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Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality
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Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality

4.09 of 5 stars 4.09  ·  rating details  ·  1,572 ratings  ·  65 reviews
Why do some people prefer heterosexual love while others fancy the same sex? Is sexual identity biologically determined or a product of convention? In this brilliant and provocative book, the acclaimed author of Myths of Gender argues that even the most fundamental knowledge about sex is shaped by the culture in which scientific knowledge is produced.Drawing on astonishing ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published November 30th 2000 by Basic Books (first published February 10th 2000)
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Gabriel C.
This book took me back ten years. It's all still shocking and just as relevant. There are some really weird parts, like the satirical cartoons. The bespectacled scientist kneeling beseechingly before a line of pregnant women, before a line of soldiers, is a disturbing, fraught image, and clearly intentional. On the other hand, some of the historical development of science is over detailed and bogs down. Someone on the train asked me what I was reading. I explained with the example of surgeries p ...more
C.D. Leavitt
It's remarkable how quickly some things can become dated in eleven years (transsexuals have a website!), but the scientific history given here still holds. Fausto-Sterling gives a remarkably thorough look at how our current ideas about sex, gender, identity and orientation all came to exist. The most striking fact she illuminates is how as our ideas changed, so did the way these things presented themselves in society.

There's something comforting about biological determinism, which is why people
...more
Julie Winchester
This book is so good - a historical and cultural consideration of how biological knowledge about sex and gender is produced as a social act as well as how biological "facts" are directly incorporated into our bodies via the cultures of medicine and psychology.

Covering many avenues of biological research from studies of human intersex conditions to hormonal rat behavior, Fausto-Sterling makes the argument that many of the binaries we tend to apply to thinking about sex and gender, such as scienc
...more
Kupie
This fascinating book explores the idea that sex (including gender roles and constructs) is not necessarily a cut-and-dry, two group system... (but you might want to skim the first and the last two chapters.)

Consider the sex of each example (and therefore the marrying and political rights):
-- an XY person who is androgen insensitive, looks physically/genitals feminine, undescended testes, raised female & wants to compete as a female in the Olympics
-- a XX person with facial and body hair,
...more
Tani
Jan 19, 2011 Tani is currently reading it
BEST BOOK...
Grace
Apparently being either a man or a woman is a lot more complicated than you might think - this book argues that social ideas about gender have a strong influence on what we consider to be the relatively uncontroversial realm of biological sex. Looking at, among other things, how hormones have been gendered, the problems posed to binary sex categories by intersex people and the ways scientists have looked for sexual difference in brain structure, the author argues for a more nuanced understanding ...more
Libby T
INCREDIBLE BOOK! Possibly the best reason I went back to grad school. Fausto-Sterling takes a critical look at how science and scientific "fact" is socially constructed, and applies this argument to the narrow understanding of sex and gender by the medical community. A biologist and sexuality theorist, Fausto-Sterling brings together excellent insight into the much-too-easily accepted two-gender system, and breaks down intersexuality in a fascinating way.
Garren
Interesting book on the history of gender research. It covers different types of intersexuality (physically ambiguous gender) along with horrifyingly unethical responses to intersex infants by the medical profession. It goes into detail about the social beliefs that went into the naming of the "sex hormones" and the continued failure for these hormones to play along with neat gender lines. You'll learn more than you (probably) ever wanted to know about manipulating sexual orientation in rats.

The
...more
Benedict
Fausto Sterling reconsiders what it means to be man or woman, and along the way exposes why the science backing up traditional definitions may not have such a strong leg to stand on.
Liz Walber
read for a class - great
Aloysius
Our notions of sexuality are often conditioned to be a rigid Black or White (Straight or Gay) perspective. Fausto-Sterling takes this by the throat (or groin?) and questions it to the core. She uses extensive notes and scientific material to back up her claims. In particular, the complicated issues surrounding sexuality which she says has been greatly politicized and simplified.

