Why is there gender

Gender in Biology : There are more than two genders

The science journal "Nature" - it is one of the most recognized in the discipline of biology - recently published a review article that turns social certainties upside down. Biological gender is not easy to split into two variants - “female” versus “male”. “The assumption that there are two genders is too simple,” explains Claire Ainsworth in the article “Sex redefined”. It summarizes the state of research in biology, which is based on a larger spectrum of sexual development opportunities.

Combinations have long been considered "disruptions"

This view is not so new in biology. On the contrary: Biology took its starting point from the firm conviction that every human embryo in its development initially has the potential to develop in a female and a male direction. Characteristics of the female sex or those of the male sex could emerge more clearly in the developing people. Combinations would occur in other people - for a long time these were examined more closely using the means of modern biology and medicine, but they were soon described as "disorders" and tried to destroy them.

The fear of ambiguity disappears

Meanwhile the perspective is changing. In western societies, too, the fear of gender and sexual ambiguity, in the sense of contradiction and stubbornness, is increasingly disappearing. In the other regions of the world, tolerance of ambiguity was already more pronounced, as the Leibniz Prize winner and Arabist Thomas Bauer shows in his work “The Culture of Ambiguity” (2011). It was only modern European science there that it set its sights on what appeared questionable, interpreted and erased it.

Since the 1970s / 80s, the objections to biological models of strict gender dichotomy have become clearer again in biology. Work on feminist science criticism provided central food for thought. Publications by the American scientists Anne Fausto-Sterling and Evelyn Fox Keller were decisive for the discussion of gender diversity. In 1985, Fausto-Sterling published a book as an extract from her research, which was shortly afterwards published in German under the title “Prisoners of the Sex”. In it, she critically discusses current biological theories - and confronts them with contradicting observations and studies. With her essays “The Five Genders: Why Male and Female Are Not Enough” (The Sciences, 1993) and “The Five Genders Reconsidered” (The Sciences, 2000), she laid the foundation for further debates and provided scientific support for the Struggles of the intersex movement.

Intersex people were seen as problem cases

In these essays, Fausto-Sterling focused on the diverse gender manifestations that were classified as "disorders" and in need of treatment in biological and medical research (and treatment practice), and turned against the classification of intersex people as "problem cases". In other works such as the book "Sexing the Body" (2000), she dissected biological theories, for example in relation to sex hormones. Since the hormones "androgens", which are regarded as male, and the hormones "estrogens", which are regarded as female, occur in all people and assume important physiological functions, they should not be referred to as "sex hormones", but rather as growth hormones, argued Fausto-Sterling.

Chromosomes - dictators of the cell?

She also provided critical reflections on studies that wanted to show that women had these brains and men that. She discussed the studies for her chosen methods and confronted them with different results. In the 1990s and early 2000s, Fausto-Sterling was still receiving criticism and debate for her approaches. It is now recognized that it has made a significant contribution to the critical reflection of the methodological and content-related setting of biology. In biology, the test subjects were - and often still are - divided into the groups “female” and “male” at the beginning of a study, and this division already preforms the results. The importance of the male sex was regularly exaggerated. The knowledge of several genders was no longer new, even with Fausto-Sterling. On the other hand, Richard Goldschmidt, for example, postulated a “complete series of sexual intermediate stages” in the 1920s, and that after the chromosomes X and Y, which were assumed to be important for sex determination, had been found and named a few years earlier. What is going on in a society that believes in bisexuality when the X and Y chromosomes are mentioned? And why did Goldschmidt come to such a different classification? Goldschmidt did not see the chromosomes as the “dictators” of the cell, rather he classified them in a complex system of other acting factors.

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