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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

4.1  ·  Rating Details ·  1,938 Ratings  ·  76 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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C.D. Leavitt
Jul 15, 2011 C.D. Leavitt rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 30, 2008 Kupie rated it really liked it
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,
Julie Winchester
Aug 12, 2012 Julie Winchester rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 19, 2011 Tani is currently reading it
Jan 22, 2017 Hellen rated it it was amazing
"The feminist theorist Donna Haraway has written that biology is politics by other means. This book provides an extended argument for the truth of that claim. We will, I am sure, continue to fight our politics through arguments about biology. 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 for change. Nothing less is at sta
Mar 08, 2016 Anna rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, feminism
Fear not, this is a dry academic book and the most lurid parts are probably the chapters describing the sexual behaviour of rats, complete with diagrams.

Despite the in-depth ratology, Fausto-Sterling does a very good job of challenging the very notion of our underlying assumptions of sex and gender. She draws on centuries of research (only her references covered 200 pages) and presents a very good case for how the way we think of bodies, what is normal/abnormal and how our preconceived notions o
Dec 28, 2011 Grace rated it liked it
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
May 28, 2008 Libby T rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 21, 2015 Dana rated it really liked it
So much new info in here, with truly disruptive thoughts - especially the part about intersexuality was amazing. The second half gets a bit too much into details and therefore is quite difficult to read, but overall, it's been great and provides good ammo against people claiming gender expression is solely "natural".
Jul 26, 2007 Benedict rated it liked it
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.
Jan 16, 2017 Olga rated it it was amazing
This is one of the best books I have read on development and gender theory. The authors makes a big effort to cater the layperson and the scientists and she does a great job. She keeps the main text with an clean prose and leaves the more sophisticated information for the notes. Also, she has great metaphors that let you visualize several key concepts on dynamical systems. Most probably, I will revisit this book over and over. Every person interested on gender studies should read it.
Logan Isaac
Sep 25, 2012 Logan Isaac rated it liked it
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
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
Mar 09, 2008 Gergely rated it really liked it
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
Evin Hughes
May 13, 2013 Evin Hughes rated it liked it
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
Sep 03, 2007 Lobeck rated it really liked it
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
Dec 15, 2016 Lucas rated it it was ok
Shelves: read-2016, biology
Interesting remarks about the spectral aspects of sex (Hormones, neurological aspects, a chapter concerning intersex people) and some historical basis on these perspectives (Weininger, Money, etc), but in the end, it didn't say almost nothing on how those given perspectives could change im a holistic way.

Don't get me wrong, it was a good book, if you reiterate the scientific researches. But for me, not as satisfactory as Butler. Her scope is slightly different.

2 stars.
May 22, 2008 Tinea rated it liked it
Shelves: gender-sexuality
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
Jul 02, 2014 Garren rated it it was ok
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.

Mar 06, 2008 simon rated it did not like it
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.

Quin Rich
Jan 02, 2014 Quin Rich rated it liked it
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
Niamh Macey
Extremely interesting insights into the way culture and science interconnects to the point where even the binary of biological sex (and other dualisms) can be shown to be somewhat of a "lie" as well as a fiercely protected aspect of life. It felt like Fausto-Sterling's conclusion didn't really...conclude, as such; the ending sort-of fizzled out. However, I largely enjoyed this book despite its reliance on scientific materials due to the relaxed writing style, and the use of illustrations did hel ...more
Gabriel C.
Jul 23, 2012 Gabriel C. rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, 2012
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
Jan 24, 2016 Chelsey rated it really liked it
Shelves: 4-star-books
I read this entire book for my Psychology of Gender class. This book changed my perspective on sex, gender, sexual identity, gender identity, and just binaries of sex/gender/orientation as a whole. Anne Fausto-Sterling approached this topic in the best, most direct way possible. She illustrates all of her arguments with examples and sound logic. She presents completely novel concepts that I had never even considered.

This book humbled me. I thought I knew quite a lot about feminism, gender, sex,
Mar 21, 2009 Vidit rated it it was ok
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
Sep 23, 2010 Gina rated it liked it
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
Jun 08, 2007 Tristan rated it it was amazing
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
Jul 02, 2008 Melanie rated it really liked it
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
May 22, 2016 Katertot rated it it was amazing
It's really great to see a gender studies text written by a scientist rather than a sociologist. Fausto Sterling brings a whole different perspective. While gender as seen as a social construct, sex is seen as biological. An Ivy league molecular biologist, Fausto Sterling talks about how biology does not in fact give two sexes. Sex is a social construct as well as gender. You will love this book if you're into academic books, science, and gender studies. She breaks up chapters with comic strips ...more
Oct 03, 2013 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
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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.

Fausto-Sterling received her Bachelor of Arts degree in zoology from University of Wisconsin in 1965 and he
More about Anne Fausto-Sterling...

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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. And as our social viewpoints have shifted, so has the science of the body.” 0 likes
“Scientists do not simply read nature to find truths to apply in the social world. Instead, they use truths taken from our social relationships to structure, read, and interpret the natural” 0 likes
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