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Sexed Bodies, Sexed Science

May 8, 2000, LTC - A student wrote:

Sexed Bodies / Sexed Science

Discussion on Interdisciplinary Course
1 ) On the style of critique / reading that most students encounter later or never: did it shape or effect the classes I've taken or my approach?

I formally encountered ideas of deconstruction / construction a year later, in English 200 (Methods of Interpretation). When I became acquainted with theorists such as Derrida, I realized deconstruction seemed familiar: our approach in "Sexed Bodies..." was largely deconstructive.

During "Methods," I appreciated my experience from "Sexed Bodies..." because I recognized that it was an application of this confusing-sounding theory I was just learning. Once I made that connection, I had a name for the style of analysis that I had been practicing 6 unconsciously since "Sexed Bodies" introduced me to the idea that sources do not fall unbiased from the sky.

2) On the interdisciplinary nature of the course:

I think that the "bringing of theory to science" was - on the whole - the most worthwhile part of the class. Although it did not lead to the solving of issues of "bias" in science, it made me aware of the limitations of any discipline. It also gave me the tools to discern the presence of bias and guard against it in my own attempts at research.

Before "Sexed Bodies", I considered science the relatively "Infallible" discipline. However, the critiques - and credibility - of a science and of a women studies' professor, inspired me to re-think my notions of science. At times, I considered how the "genderization" of science affected me personally - why, as a woman, I felt excluded from science, despite a predilection towards it.

I also felt privileged to take part in a class devoted to exploring several sides of a severalsided topic. Usually, critiques between disciplines are isolated: one discipline questions another, and there is no (fluid) dialogue between the two. Having both professors present, and openminded, permitted a forum, which was a unique and worthwhile experience. Sometimes there are panels that permit a few hours of interdisciplinary dialogue. "Sexed Bodies..." permitted a sustained, in depth conversation.

Finally, the interdisciplinary nature of "Sexed Bodies..." affected the way I approached later classes: it inspired me to enrich single-discipline courses by consulting sources from other disciplines (for example, in a literature class I apply history and psychology to textual
interpretations). "Sexed Bodies.. was my first experience in a sanctioned blending of disciplines, which I think is a very useful approach to learning.

3) Any difficult / threatening topics that arose in the class:

Because Profs. Manion and Rand were exceedingly sensitive, I never felt threatened or violated by our class' treatment of a topic.

However, sometimes the issues we covered inspired me to face jarring issues (that I usually pondered out of class). It is difficult to reconcile with the fact that science - which is presented as human's attempt at both explaining and bettering the world - is fallible, and furthermore biased genderwise.

In the end, it frightens me more to be ignorant of these considerations, and I am grateful to the course for bringing them to my attention.

4) On the final projects:

My final project, in conjunction with Caryn Cramer and David Greenberg, treated the impact of gender constructions on fashion. We bolstered our work with scientific justifications of what is attractive (and appropriate) and why.

The major questions our project addressed were: what qualities do men and women gravitate towards biologically? How do such scientific factors influence the design of clothes, aka the physical features they highlight?

I was interested in this topic because it blended two of my concerns: double standards attached to woman's dress (insofar as high fashion requires toothpick-figures), and the extent to which scientific rationale supports fashion (are men really attracted to women who look this way - and if so, why?).

The project also raised interesting questions of the limitations of dress on gender. For example, there was no biological reason men couldn't dress as women or vice versa. Consequently, stigma attached to these practices must be constructed.

Never before or since have I been able to conduct a study in a similar manner - using sources of different disciplines nearly equally - and I found the opportunity revelatory and worthwhile.