Lancet: Both Sex and Gender Are ‘Culturally Contingent’

The once prestigious Lancet medical journal argues this week that appeals to “biological sex” over gender are misguided because “sex, as much as gender, is culturally contingent.”
Photo by Delia Giandeini on Unsplash

The once prestigious Lancet medical journal argues this week that appeals to “biological sex” over gender are misguided because “sex, as much as gender, is culturally contingent.”

The article, written by Katrina Karkazis of Brooklyn College, suggests that occasional complications in determining a person’s biological sex undermine the entire binary male-female differentiation.

Biological definitions of sex “are at odds with the understanding that sex involves multiple biological and social factors,” Karkazis contends. “They are also at odds with social scientific work that complicates the idea that sex is biological whereas gender is cultural” since both are culturally contingent and “produced.”

Sex “is not a static, discrete, or even strictly biological characteristic that exists prior to the relations and practices that produce it,” she insists.

Appeals to the objectivity of biological sex over subjective gender identity are based in “the desire to exclude,” she argues, by using the idea of biological sex “to remove certain individuals from a category based on intolerance.”

Unsurprisingly, readers discover two-thirds of the way through the essay that Ms. Karkazis’s motivations are primarily political, rather than scientific.

The Trump administration’s requirement that military personnel serve in their biological sex takes its place in “a long history of using — and misusing — discrete biological criteria to determine sex and thereby include or exclude certain people from categories,” she alleges.

Equally sinister is a proposal by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to establish a federal legal definition of sex “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable,” she suggests.

One effect of these measures “is the nullification of the Title IX protections that were expanded under the Obama administration—laws applicable to transgender individuals and people with certain differences of sex development who serve in the military or otherwise seek to be safeguarded from discrimination,” she laments.

Ms. Karkazis’s entire argument rests on the fact that in rare cases, “chromosomes, gonads, hormones, and genitals” are incongruous, making the determination of a person’s biological sex difficult. She fails to mention the fact that in the overwhelming majority of cases there is no difficulty whatsoever in determining a person’s biological sex.

The fact that approximately one in 5,500 babies is born with some form of Disorder of Sex Development (DSD), which complicates determining the child’s biological sex, in no way nullifies the important biological distinction between male and female, which is readily discernible in the vast majority.

Some children are born without brains or certain internal organs, or with fewer fingers and toes than usual, yet these abnormalities do not lead to a reexamination of our understanding of man as a rational animal and a biped.

Only ideology can do that.

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