Sexing The Body - It's A Good Book

Today I thought it might be fun to just recommend a fantastic book Sexing the Body - Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. It's a book that I read somewhere in the middle of my research for this movie, and it kinda blew me away. It is chock-full of information - detailed scientific, historical information - about our cultural understanding of sex and gender.

I have to be honest and let you know that reading and talking about sex vs. gender has become pretty boring and tedious to me a lot of the time. I think though, that it's mostly because I so often hear the same boring, uncomplicated arguments from social scientists (or armchair social scientists) who, to be frank, have a really simplistic understanding of things like hormones and genetics...or from biological/chemical scientists (or, yes, armchair scientists - of which there are surprisingly many) who have a really simplistic understanding of things like social learning.

Anne Fausto-Sterling's arguments in Sexing the Body throws the cultural and scientific understanding of sex on its head and thus brings a fresh point of view to the idea of gender. Fausto-Sterling wrote an article in 1993 called "The Five Sexes: Why Male and Female are not Enough." The article focuses largely on intersex individuals, which is just one important aspect of the Sexing the Body. However, there is a 2000 addendum to this article, and that's where I found the excerpt below. I think it sums up a major point of her book well.  

In the idealized, Platonic, biological world, human beings are divided into two kinds: a perfectly dimorphic species. Males have an X and a Y chromosome, testes, a penis and all of the appropriate internal plumbing for delivering urine and semen to the outside world. They also have well known secondary sexual characteristics, including a muscular build and facial hair. Women have two X chromosomes, ovaries, all of the internal plumbing to transport urine and ova to the outside world, a system to support pregnancy and fetal development, as well as a variety of recognizable secondary sexual characteristics.

That idealized story papers over many obvious caveats: some women have facial hair, some men have none; some women speak with deep voices, some men veritably squeak. Less well known is the fact that, on close inspection, absolute dimorphism disintegrates even at the level of basic biology. Chromosomes, hormones, the internal sex structures, the gonads and the external genitalia all vary more than most people realize.

 This book was published in 2000 - over 12 years ago, and although I do believe it has been somewhat influential- particularly in the intersex community, it hasn't received the attention it deserves. Like I said before, the most common discussions I hear and read on sex and gender go on as if this book wasn't written - when they should be building upon it.

In another life (one that isn't occupied with making Science, Sex and the Ladies) I would love to make a documentary stemming from this book. In fact, the very first script treatment I wrote for Science, Sex and the Ladies had tons from this book in it - stuff about rat studies and the science community's odd gendering of hormones as they were being discovered and researched. As time went on, though, we focused the movie in on the orgasm more, and the info from Sexing the Body had to be cut. It hurt, but hey - you have to keep on point.

So, if you are someone who is interested in the history of science, philosophy of science, gender, sexuality, or you are just someone who can get into any really informative and well written book - please check this one out.

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