Relating a great deal of research to real life techniques of those with 'mixed', nuanced genders, such as those born w
...more
Adam
Professor Boyd-Kramer recommended this to me after the Lierre Keith transphobia fiasco at Lawrence. I wanted to dive deeper into feminist theories of gender and the biological background of sex and gender.

The book started looking like it was going to scratch those itches, but in retrospect it was kind of disappointing. Sterling spends most of the book critiquing scientific investigations of gender from a biological perspective. For instance, chapters 2-4 cover intersexes (formerly known as herm
...more
Logan Mehl-Laituri
Fausto-Sterling, in her Sexing the Body (Basic, 2000), explores the trend, over time and across disciplines, of how sexuality and gender have been described and defined by socio-cultural processes. She argues convincingly that facts and nature are rarely, if ever, truly factual or natural. Instead, she claims, “What we call facts about the living world are not universal truths.” (7) She agrees with scholarship that suggests identity is embodied, “not individual and fixed, but irredeemably social ...more
simon
Mar 09, 2008 simon rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: parents before they let some doctor cut up their infant
Recommended to simon by: school
this book is really boring. but if you've never heard of intersexed anything ever, maybe you could skim it. i would just read the Intersexed Society of North America's (ISNA) web page instead.

fausto-sterling shows us, and very well, that medical gender is constructed, that scientific knowing is premeditated by social precepts, and that the most accute way to show these truths is by looking at every single medical horror practiced on intersexed people in the name of upholding the sex binary.

the
...more
Evin Hughes
In my Writing the Body class, we discussed many wonderful things. The focus of our discussion was the idea of the enemy. As I understand it, human emotions are built off of a good/bad system from when we are infants. The “good feeling state” is a state of emotion that we fall into when we are happy, more or less. For example, if I get an A in my Advanced Creative Nonfiction class then I will be happy and in a good feeling state. The “bad feeling state” is just the opposite. For example, if I got ...more
Tinea
The strength of Sexing the Body was its author's interdisciplinary approach, based out of her experience as a queer feminist microbiologist. The book is first, I think, a commentary on the social and political nature of "science." It is also a history of how the establishment has created controlling definitions of gender and sexuality by sticking spectrums of genitals, chromosomes, hormones, and brain structures into narrow boxes that served some other purpose (like upholding patriarchy for exam ...more
Gergely
A thorough treatment of how the practices and practitioners of Science and Medicine (in the US and Europe) have used personal and sociocultural investments to shape research into and knowledge production about gender, sex, and sexuality, and how, in turn, the authoritative truth claims of Science and Medicine reinforce normative social and cultural understandings of the same.

This book is quite interesting and is a worthwhile read, although it does take some persistence. An undergraduate-level fa
...more
Lobeck
Dec 23, 2007 Lobeck rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: people who want to learn more about sex and gender
The first few chapters on intersexuality are very informative and really drive home the point that there is a lot of fuzzy area in what is generally believed to be a solid two sex system. The history of how medical science and law have handled this ambiguity (generally, not very well) is quite interesting. The chapter on the corpus callosum was also very informative and shows scientific studies with diverse results and cultural biases, again opposing a popular dichotomous notion: that the corpus ...more
Quin Rich
Good feminist critical appraisal of mainstream biological accounts of gender/sex/sexuality. Fausto-Sterling is an icon in this field, and this work clearly demonstrates why. That said, I was still somewhat underwhelmed by this text. If you're looking for an introduction to feminist biology that is heavily footnoted for further reading, you'll find it here. However, this text didn't go as deep as I was hoping for.

