Sally Haslanger states on page 93 that "gender is defined relationally: men and women are two groups defined by their social relations to each other." Simone de Beauvoir also states that women are...

Sally Haslanger states on page 93 that "gender is defined relationally: men and women are two groups defined by their social relations to each other." Simone de Beauvoir also states that women are typically defined by the roles they play -- usually in relation to men. If gender is defined only in relation to another opposing gender, where does this leave those who don't fit neatly into an either/or box, such as children Anne Fausto-Sterling describes in her book Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World?

Why do you think most people are uncomfortable when they encounter others who aren't easily categorized according to gender? Do you think gender is a core aspect of our identity? Why or why not?

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Tamara K. H. | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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As Anne Fausto-Sterling points out in her book Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World, defining gender based solely on social behavior poses a significant social problem that society has faced all throughout the ages. More specifically, when we look at gender only as a set of differences with respect to social interactions, then we underscore those differences and use those differences to justify the view of inequity. Moreover, when we define gender purely based on social interactions, then that leaves the gender of children like girls born with Cortical Adrenal Hyperplasia (CAH) completely undefined.

As Fausto-Sterling points out in chapter 4, titled "Of Hormones and Brains," many studies have been conducted to see if CAH girls socially interact differently from normal girls, but those studies have proven to be inconclusive. CAH girls are children born having had an abnormally high exposure to androgen midway through their fetal development, resulting in a masculine appearance. Scientists also speculate that abnormally high levels of adrenal testosterone in the girls' circulatory systems during development resulted in their brains receiving abnormally high levels of testosterone. Because scientists want to know if there is a connection between hormones and gender behavior, scientists have studied CAH girls's play behavior to see if any differences can be detected. Fausto-Sterling points out that findings in such studies are inconsistent; however, the one consistency is that CAH girls tend to "prefer more masculine toys," like blocks and trucks, while control girls are more likely to prefer things like dolls and Easy-Bake Ovens (p. 40).

Scientists cannot be certain what this distinction demonstrates; however, Fausto-Sterling leans more towards the conclusion that the play preferences in CAH girls have been socially molded. In other words, since their parents feel uneasy about their disorder, they may have a tendency to fail to treat them like normal girls and instead influence them to behave in a more masculine way. Hence, though biologically speaking (minus hormonal differences that are medically corrected) CAH girls are fully girls, it may be true that they are not being treated fully as girls. And, if we view gender based purely on social behavior, then children like CAH girls have no definable gender, which is a problem Fausto-Sterling wants to point out.

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