Return to Video

Is anatomy destiny? | Alice Dreger | TEDxNorthwesternU

  • 0:12 - 0:14
    Okay, so to start,
  • 0:14 - 0:18
    I want you to imagine two couples
    in the middle of 1979
  • 0:18 - 0:22
    on the exact same day,
    at the exact same moment,
  • 0:22 - 0:24
    each conceiving a baby, OK?
  • 0:24 - 0:26
    So two couples each conceiving one baby.
  • 0:26 - 0:29
    Now I don't want you to spend too
    much time imagining the conception,
  • 0:30 - 0:32
    because if you do,
    you're not going to listen to me,
  • 0:32 - 0:34
    so just imagine that for a moment.
  • 0:34 - 0:38
    And in this scenario,
    I want to imagine that, in one case,
  • 0:38 - 0:41
    the sperm is carrying a Y chromosome,
  • 0:41 - 0:43
    meeting that X chromosome of the egg.
  • 0:43 - 0:46
    And in the other case,
    the sperm is carrying an X chromosome,
  • 0:46 - 0:48
    meeting the X chromosome of the egg.
  • 0:48 - 0:50
    Both are viable; both take off.
  • 0:51 - 0:53
    We'll come back to these people later.
  • 0:53 - 0:56
    So I wear two hats in most of what I do.
  • 0:57 - 1:00
    And I also sometimes wear
    metaphorical scarves,
  • 1:00 - 1:02
    and great shoes,
  • 1:02 - 1:05
    but in this case I want to tell you
    about the two hats I wear.
  • 1:05 - 1:08
    As the one hat, I do history of anatomy.
  • 1:08 - 1:12
    I'm a historian by training,
    and what I study in that case
  • 1:12 - 1:14
    is the way that people
    have dealt with anatomy...
  • 1:15 - 1:18
    Meaning human bodies, animal bodies...
  • 1:18 - 1:20
    How they dealt with bodily fluids,
    concepts of bodies;
  • 1:20 - 1:22
    how have they thought about bodies.
  • 1:23 - 1:27
    The other hat that I've worn
    in my work is as an activist,
  • 1:27 - 1:29
    as a patient advocate...
  • 1:29 - 1:31
    Or, as I sometimes say,
    as an impatient advocate...
  • 1:31 - 1:34
    For people who are patients of doctors.
  • 1:34 - 1:37
    In that case, what I've worked with
    is people who have body types
  • 1:37 - 1:39
    that challenge social norms.
  • 1:39 - 1:41
    So some of what
    I've worked on, for example,
  • 1:41 - 1:43
    is people who are conjoined twins...
  • 1:43 - 1:45
    Two people within one body.
  • 1:46 - 1:48
    Some of what I've worked on
    is people who have dwarfism...
  • 1:48 - 1:51
    So people who are much
    shorter than typical.
  • 1:51 - 1:55
    And a lot of what I've worked on
    is people who have atypical sex...
  • 1:55 - 1:59
    So people who don't have the standard male
    or the standard female body types.
  • 1:59 - 2:02
    And as a general term,
    we can use the term "intersex" for this.
  • 2:02 - 2:05
    Intersex comes
    in a lot of different forms.
  • 2:05 - 2:08
    I'll just give you a few examples
    of the types of ways you can have sex
  • 2:08 - 2:11
    that isn't standard for male or female.
  • 2:11 - 2:12
    So in one instance,
  • 2:12 - 2:16
    you can have somebody
    who has an XY chromosomal basis,
  • 2:16 - 2:18
    and that SRY gene on the Y chromosome
  • 2:18 - 2:22
    tells the proto-gonads,
    which we all have in the fetal life,
  • 2:22 - 2:23
    to become testes.
  • 2:23 - 2:26
    So in the fetal life,
    those testes are pumping out testosterone.
  • 2:27 - 2:32
    But because this individual
    lacks receptors to hear that testosterone,
  • 2:32 - 2:34
    the body doesn't react
    to the testosterone.
  • 2:34 - 2:37
    And this is a syndrome called
    androgen insensitivity syndrome.
  • 2:38 - 2:41
    So lots of levels of testosterone,
    but no reaction to it.
  • 2:41 - 2:45
    As a consequence, the body develops
    more along the female typical path.
  • 2:45 - 2:47
    When the child is born,
    she looks like a girl.
  • 2:47 - 2:50
    She is a girl, she is raised as a girl.
  • 2:50 - 2:55
    And it's often not until she hits puberty
    and she's growing and developing breasts,
  • 2:55 - 2:57
    but she's not getting her period,
  • 2:57 - 2:59
    that somebody figures
    out something's up here.
  • 2:59 - 3:01
    And they do some tests and figure out
  • 3:01 - 3:03
    that, instead of having
    ovaries inside and a uterus,
  • 3:03 - 3:06
    she has testes inside,
    and she has a Y chromosome.
  • 3:06 - 3:07
    Now what's important to understand
  • 3:07 - 3:10
    is you may think of this
    person as really being male,
  • 3:10 - 3:11
    but they're really not.
  • 3:11 - 3:13
    Females, like males,
  • 3:13 - 3:16
    have in our bodies something
    called the adrenal glands.
  • 3:16 - 3:17
    They're in the back of our body.
  • 3:17 - 3:21
    And the adrenal glands make androgens,
    which are a masculinizing hormone.
  • 3:21 - 3:24
    Most females like me...
    I believe myself to be a typical female...
  • 3:24 - 3:26
    I don't actually know
    my chromosomal make-up,
  • 3:26 - 3:28
    but I think I'm probably typical...
  • 3:28 - 3:30
    Most females like me
    are actually androgen-sensitive.
  • 3:30 - 3:33
    We're making androgen,
    and we're responding to androgens.
