Recently in 5: Beyond Dualisms (Oct 4/6/8) Category

Sports -- Policing the Sex Binary since 2009

Most of us probably remember the controversy surrounding Caster Semenya, the South African athlete. Semenya is a fabulous athlete who is said to have been born intersex, though the specifics of what exactly her "condition" is aren't very clear (I'm not criticizing here. The condition of her gentials and other sex organs hardly need to be a public matter, though they sadly did become one to a certain degree during this controversy). She competes as a woman, though during a championship competition, the question of whether this was fair got raised.

In this article and this article the idea that Semenya had an "unfair advantage" over the other competitors is brought up. In the second article, there is a reference to how some of the other competitors made "scathing remarks" about her body. It is true that Semenya has a very muscular and androgynous build. However, why does this give her an unfair advantage? This claim never seems to be backed up in any article I come across. I have yet to find an article that explains that being intersexed definitely allows Semenya to run faster than non-intersexed women. To me, it seems that this claim is based solely on the fact that Semenya's body is not typically "female" or "feminine." When these claims seem unsubstantiated, the extensive testing of Semenya's sex (which is constantly conflated with gender in most articles) and the controversy surrounding it seems to be a mixed response from sore losers and a general concern with defining clear sex binaries. What is also interesting, is in this article it is hinted at that Semenya was being advised to take medical action concerning her "condition" because it is "potentially deadly." This was the only article I found that suggested any sort of thing and it didn't even explain what this supposed "condition" is, or why it might be deadly. It reminds me of the Fausto-Sterling readings, where she explains that medical urgency surrounds the issue of intersexed bodies, and threats of psychological grief and medical complications serve as a motivator for people to change their bodies (or the bodies of their children who are born intersex) to fit into a sex binary.

What I think would be interesting to consider is what if this had happened the other way around? What if Semenya were running as a man? Would there be such a controversy? Would there be this concern about "unfair advantages," or would the concern take a paternalistic, protective turn, arguing that Semenya would be unfairly disadvantaged? Would anyone have even noticed or cared at all? These are interesting questions to consider, and I would enjoy any thoughts anyone might have.

Sandra Steingraber is Amazing

Sandra Steingraber is mentioned briefly in the article Viscous Porosity: Witnessing Katrina by Nancy Tuana. I read her book Living Downstream a few years ago in an ecofeminism course taught at Minneapolis Community and Technical College, and encourage people to check her out. She is a trained scientist and writer and makes reading the material pretty enjoyable and super informative. She investigates the links of environmental toxins to particular cancers, and explains the physiological interactions as well as the social justice implications of such evidence and research.

Here is a clip of her speaking at speaking at the 2008 Bioneers Conference, an increasingly popular gathering of cutting edge science, technology, and environmental justice groups.

Towards the end, she states (more or less) that environmental destruction is in part because it is 'economics weighed against human health'. Either more broadly or in relation to the devastation of Hurricane Katrina, how is economics driving social injustice and inequality?

Also, what do people think of her description of 'watchful waiting' and 'laying down plans and carrying on within the confines of ambiguity'? Or... (just 'cause I like it) 'our children are inextricably bound to the abiding ecology of this planet...which is worth everything I have'? Does this reflect/support the idea of viscous porosity?

The brain in the gut on drugs

This week, we read "The Brain in the Gut" by Elizabeth Wilson. This reading was particularly interesting to me because it discussed at length the effect of depression and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors on the enteric nervous system. I suffer from a lot of depression-related issues and I have tried a couple SSRIs over the past few years, but I had to stop taking them because they induced severe nausea.

Widespread Denial

This past week's discussion on the public and specifically congresses denial leading up the hurricane Katrina tragedy, reminded me of another form of denial politicians and big oil companies have been participating in for a long time, the denial that global warming is an issue and needs to be addressed.

Many politicians including George W. Bush, who comes from a large oil company himself, have been denying global warming and global climate change for years. Many have also been attributed to changing scientific documents in order to downplay the effects, emphasizing the "lack of scientific data" and emitting sections of research pertaining to climate change altogether. Because of the lack of attention given to the issue of global warming by politicians and those who have the power to make a difference, the United States remains one of the only countries in the world not committed to changing the amount of carbon dioxide emissions we produce on a daily basis.

One of the arguments highlighted in "Viscous Porosity: Witnessing Katrina" was that the politicians denied the fact that a category 4 or 5 hurricane could occur in New Orleans and therefore took no precautions to prevent a tragedy such as Katrina from occurring and having the effect that it did. Much the same that we as a country have been denying global warming and by not preventing it, the inevitable outcome will be worse than if we would have accepted global warming from the start and done everything possible to prevent further damage to the environment. What can now be done as a country to right our wrong by initially denying climate change? Is it too late to change the mentality of a majority of our country?

