differences between the sexes that the lay public so easily recounts. We are all familiar with these social and behavioral differences; they are inescapable in our culture: women are more emotional . . .

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