My work has been a counterpoint to the view that the role division between men and women is largely predetermined by human evolutionary history. My approach to understanding gender often challenges established norms. For example, I assert that human sexual development is not always dichotomous and that gender differences fall on a continuum, not into two separate buckets.
One way to understand this is through the eyes of human beings born with anatomical characteristics of both sexes. Another is to understand how scientific understanding of the biology of sex and gender has itself been shaped by the culture which produced it. I detail both these claims in my book, Sexing the Body.
Gender and Early Childhood Development
Girls are verbal, while boys are physical— or so the traditional thinking goes. Between ages 3 and 5, girls and boys consolidate the concepts that they are of a certain sex, that their sexes are not changeable and that some behaviors are associated with particular sexes.These are the “facts of the matter”; but how do they relate to one another? How do inter-linked systems that include everything from individual physiology to media representations of sex roles and behavior produce the emergence of sexually differentiated behavior?In developing a systems theoretical framework for studying gender differentiation, one goal of my work is to break away from the centuries old nature/nurture debate in order to offer a more productive approach to understanding human development.
One interesting illustration of gender and early childhood development can be found at The Pink and Blue Project by JeongMee Yoon (www.jeongmeeyoon.com). I refer to these photographs in my presentations as a vivid illustration of the integration of nature and nurture in developing gender differentiation.
I believe that both sex and gender are in part social constructs. But they take place in the body, and so are simultaneously biological. Dynamic systems theories link the social—which impinges on the developing body—to the body itself. Cultural experience has physiological effects.
There is a continuity between masculinity and femininity. In 1993 I published an article titled The Five Sexes that unleashed a firestorm of debate about sex and gender, with a particular focus on the intersex experience. I asserted that “the two-sex system embedded in our society is not adequate to encompass the full spectrum of human sexuality.” I had intended to be provocative, but nevertheless was surprised by the magnitude of the controversy unleashed. At the time I suggested, tongue in cheek, a five-sex system, which I later amended in The Five Sexes Revisited. Rather than identify a specific number of sexes, in the second paper I wrote “sex and gender are best conceptualized as points in a multidimensional space.”
Based on an assessment I conducted with Brown University undergraduates I also estimated intersexual birthrates to be about 1.7%, and have since been called on widely by journalists and other experts to examine these issues.
“I am deeply committed to the ideas of the modern movements of gay and women’s liberation, which argue that the way we traditionally conceptualize gender and sexual identity narrows life’s possibilities while perpetuating gender inequality. In order to shift the politics of the body, one must change the politics of science itself.”
I prefer to call estrogen and testosterone “growth hormones” instead of “sex hormones”. “The molecules we call sex hormones affect our liver, our muscles, our bones, virtually every tissue in the body. In addition to their roles in our reproductive system, they affect growth and development throughout life. So to think of them as growth hormones, which they are, is to stop worrying that men have a lot of testosterone and women, estrogen.”
Anne Fausto-Sterling (born July 30, 1944) is the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Biology and Gender Studies at Brown University. She participates actively in the field of sexology and has written extensively on the fields of biology of gender, sexual identity, gender identity, and gender roles.
Life and career
Fausto-Sterling received her Bachelor of Arts degree in zoology from University of Wisconsin in 1965 and her Ph.D. in developmental genetics from Brown University in 1970. She has taught at Brown since earning her Ph.D. and is the Nancy Duke Lewis Professor of Biology and Gender Studies in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry there.
She has written two books intended for the general audience. The second edition of the first of those books, Myths of Gender, was published in 1992.
Her second book for the general public is Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality, published in 2000. She stated that in it she sets out to "convince readers of the need for theories that allow for a good deal of human variation and that integrate the analytical powers of the biological and the social into the systematic analysis of human development."
In a paper entitled "The Five Sexes", in which, according to her, "I had intended to be provocative, but I had also written with tongue firmly in cheek." Fausto-Sterling laid out a thought experiment considering an alternative model of gender containing five sexes: male, female, merm, ferm, and herm. This thought experiment was interpreted by some as a serious proposal or even a theory; advocates for intersex people stated that this theory was wrong, confusing and unhelpful to the interests of intersex people. In a later paper ("The Five Sexes, Revisited"), she has acknowledged these objections.
