By Sean Cosgrove
Questions in public discourse surrounding the issues of human gender and sexuality seem to revolve around (unchallenged) binaries of female and male, and hetero or homosexual. Now, that they exist in this form currently and shape our lived experience is absolutely true. That they have always existed, however, in the guise(s) that they do now is not, and it can be dangerous to assume the unchanging nature of these constructs when talking, particularly, about social policy.
By Sean Cosgrove
Hands up if you’ve heard of The Second Sexism?
For those, like me, whose spidey-senses may be tingling at a mention of the title, but draw a blank regarding its substance, The Second Sexism is a book released earlier this year by philosopher David Benatar concerning what he sees as the disadvantage and discrimination faced by boys and men as a result of their sex. Benatar’s contention is that there exists a second form of sexism affecting males which is not only under theorised but remains largely undiscussed. The importance of this conversation, he contends, is that only through an awareness of the operation of all forms of sexism can we, as a society, begin to overcome it.
While a quick Google search (the first port of call for any accomplished scholar) confirms that I seem to have arrived at this party a little late, thankfully the notion of a second sexism is incredibly interesting and while the book lays down some serious gender talk, it also offers some food for thought as to the unique skills inherent in the historical discipline.
Sex education is tricky stuff. We’ve heard some about it already here on Nursing Clio. And many of us awkwardly shuffled through it one way or another in public school. The only real “talk” I remember from my parents was a noticeably scientific explanation from my microbiologist father, which pretty much cleared up my curiosity at the time, I recall. The public school side of it was mostly anatomy
Elizabeth Reis is a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon and is the author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). This year (2012-2103) she is a visiting scholar in the History of Science Department at Harvard University. This interview originally appeared in Feminists for Choice and is reprinted with permission.
1. What was the motivation behind writing Bodies in Doubt?
So much of the “history” of intersex begins in the mid-1950s with a critique of John Money and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University. This was an important period, of course, because Money’s protocols became widely adopted, but it was hardly the beginning of the story of the medical management of intersex. As an early American historian, I wondered what happened to those born with unusual bodies in earlier eras. I wanted to find out how the gradual process of medicalization affected our understanding of how male and female bodies were supposed to look.
I am currently teaching an upper-division undergraduate course on the history of women in the modern United States. Because I’ve been teaching for several years now, and because my courses have almost always included some kind of study of women and gender, I was not surprised when, during the very first class, one of my students raised her hand and began her response to one of my questions with that ubiquitous disclaimer: “I’m not a feminist, but . . .”