The Importance of the Brain

As a student in Neuroscience I, I have already been guided towards the idea that the central nervous system and the brain are the most important elements of the body. I have a vague idea of the peripheral nervous system, but I had no idea that the Enteric Nervous System was so complex. There is a common conception that emotion, memory and other things related to psychology are primarily controlled by the brain. Furthermore, it is assumed that any "physical" reactions to emotions are also controlled by the CNS. I was completely surprised that most of the serotonin of the body is produced in the ENS. This demonstrates that the ENS has direct control over a psychological part of the body. Also the ENS has as many nerves as the CNS.

After learning all of this information I had to ask myself, why do we place so much importance on the central nervous system? Even though it is a complex system that controls a good portion of the bodies functions, it amazes me that I had never heard of the ENS. It also is interesting to me that we haven't utilized information from the past to draw conclusions about the nature of the ENS. For example, when Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) were being developed, they noticed that targeting pain receptors in the brain also targeted receptors in the stomach, so patients taking NSAIDs often complained of severe stomach pain and nausea.

All of this evidence points to what Tuana describes as interactionism. It is much easier for us to accept that one system, such as the brain and CNS can control the entire body than it is for us to accept that multiple components contribute to the whole. In science there is the idea of parsimony, that the simplest answer is often the right one, but a lot of times this idea blinds us to more complex interactions. This can be likened to our views on gender, sexuality, and race. It is easier for us to accept that there is one way to look at race, gender or sexuality than it is to admit that they all interact.

Here is an interesting article that talks about how we only use 10% of our brain:

My question is this: Why do we place so much importance on the Central Nervous System? If we really only use 10% of the brain, why do we think it's so important?

The Brain in the Gut and Medical Help

"The nervous system extends well beyond the skull, and as it so travels through the body it takes the psyche with it"(47), claims Elizabeth Wilson in "The Brain in the Gut". Her text continues to exclaim the wonders of the Enteric Nervous System and how it is a "contrarian, independent spirit in the nervous organization of the body"(36). An real-life example of this powerful system's independent modification is the Gastric Neurostimulator produced by medtronic.

gastric neurostimulator.jpg

The purpose of this device is to stimulate the nerves of the stomach that have stopped functioning due to nerve injure. (Sources of this nerve injury range from diabetes with neuropathy to surgical injury of the vagus nerve.) The neurostimulator functions by placing two electrodes near the intrinsic gastric pacemaker. When the stomach is finally peristalsing (contracting) properly, the patient no longer has nausea and is able to keep food down.

Wilson's article focuses primarily on the relationship between this brain in the gut and the human brain. She explores the power of the ENS on psychological processes. (A radically different view from that of hierarchy of the CNS or the idea of ENS being removed from 'functional' termalogy.) Wilson declares, "Maybe ingestion and digestion aren't just metaphors for internalization; perhaps the are "actual" mechanisms for relating to others"(45). Interestingly, research on this relatively new surgery of using the powerful ENS to change the body's functions maintains a distance from the relation to the CNS, as Wilson claims the scientific world is prone to do. Also, no research equates the changes in patient's mental states to the power of the "brain in the gut". Is this because science refuses to acknowledge this balanced relationship between the ENS and CNS? Or is it because Wilson is reading too much into the relationship?

Racism in Science: Is it a thing of the past?

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Snow Brown and the Seven Detergents is an allegory for the answer-begging question: Is racism within the scientific realm a thing of the past? I believe that, even today, options are being taken away from people because of their race, and they are not treated as equals by others within the scientific community. There are still many people in the world who hate others because of the color of their skin, and that undoubtedly includes scientists who think that intelligence is determined by race. Scientists obtain their ideation on race from society; they then proved these ideas using scientific "facts;" or "truths", thus reinforcing the racist beliefs of that society. It is a vicious circle that still continues in the field of science in the present time. Science became a source of race and racism because scientists are not totally objective because they are influenced by the reference point of society.

Scientists are not infallible; they are human beings, subject to opinions, thoughts, and emotions. The racist views of society are reflected in a scientist's work. For example, the reputable James Watson announced in the fall of 2007 that black people were "intellectually inferior". In the words of David Suzuki, ". . . scientists are first and foremost human beings, subject to the same limitations of cultural bias as anyone else . . ." (Currie, 2007).

