by Andrea Miller
WHITMAN COLLEGE PIONEER
“Music to my ears,” is what Professor Robert Tobin of the Gender Studies department and the Foreign Languages and Literatures department said of Rebecca Young’s union of the humanities and natural science in her approach to the study of gender.
Professor Tobin introduced Young, an assistant professor in Women’s Studies at Barnard College in New York City, and her lecture, entitled “Sex, Hormones, and Hardwiring: Rethinking the Theory of Brain Organization,” to a packed house on Oct. 17. Professor Tobin explained that the humanities have been dismissive of natural science in gender studies. He explained this was problematic because in the humanities, “bodies matter,” but they do not acknowledge scientific findings about the body.
Young explained to the audience common cultural definitions of sex and gender. Most conceive of sex as the biological designation of male or female. Gender is thought of as the relationships men or women have with others; it is more of a “self-conception.” According to Young, in the last 15 years, the distinction between sex and gender has been breaking down. Young said that everyone “feels comfortable with them,” referring to the terms male and female, but in fact, “there are a lot of different uses” of the terms.
Young cautioned the audience of “stories” about gender that society receives from scientists. Tales of children resisting attempts to be made gender neutral, an underlying maleness or femaleness or fundamental differences in interests between men and women permeate society. For years, stories of girls naming toys conceivably given to boys, “Daddy Truck” or “Baby Truck” and boys with ruined penises raised as girls have been used to support theories that the brains of men and women are inherently different from each other. Young aims to prove that “difference” is no longer a “dirty word” through her studies of Brain Organization Theory.
According to Young, brains are not “blue and pink,” and neither are hormones; there is no discrepancy between a male and female brain or male and female hormones. Hormone exposure early in brain development “locks-in” the hormone behavior exhibited later in life. Young said that the brain can be thought of as another sexual organ that enables bodily structures to be used properly.
Young’s studies in Brain Organization Theory are compromised by the inevitable variances in sexual and reproductive behavior; in regards to accuracy of behavioral studies, Young said “a lot of things overlap.” The confounded nature of these variances hinders more scientific advancement in gender studies. Young said, “until we get rid of the story, we are not got to get anywhere in science.”