Some more significant limitations were a general lack of discussion of transgender a
...more
Zach Irvin
A lucid and illuminating work that tries to show the enormous possibilities that come from blending hard sciences with social theories. Much of the book chronicles scientific studies conducted in the 1920s-1990s, and the specific cultural theories and institutions that influenced them. Fausto-Sterling resists the idea that science and social theory are incompatible, and encourages both sides to reconsider their positions.
Tristan
Jun 17, 2007 Tristan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Anybody who has ever thought about sex
Fausto-Sterling is an amazing author, as she has incredible knowledge on the biological, historical, social and philosophical areas of sex, sexuality and gender. This book is an amazing synthesis of all her knowledge. Reading it you will unravel the myth of the gender binary, but also the sex binary. You will learn about how scientific reseachers constantly frame their hypothesis and results of sexual studies in societal expecations, but nonetheless how their results change societal expectations ...more
Vidit
I was excited to see a feminist acknowledge biological differences between men and women (that one's for you, Tavis). This was a good premise and starting point. However, I had mixed feelings about the book. While it's a good read for those interested in biological issues of sexuality and gender, I found Fausto-Sterling's appeal to a gender-free utopia a bit strange, idealistic, and obscure.

While there are probably manner varieties of gender, and individuals should have a much greater degree of
...more
Gina
This book explores the reasons why the two-gendered system isn't enough. What about transexuals, people who have extra chromosomes, etc.? I can't really rate the book in terms of the subject matter, since I'm not very knowledgeable about this area. However, I'm pretty picky when it comes to font size, and the very small font size of the book made it difficult to read. The actual book only took up half of the book; the rest of the book was notes (over 100 pages' worth of notes, which I think is w ...more
Melanie
Jan 19, 2015 Melanie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Melanie by: Reli 424: Gender Theory & Religion
"Humans are learners, and proudly so. We are, arguably, the most mentally complex of all animals....It seems ironic, therefore, that our most prominent and influential accounts of the development of sexual behaviors in advanced mammals omit learning and experience" (p. 232).

"I want us never, in the process, to lose sight of the fact that our debates about the body's biology are always simultaneously moral, ethical, and political debates about social and political equality and the possibilities f
...more
Zack
Feb 03, 2014 Zack added it
what really stuck out to me about this book was that there are a lot more people born intersex than i really ever imagined...1.7% according to this book...that a lot of the time people don't even know because doctors feel they have to make people "normal" as babies and do unnecessary surgery to fit into the two genders our culture recognizes. it was all very interesting and important to realize, but the first half of the book flew by and the second half was all sciency and didn't really speak to ...more
Evelyn
Jun 15, 2008 Evelyn added it
This book is a really awesome exploration of how gender constructs are maintained by science and medical practice. It includes a really good breakdown on intersexuality, and human rights issues related to it. I really appreciate her approach to scientific objectivity. Basically, she says that scientists strive to be objective, but this can backfire when scientists refuse to admit to having any biases. So instead of claiming to be without any personal agenda, she owns her shit and states right of ...more
Shannyk
Interesting material, in theory, but reads like a textbook. No discernible conclusion, feels like you just get dropped off partway home and are left to hoof it the rest of the way from the "references" section which takes up over 2/5 of this book. A bit of a waste of my library fines, as I'd maxed out my renewals before managing to finish, having checked it out as pleasure reading. Non-fiction *can* be interesting to the reader, with such excellent source material to work from, it's a shame it w ...more
Danielle
This book has been on my list *forever*, and I'm so glad I finally got to it. It's a classic for a reason, and an important piece to understanding gender and human physiology. I admit that a few chapters were dense for me; I have high school level biology. Also, it's 20 years old at this point, which was noticable in some of the discussions on GLBTQ culture, trans sexuality, and trans surgery. I think its an accessible book for most readers, and worth the technobabble.
Shay
It started off pretty well, but I really lost interest in the chapter on the corpus callosum. I have no desire at all to finish this book. I just wasn't expecting so much review of historical science with charts and data from the past 2 centuries presented ad nauseum. I kept waiting for the chapter to get to the point (or make the point that brain size doesn't tell us anything) and MOVE ON. It was the lack of moving on that killed it for me.
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“Ever since the field of biology emerged in the United States and Europe at the start of the nineteenth century, it has been bound up in debates over sexual, racial, and national politics.23 And as our social viewpoints have shifted, so has the science of the body.” 0 likes
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