Fausto-Sterling serves on the editorial board of the journal Perspectives in Biology and Medicine and on the advisory board of the feminist academic journal Signs.
Fausto-Sterling is married to Paula Vogel, a Yale professor and Pulitzer-winning playwright. Fausto-Sterling's mother, Dorothy Sterling, was a noted writer and historian while her father was also a published writer.
"Of Gender and Genitals" is the third chapter of Sexing the Body by Fausto-Sterling, a sexology and gender studies expert. The chapter starts with a case study description of sickle cell anemia, including hemoglobin and the risk of having hemoglobin-S crystallize, which leads to intense pain and potential paralysis in times of stress. The lecture on sickle cell anemia ends with two simple conclusions: the first is that a slight alteration to a DNA sequence will leave major changes to the DNA on the whole; the second is that traits and defects cannot be easily predicted. Fausto-Sterling's data goes on to state that genes alone do not decide phenotypes; phenotypes are instead decided by the environmental and developmental history of the person, in addition to their total genetic endowment. In the same regard, behavior is not solely decided by only genetics. The data further goes on to state that while the number of nerves is decided in the former half of pregnancy, cellular interconnection continues to multiply and grow throughout the first four years of life. In addition, the mind and temperament of an adult is shaped by the environment he or she is raised in. Factors included, physical fitness, nutrition, and interpersonal relations with other people. Through these studies and analytical work, the following four gender development theories of biological determinist, psychoanalytic, social learning, and cognitive development have been devised.
Gender development theory
Following a summary of the prior, Fausto-Sterling shows her points on the gender development theories by noting how XY and XX chromosomes stay identical up until the 6th week of development in the womb. During these six weeks, the XY/XX embryos develop an indifferent gonad, an extra layer that isn't affected by the chromosome embryo due to their indistinguishable similarity at the time. This external process develops in a similar manner to the various male and female reproductive organs that later develop within the body. By the end of the first month and a half, all embryos would've developed, regardless of gender. In addition, the chromosomes within the cells will have developed different sets of Mesonephric ducts that are indifferent to gender. A set of ducts ultimately becomes the aforementioned reproductive organs based on the gender of the fetus. Once the Y chromosome in the XY embryo triggers, an extensive and lengthy process is detailed on the development of male fetuses. Conversely, far less is known on the development of XX fetuses. What is known about the female XX is that the fetuses produce approximately the same amount of estrogen in comparison to the testosterone production in the male XY. Later down the line of fetus growth, the originally identical genitalia of the two types of fetus will differentiate on the eighth week. In some cases the XY fetus will initially begin to develop a female crotch instead of the male penis and scrotum due to a deficiency in dihydrotestosterone. After detailing the opinions of John Money and Julianne Imperato-McGuinely on gender identity, Fausto-Sterling concludes with the three influences that affect gender – genetic regulatory information, intrusion from outside the womb, and "chance variation" in development – and two points on sexual development."
The Standard Model
Sex and gender are two separate characterizations of people and a standard model exists for both sex and gender. Biology characterizes sex by dimorphism. In other words, people are either male or female and nothing in between. Surgical procedures ensure that people are assigned to one of the two accepted sexes. Gender, separate from sex, is socially constructed by culture. People determine the definition of gender by assigning roles to each gender. For example, generally, males are expected to work and women are expected to stay home and care for their family. By assigning a specific role to a gender, we have created a standard model of what it means to be male or female. In essence, the standard model characterizes by masculinity and femininity and separates nature and nurture.
