Thursday, February 1, 2007

"Science, Gender, and Sexuality"

I got to the room at exactly 1pm, which is 7 minutes early by any and all Harvard College standards (the law school standard is classes start exactly when they say they do). There were only a few seats open and lecture had already begun. The professor was youngish for a professor, with vertically oriented, feminist gray hair. The next person to dare enter came at 1:01pm, and received a remarkably quick "come on time!" from our fearless leader.

Unfortunately for me, the professor seemed pretty open-minded and non-judgmental (I was hoping for a more orthodox introduction to radical feminism). She assured us that she was "not anti-science," which elicited some gasps from the more unusually dressed audience members, but approval from the science-y half of the class. I'll note she did not say she was "pro-science." I'm not sure what it means to be "anti-science," but unfortunately, I may not find out since she isn't it.

As we discussed the main topics of the course, I realized that one of the reasons I appreciate studying economics is that there is a well-thought-out foundation of thought that everyone shares. Economists have gone to great lengths to make it possible for questions in the classroom to be answered "yes," "no," or "I'm not sure, but here's what I'd do to answer that question." In lesser disciplines, questions are almost always ultimately answered with a shrug, another question, or a "that's a great question...we'll answer it later." My Russian Culture prof last semester commented that the ability to answer questions or not was what separated science from humanities...and then she declared that they were both equally relevant for analyzing human behaviour and society.

An example from Gender Studies:
Prof: why is it ok to walk around in Harvard Yard with your knees showing, but not your genitals? There is no 'absolute' that demands this be true. Therefore, it's societal.

Reasonable Student: what exactly do you mean by 'absolute?'

Prof: Excellent question. For example, if you believe in God, then His commandments would be absolute. Or if you believe ethics or morals are absolute, you see, uh, there's really no reason that covering your genitals is absolute, outside of society. Absolute truth is only defined by society. It's imposed by society.

Me: Would you even consider walking upright an 'absolute' for the human body? If so, then it's very possible that covering up our genitals is equally absolute, and otherwise, nothing is absolute. In which case the 'absolute' seems like a trivial concept.

Prof: Excellent question. So you all see that this stuff is really important and complicated, and we'll have to spend all semester untangling it.
Also, there's this obvious problem with dualism they don't seem to have made much progress on. The Professor wanted to talk about whether or not "brains" are different between sexes (obviously they are...if not, I'll eat my hat). So I think she includes the brain as part of the body. But then she asks all of these questions about the introspective "you" living inside your body meshing, or not meshing, with that body's physical sexnicity. The mysterious "you" - the one you know when you see it.

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