This paper responds to Kathleen Stock’s attempt to explain a puzzling fact, at least from her standpoint: widespread assertions that some people who are biologically male are women and some people who are biologically female are men. She regards these assertions as made while immersed in a fiction. Stock rejects an alternative explanation – that a lot of these people have read Judith Butler or 1970s feminism. Clarifying that explanation reveals it to be not so easy to dismiss.
I argue that Kathleen Stock omits crucial information in her 2021 book Material Girls, when she debates with Thomas Laqueur, information which enables readers to appreciate the excitement in relation to his historical discovery. I argue further that this is more than just a communicational problem. I then present a reason for rejecting the theory Laqueur uncovers: the initially strange theory that there is just one sex. But I argue that the one sex theory is unlikely to be killed off (...) by this reason. I also raise a concern about Stock’s interpretation of Mrs. Gaskell’s Cranford. The writing style here is influenced by an essay by a medic. (shrink)
This essay uses Maria Lugones’s account of the colonial/modern gender system to analyze the retro-use of “biological sex” in recent anti-trans legislation. The retro-use of sex refers to the role of sex in legislation that has been widely described by critics as moving the U.S. backward in time, or as a rollback of trans rights. The essay argues that Lugones’s theorization of the sex/gender distinction in the context of colonialism offers a better way of understanding the retro-use of sex in (...) this legislation than white Anglo-American feminist theories. While Lugones does not explicitly engage with this legislation, the essay shows that her racialized material history of the concept of biological sex not only allows for an expanded sense of the pasts that are at work in the present use of sex but also sharpens the need for feminist and trans responses to the retro-use of sex that are explicitly anti-racist and decolonial. -/- . (shrink)
This article argues, contra-Derrida, that Foucault does not essentialize or precomprehend the meaning of life or bio- in his writings on biopolitics. Instead, Foucault problematizes life and provokes genealogical questions about the meaning of modernity more broadly. In The Order of Things, the 1974-75 lecture course at the Collège de France, and Herculine Barbin, the monster is an important figure of the uncertain shape of modernity and its entangled problems (life, sex, madness, criminality, etc). Engaging Foucault’s monsters, I show that (...) the problematization of life is far from a “desire for a threshold,” à la Derrida. It is a spur to interrogating and critiquing thresholds, a fraught question mark where we have “something to do.” As Foucault puts it in “The Lives of Infamous Men,” it an ambiguous frontier where beings lived and died and they appear to us “because of an encounter with power which, in striking down a life and turning it to ashes, makes it emerge, like a flash [...]. (shrink)
The combination of sex and horror may be disquieting to many, but the two are natural (if perhaps gruesome) bedfellows. In fact, sex and horror coincide with such regularity in contemporary horror fiction that the two concepts appear to be at least partially intertwined. The sex–horror relationship is sometimes connotative rather than overt; examples of this relationship range from the seduction overtones of 'Nosferatu' and the juxtaposition of nudity and horror promised by European exploitation filmmakers to the sadomasochistic iconography of (...) 'Hellraiser'. In other cases, sex and horror are balanced in a manner that thoroughly blurs the distinction between porn and horror. The sustained presence of sex-horror in film suggests that these two elements fit together and the combination is a source of pleasure (entertainment, fascination, intellectual stimulation and so forth) for many. Yet sex-horror is broadly perceived to be disturbing and these negative reactions indicate that sex-horror is a source of trepidation, moral disdain or disgust for some. Thus, it appears that sex-horror inspires directly competing responses. One might conclude that sex-horror itself is paradoxical; that it holds two directly oppositional meanings simultaneously. However, as I will illustrate in this chapter, these dual responses are not as contradictory as they might first appear to be. (shrink)
People often assume that everyone can be divided by sex/gender (that is, by physical and social characteristics having to do with maleness and femaleness) into two tidy categories: male and female. Careful thought, however, leads us to reject that simple ‘binary’ picture, since not all people fall precisely into one group or the other. But if we do not think of sex/gender in terms of those two categories, how else might we think of it? Here I consider four distinct models; (...) each model correctly captures some features of sex/gender, and so each is appropriate in some contexts. But the first three models are inadequate when tough questions arise, like whether trans women should be admitted as students at a women’s college or when it is appropriate for intersex athletes to compete in women’s athletic events. (‘Trans’ refers to the wide range of people who have an atypical gender identity for someone of their birth-assigned sex, and ‘intersex’ refers to people whose bodies naturally develop with markedly different physical sex characteristics than are paradigmatic of either men or women.) Such questions of inclusion and exclusion matter enormously to the people whose lives are affected by them, but ordinary notions of sex/gender offer few answers. The fourth model I describe is especially designed to make those hard decisions easier by providing a process to clarify what matters. (shrink)
I offer a reconstruction of contemporary medical procedures of sex assignment for infants with intersex conditions. In the perspective adopted, sex assignment to intersexed newborns can be understood as a procedure that imposes determinate sex predicates. The account describes two stages of sex assignment. At the first stage of the process, the sex predicates ‘female’, ‘male’, or ‘intersexed’ are taken to denote genital morphology. Initial genital assessment of newborns imposes clear boundaries upon the extensions of these predicates through diagnostic schemes (...) of precisification. At the second stage, the sex predicates ‘female’ and ‘male’ denote sex of rearing, a therapeutic and pedagogical project aimed at producing stable and psycho-socially well-adjusted gender identity. The multi-dimensional indeterminacy of prognosticating sex of rearing at the second stage is mitigated through the prioritization of some subsets of the medical data. (shrink)
The paper indicates how social kinds may be internally and objectively unified in a way continuous with physical kinds. It argues that the practice of theorizing is continuous with other practices to the extent that theorists, like anyone engaged in a practice, needs to make choices that are responsive to purposes (and corresponding values) guiding the practice. The paper discusses Epstein's theory of anchoring, and argues for a theory of scaffolding social kinds.