In chapter three of Sexing the Body, "Of Gender and Genitals", Fausto-Sterling criticizes the standard model and the way it impacts those both neither male nor female. She explains that doctors surgically assign infants male or female when they are not born with “normal” genitals. Fausto-Sterling believes that as children grow and become either more masculine or feminine “nurture matters a great deal more than nature” because it affects the child’s inclinations towards becoming hetero- or homo- sexual. When doctors studied the spectrum of genders, Sterling criticized that “they never questioned the fundamental assumptions that there are only two sexes, because their goal in studying intersexual was to find out more about normal development.” The doctors’ motives for the research of intersexual show that they promote the standard model for sex and are unwilling to accept the fact that there are different variations of sex. Sterling strongly believes that doctors are unethical in that they do not allow variations of sex and immediately assign a sex within a few hours of birth because there is not a way of telling whether the infant will be content with their assigned gender. Furthermore, “whatever treatment they choose…physicians… decide how to manage intersexuality act out of…deeply held beliefs about male and female sexuality [and] gender roles.” Sterling argues that the consequence of performing sexual reassignment surgery on intersex infants “[develops] a language that reinforces the idea that lurking inside the mixed-sex child is a real male or female body.” She claims that this is unacceptable because now that society vehemently believes that only males or females should exist, a window to a spectrum of genders closes. Even more so, those who are born intersex are forced to live unhappy lives full of surgery and scrutiny because they did not fit the standard model. In order to change the standard model, Sterling suggests that we should question, “should there be only two sexes?”
Sexing the Body
In chapter three of the book Sexing The Body, titled "Of Gender and Genitals", Fausto-Sterling details the sexing of the human body. When an intersex child is first born, a "medical emergency" is called. Gender reassignment surgery is relied upon in order to "fix the problem" because the body must have a specific sex. Deciding whether to call a child a boy or a girl, then, employs social definitions of the essential components of gender. Fausto-Sterling describes the "Phall-o-metrics", the measurement technique used to determine medically acceptable penis or clitoris. Fausto-Sterling implies that the body is sexed and this sexing comes from the standards that society has placed on what a male and a female are supposed to look like and be. These definitions are primarily cultural, not biological.
- ^"Anne Fausto-Sterling". Brown University. Retrieved 13 January 2013.
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Anne (1992). Myths of gender: biological theories about women and men. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-04792-0.
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the body: gender politics and the construction of sexuality. New York: Basic Books. ISBN 0-465-07714-5.
- ^A. Fausto-Sterling (1993). "The Five Sexes: Why male and female are not enough"(PDF). The Sciences (March/April 1993): 20–24.
- ^ abFausto-Sterling A (2000). "The five sexes, revisited". The Sciences. 40 (4): 18–23. doi:10.1002/j.2326-1951.2000.tb03504.x. PMID 12569934. Archived from the original on November 21, 2007.
- ^"Editorial Board | JHU Press". www.press.jhu.edu. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
- ^"Masthead". Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society. 2012-08-22. Retrieved 2017-08-31.
- ^"Paula Vogel, Anne Fausto-Sterling". The New York Times. 2004-09-26. Retrieved 2007-07-21.
- ^"Theories of Gender Development (4)".
- ^"Chapter 3: Of Gender and Genitals". Sexing the body: gender politics and the construction of sexuality. New York, NY: Basic Books. 2000. pp. 44–77.
- ^"Contribution of dihydrotestosterone to male sexual behaviour".
- ^Fausto Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the Body, Of Gender and Genitals. New York, NY: Basic Books.
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books. p. 46. ISBN 0-465-07714-5.
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Anne. "Sexuality".
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books. p. 48. ISBN 0-465-07714-5.
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books. p. 76. ISBN 0-465-07714-5.
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Anne (March–April 1993). "The five sexes: why male and female are not enough". The Sciences. New York Academy of Sciences via Wiley: 20–24. doi:10.1002/j.2326-1951.1993.tb03081.x. Pdf.
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Ann. "The Five Sexes Revisited". Archived from the original on November 21, 2007.
- ^Fausto-Sterling, Anne (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality. New York: Basic Books. pp. 44–77.
- ^Tiefer, Leonore (April 1, 2000), "Hormone mistreatment (review of Sexing the Body)", The Women's Review of Books, (Subscription required (help)) .
- ^Bronski, Michael (March 14, 2000), "In the realm of the sexes: biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling believes there are actually five distinct genders", The Advocate, (Subscription required (help)) .
- ^Stanley, William B. (February 1, 2001), "Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (Review)", The Journal of Sex Research, 38: 75, doi:10.1080/00224490109552072, (Subscription required (help)) .