Currie, Suzanne P. Science and Racism. 2007. ScinceLives! Online.">

Depression in the Cinema

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In this weeks reading we discussed an article that talked about how the mental ailment of depression causes physical symptoms, such as stomach pains. This is due to a part of the nervous system that connects the "brain and the gut" so that the mental affliction becomes a physical one. However, no one tends to think of this because the media tends to portray the two as separate things. When someone is depressed it tends to focus on the mental aspect and then only the self induced physical pain that is caused (such as anorexia and bulimia, which are choices that people make). Rarely does the media ever combine the two and say that physical pain can be caused by depression because our society is just not programmed to think that way. We like to think of mental illness' as just that, in our head. It is too scary of a thought to think that emotional distress could cause us physical harm. An example of this comes from the movie "Girl Interrupted". This movie is about a bunch of mental clinic patients who bond over the fact that they are in the same predicament. In this clip it shows all the diagnosis' of the girls symptoms. Although it is obvious that the girls have physical illnesses due to the fact that they are mentally unfit the movie focus' only on the girls actual diagnoses and portrays all the physical ailments as self induced. The girls look less than fit in this clip, but again that is not recognized as a problem that was out of their control. Therefore, the media tends to portray the mentally ill as only that and never ties in the physical pains that are associated with depression or other mental illnesses.

Another aspect of depression that the media tends to over emphasize is the fact that mental illnesses are only brought on by lonliness. Although it is definitely a contributing factor it is not the only reason depression can occur. As the article also said for this week, there is a strong need for a good support system when trying to deal with depression, but that still may not be the only way to deal with it. You may need more help than just having someone behind you. It may also be the case that even when someone has a support system they still experience depression. Again, this is rarely seen in the media. Whenever depression is displayed it is someone by themselves forced to face all of their worries and struggles alone. An example of this comes from P.S. I love you when she realizes she is alone and looks for her passed away husband to comfort her. Link. I couldn't embed the vidoe but here is a link to the clip when she realizes she is alone and she is suffering from depression because she is now by herself and doesn't know what to do. Although being alone is hard, she still has a support system but experiences depression. Still the movie focuses on her being by herself instead of her support, therefore the media overemphasizes how awful being left alone is, influencing us to feel depression whenever we are alone in our lives.

Do all our big issues need a "Hurricane Katrina"?

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This past Friday, I sat in on domestic violence court as part of another course. My observations in court and some of the information that we have learned in class I find relevant to our discussions of socially constructed ignorance and denial. As we discussed, we have a lot of problems in this country that people deal with every day. People who do not have to deal with these same problems have the privilege of pretending they do not exist. Then, sometimes, the lid is blown off these problems, as Nancy Tuana described with Hurricane Katrina and suddenly people across the country are faced with the problems they really want to ignore. I see a similar occurrence happening with the recent rash of suicides of bullied kids. Bullying and its consequences are with us everyday, yet it takes something or many terrible somethings for people to be forced to pay attention. Domestic violence is occasionally brought to our attention, such as when Rhianna goes back to her abuser, but there has not been a Hurricane Katrina for domestic violence. Instead, it has become a part of our culture.

Tuana vs. Brokovich (in the public's eye, that is)

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My interest was piqued during Wednesday's discussion of Nancy Tuana's piece "Viscous Porosity: Witness Katrina" when somebody mentioned Erin Brockovich; other than the fact she was portrayed by Julia Roberts in a 2000 film of the same name, I knew little about her, so I decided to dive a little deeper. The case in which Brockovich is known for involves Pacific Gas and Electric Company hiding the knowledge that it was supplying drinking water contaminated with hexavalent chromium [aka chromium (IV)] to residents of southern California town of Hinkley. In the end, Brockovich played a critical role in helping those affected by water contamination received hundred of millions of dollars in settlement money.

Now, having been given a rough background of Brockovich, and assuming you have read Tuana's piece, I have two questions I would like to pose:

1. Who would be a better public role model for environmental justice, Nancy Tuana or Erin Brockovich? Keep in mind an overwhelming majority of Americans have little to known knowledge of environmental justice, let alone what it is.

2. If Brockovich had any commentary to give on "Viscous Porosity: Witnessing Katrina," what do you think she would say? Overall, would she tend to agree with Tuana's views or dispute them?


^The *real* Brokovich; she doesn't pull any punches.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of recent entries in the 5: Beyond Dualisms (Oct 4/6/8) category.

4: Inventing Identities II (Sep 27/29/Oct 1) is the previous category.

6: Feminist Science (Oct 11/13/15) is the next category.

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