"Why are there 'transsexuals' but not 'transracials'?" "Why is there an accepted way to change sex, but not to change race?" I have repeatedly heard these questions from theorists puzzled by the phenomenon of transsexuality. Feminist thinkers, in particular, often seem taken aback that in the case of category switching the possibilities appear to be so different. Behind the question is sometimes an implicit concern: Does not the (hypothetical or real) example of individual “transracialism” seem politically troubling? And, if it (...) is, does not the case of transsexuality merit equivalent critique? Or, conversely, if one accepts transsexuals as people with legitimate demands (e.g., on medical resources or single-sex spaces), then would one not also be committed to accepting the putative transracial in analogous ways? Understanding the ontological constraints and possibilities with regard to transforming one’s identity is, I suggest, a project that should accompany ethical evaluation of those transformations. Under what circumstances is it (un)ethical to leave behind a gender or racial group with which one has once been affiliated? This question is, again, especially pressing for radical thinkers who endorse the claims that race and gender taxonomies are internally hierarchical and constituted through relations of oppression, domination, and normalization. Changing one’s identity under these circumstances will surely always be linked, however tenuously, to consideration of the larger political and cultural milieu in which such changes are advantageous or disadvantageous, complicit with oppressive norms and/or resistant to them. To illuminate these larger questions, in this paper, I first provide three examples of the analogy thesis in feminist thinking about race and sex change, each of which draws ethical conclusions about individual motivation, political strategy, or public policy, premised on the assumption that race and sex change are equivalent phenomena. None of these accounts consider the genealogy of each category as significant to contemporary possibilities. I next offer a descriptive analysis that highlights different norms at play in contemporary North American understandings: Sex–gender, I argue, is essentialized as a property of the individual’s body, while race is essentialized with reference to both the body and ancestry. This analysis, I conclude, shows politically significant disanalogies between the categories, and reveals the importance of genealogical accounts of race and sex in thinking ethically about changing ourselves. (shrink)
This anthology of contemporary articles (and court cases provides a philosophical analysis of race, sex and gender concepts and issues. Divided into three relatively independent yet thematically linked sections, the anthology first addresses identity issues, then injustices and inequalities, and then specific social and legal issues relevant to race, sex and gender. By exposing readers to both theoretical foundations, opposing views, and "real life" applications, the anthology prepares them to make critically reasoned decisions concerning today's race, gender and sex social (...) issues. Sex and Gender Identity. Sexuality and Sexual Orientation. Race and Ethnicity. Racism. Sexism. Heterosexism and Homophobia. Equality and Preferential Treatment. Discriminatory Harassment. Identity Speech and Political Speech. Sexual Speech. Sexual Assault. For anyone interested in the philosophical underpinnings of today's Race, Sex, and Gender issues. (shrink)
The irony of the rejection of the sex/gender distinction is that it renders sociology per se an impossible enterprise. For it is my submission that, contra Hood-Williams (1996) and others, the biological and the social constitute distinct, irreducible levels of reality: to conflate (in a ‘downwards’ or ‘upwards’ direction) the two levels is immediately to render analysis of their relative interplay at best intractable. It is indeed arguable that Hood-Williams is not so much concerned with (rightly) rejecting the so-called ‘additive’ (...) approach to the biological and the social where the biological base is seen a priori as immutable, but more fundamentally with rejecting the necessary dualism of nature and culture (ie the biological and the social). In contradistinction, a realist defence of the sex/gender distinction will be made, involving critical reference to various major writers in the field and offering a brief but tentative discussion of the provenance of gender. (shrink)
This is a one-page handout which responds to Kathleen Stock's 2021 book Material Girls. It considers how analytic philosophy can be introduced into this area, and specifies five kinds of argument for the claim that the sexes are socially constructed.