Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Shades of Grey

The last New Yorker had two articles which really got me thinking. The first was about Caster Semenya, the South African runner who was embroiled in the gender controversy. The second article was about Karen Ann Quinlan, the girl who because the lightning rod of the Right to Life/Right to Die controversy in the 1970.

These two very different subjects have at their heart the same problem - what should be a simple black and white concept, isn't. Is the person male or female? Is the person alive or dead?

So you'd think this is lunacy - have them drop their drawers and take a peek. How can you not know if they're male or female? Well, so you do this with a girl of 8 and you say, she is definitely female. Then she hits puberty, and all of a sudden, she has testes which descend into her labia, her clitoris elongates into a short penis, and voom - she became a he. Without going into details, it seems that no approach you take, physical examinations, hormone testing, genetic testing, is going to give you a clear cut answer.

And this is what freaks me out. Humans make sense of the world hierarchically. We start with things we're sure of and build on them. However, the more I look into the things that we're supposed to be sure of, the more I learn that some of these we cannot be so sure of 100%.


Blogger B. Spinoza said...

it's confusing if you look at the world from the platonic ideals point of view. If there really is something in the ideal world which is the real man and real woman, then you have to figure out what the corresponding entity in our world matches this ideal. But if you look at all names and symbol as inventions of the human imagination based on our minds ability and need to simplify the world around us, then it's not so surprising that some times we see things which don't fit neatly into our preexisting mental boxes

December 02, 2009 5:34 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


You're right of course, but it is such a basic classification. I remember being a very little kid and trying to understand how to classify boys and girls, men and women. I came up with long hair and dress=woman.

December 02, 2009 6:43 AM  
Blogger rogueregime said...

Having read Foucault's "History of Sexuality" in college, I was not very surprised over the Caster Semenya controversy. But you are, obviously, onto something very important here. We create (or, to press the point, as some orthodx might say, "God gives us") the meaning of "right and wrong," "black and white," "good and evil," etc., then get very bent out of shape when reality doesn't conform. "Emes" may not be "out there" to discover; it may only be approachable as a contingent waypoint in our search for meaning.

Keep up the search! :)

December 02, 2009 11:40 AM  

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