Begging the Question of Gender
Read: 1) Lessons from the Intersexed- Kessler
2) Bailey and Peoples chapters on Gender and Domestic Life – in most editions, chapters 6,8 and 9
and then write
Begging the Question of Gender:
A while back (during the class on Race), the concept of “begging the question” was introduced. (Basically, it refers to the idea that there is an assumption built into a question which limits the kind of answer that can be given. You may want to take another look at that lecture.)
Before, you start writing, answer this question for yourself: What question do the doctors in Kessler’s survey beg when they decide to create boys and girls out of intersexed infants? In other words, what assumption is built into their decisions to make a particular infant a boy or a girl?
Often, questions are begged by members of particular institutions in our society (like the American Medical Association, the government, the producers of Survivor, etc..)* Kessler gives an example of gender questions being begged by members of the medical establishment. We’ve also discussed the ways that race questions were begged – first by anthropologists, and, more recently, by the producers of Survivor.
For this week’s assignment:
FIrst, explain what question the doctors are begging in regards to gender, and why it is that they beg that question when, of course, they shouldn’t.
Then, give a real-life example of “begging the question” about a person’s gender, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, class, or some other way of categorizing people. This can be drawn from personal experience, the news or another source – be sure to cite your sources. Explain your example thoroughly, and show how it begs the question. (This is the more important part of the assignment. The best responses will explain the example fully, and explain how it begs the question.)
* Some institutions have formal, official authority to categorize people, like the government or the Catholic church. Others have informal authority, like the American Psychological Association, which used to categorize gay people as “mentally ill,” but changed its mind in 1973.
Reminder: There’s a subtle difference between a stereotype and a begged question. When someone begs a question, the question itself forces people into a category (e.g. “Which race will be best at surviving Survivor?” – this question forces people to categorize people by race). When someone applies a stereotype, they associate a particular trait with a group of people (e.g. “The Asians will win Survivor because they’re the smartest.” In this case, the “race” categories are already assumed, and we’re thinking about them.).