Science & Society 7: Sexing the Body

In conversations about sex and gender, biology is often oversimplified and misused to justify inequalities. Yet the past century has seen enormous shifts in biological understandings of sex away from a binary model that posits sex as fixed and instead suggests a model that is more varied and dynamic.

Our guest biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling, pioneering scholar in the analysis of sex and gender, was one of the first scientists to question how gender ideology distorts the biological picture of sex and one of the first to see great value in placing the science of sex in its social and historical context. Fausto-Sterling is joined by Sarah Richardson, the founder of Harvard’s GenderSci Lab, who generates alternative scientific methods of sex and gender research and works to enhance public understanding and discourse. They are joined on stage by our host, Rebecca Jordan-Young, to offer new tools for thinking critically about science, sex, and gender.

After the event please join us in the garden for stargazing with the Amateur Astronomers Association and tasty eats provided by Wah Gwaan.

About the Guests

Anne Fausto-Sterling is a Brown University Professor Emerita and fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. She is a leading expert in biology and gender development. Using a groundbreaking new approach to understanding gender differences, Dr. Fausto-Sterling is shifting old assumptions about how humans develop particular traits. Dynamic systems theory permits one to understand how cultural difference becomes bodily difference. By applying a dynamic systems approach to the study of human development, her work exposes the flawed premise of the nature versus nurture debate. In addition to over 60 scholarly articles, Dr. Fausto- Sterling has authored three books that are referenced widely in feminist and scientific inquiry including Sex/Gender: Biology in a Social World, Sexing the Body, and Myths of Gender.

Sarah Richardson has taught at Harvard University since 2010 and is an expert in the history and philosophy of the sciences of sex, gender, sexuality, and reproduction. She currently serves on the Harvard Standing Committees for Degrees in Social Studies and for the Mind, Brain, and Behavior Interfaculty Initiative. Besides her many scholarly articles published in journals of the history, social studies, and philosophy of science, her books include The Maternal Imprint: The Contested Science of Maternal-Fetal Effects (2021); Postgenomics: Perspectives on Biology After the Genome (co-edited, 2015); Sex Itself: The Search for Male and Female in the Human Genome (2013), and Revisiting Race in a Genomic Age (co-edited, 2008). Her writings have also appeared widely in the popular media, including in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Slate. In 2018, Richardson founded the Harvard GenderSci Lab, a collaborative, interdisciplinary research lab that generates concepts and methods for scientific research on sex and gender. Through research, teaching, and outreach, the Lab works to advance the intersectional study of gender in the biomedical and allied sciences, counter bias and hype in sex difference research, and enhance public discourse surrounding the sciences of sex and gender. The Lab unites expertise in the social sciences and biomedical research fields, producing transdisciplinary scholarship widely recognized for its empirical rigor and theoretical sophistication.

About the Host

Rebecca Jordan-Young  is a Professor of Women’s, Gender & Sexuality Studies at Barnard College and explores the reciprocal relations between science and the social hierarchies of gender, sexuality, class, and race. A Ph.D. in Sociomedical Sciences from Columbia University gave Jordan-Young formal training in epidemiology, biostatistics, measurement theory, and research design; and for nearly 20 years, she has pursued additional training with mentors and collaborators in fields that range from cognitive and development neuroscience, developmental biology, and physical chemistry to cultural anthropology, political science, history, and sociology. Jordan-Young is on the Board of the International Neurogenderings Network. Jordan-Young co-authored the book, Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography, with Katrina Karkazis in 2019 and in 2010 published Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences. She has published in a wide range of scholarly journals, such as Feminist Formations, Nature, Science, Neuroethics, BMJ, Trends in Cognitive Sciences, and the American Journal of Public Health, as well as popular outlets like the New York Times, The Guardian, and Discover Magazine.

This event is supported by Science Sandbox, a Simons Foundation initiative dedicated to engaging everyone with the process of science.