  • 3:33 - 3:35
    The consequence is that somebody like me
  • 3:36 - 3:39
    has actually had a brain
    exposed to more androgens
  • 3:39 - 3:42
    than the woman born with testes
    who has androgen insensitivity syndrome.
  • 3:42 - 3:43
    So sex is really complicated...
  • 3:44 - 3:45
    It's not just that intersex people
  • 3:45 - 3:47
    are in the middle
    of all the sex spectrum...
  • 3:47 - 3:49
    In some ways,
    they can be all over the place.
  • 3:49 - 3:51
    Another example:
  • 3:51 - 3:53
    a few years ago I got a call
    from a man who was 19 years old,
  • 3:54 - 3:55
    who was born a boy, raised a boy,
  • 3:55 - 3:58
    had a girlfriend,
    had sex with his girlfriend,
  • 3:58 - 4:00
    had a life as a guy,
  • 4:00 - 4:03
    and had just found out
    that he had ovaries and a uterus inside.
  • 4:03 - 4:05
    What he had was an extreme form
  • 4:05 - 4:08
    of a condition called
    congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
  • 4:08 - 4:10
    He had XX chromosomes,
  • 4:10 - 4:13
    and in the womb, his adrenal glands
    were in such high gear
  • 4:14 - 4:17
    that it created, essentially,
    a masculine hormonal environment.
  • 4:17 - 4:20
    And as a consequence,
    his genitals were masculinized,
  • 4:20 - 4:23
    his brain was subject to the more typical
    masculine component of hormones.
  • 4:23 - 4:26
    And he was born looking like a boy...
    Nobody suspected anything.
  • 4:27 - 4:29
    And it was only when he had
    reached the age of 19
  • 4:29 - 4:33
    that he began to have enough medical
    problems from menstruating internally,
  • 4:33 - 4:36
    that doctors figured out that, in fact,
    he was female, internally.
  • 4:37 - 4:40
    OK, so just one more quick example
    of a way you can have intersex.
  • 4:41 - 4:44
    Some people who have XX chromosomes
    develop what are called ovotestis,
  • 4:44 - 4:48
    which is when you have ovarian tissue
    with testicular tissue wrapped around it.
  • 4:48 - 4:50
    And we're not exactly sure
    why that happens.
  • 4:50 - 4:53
    So sex can come
    in lots of different varieties.
  • 4:54 - 4:59
    The reason that children
    with these kinds of bodies...
  • 4:59 - 5:02
    Whether it's dwarfism,
    or it's conjoined twinning,
  • 5:02 - 5:03
    or it's an intersex type...
  • 5:03 - 5:05
    Are often "normalized" by surgeons
  • 5:05 - 5:10
    is not because it actually leaves them
    better off in terms of physical health.
  • 5:10 - 5:13
    In many cases, people are actually
    perfectly healthy.
  • 5:13 - 5:16
    The reason they're often subject
    to various kinds of surgeries
  • 5:16 - 5:19
    is because they threaten
    our social categories.
  • 5:19 - 5:22
    Our system has been based
    typically on the idea
  • 5:22 - 5:25
    that a particular kind of anatomy
    comes with a particular identity.
  • 5:25 - 5:28
    So we have the concept
    that what it means to be a woman
  • 5:28 - 5:29
    is to have a female identity;
  • 5:29 - 5:34
    what it means to be a black person
    is, allegedly, to have an African anatomy
  • 5:34 - 5:35
    in terms of your history.
  • 5:36 - 5:40
    And so we have
    this terribly simplistic idea.
  • 5:40 - 5:42
    And when we're faced with a body
  • 5:42 - 5:45
    that actually presents us
    something quite different,
  • 5:45 - 5:48
    it startles us in terms
    of those categorizations.
  • 5:48 - 5:52
    So we have a lot of very romantic ideas
    in our culture about individualism.
  • 5:52 - 5:55
    And our nation's really founded on
    a very romantic concept of individualism.
  • 5:55 - 5:57
    You can imagine how startling then it is
  • 5:58 - 6:01
    when you have children who are born
    who are two people inside of one body.
  • 6:03 - 6:07
    Where I ran into the most heat
    from this most recently
  • 6:07 - 6:10
    was last year when South African runner,
    Caster Semenya,
  • 6:10 - 6:13
    had her sex called into question
    at the International Games in Berlin.
  • 6:13 - 6:16
    I had a lot of journalists
    calling me, asking me,
  • 6:16 - 6:18
    "Which is the test they're going to run
  • 6:18 - 6:22
    that will tell us whether or not
    Caster Semenya is male or female?"
  • 6:22 - 6:25
    And I had to explain to the journalists
    there isn't such a test.
  • 6:25 - 6:29
    In fact, we now know
    that sex is complicated enough
  • 6:29 - 6:31
    that we have to admit:
  • 6:31 - 6:34
    Nature doesn't draw the line
    for us between male and female,
  • 6:34 - 6:37
    or between male and intersex
    and female and intersex;
  • 6:37 - 6:39
    we actually draw that line on nature.
  • 6:40 - 6:45
    So what we have is a sort of situation
    where the farther our science goes,
  • 6:45 - 6:48
    the more we have to admit to ourselves
    that these categories
  • 6:48 - 6:50
    that we thought of as stable
    anatomical categories,
  • 6:50 - 6:55
    that mapped very simply
    to stable identity categories
  • 6:55 - 6:57
    are a lot more fuzzy than we thought.
  • 6:57 - 6:59
    And it's not just in terms of sex.
  • 6:59 - 7:01
    It's also in terms of race,
  • 7:01 - 7:03
    which turns out to be
    vastly more complicated
  • 7:03 - 7:05
    than our terminology has allowed.
  • 7:05 - 7:08
    As we look, we get into all sorts
    of uncomfortable areas.
  • 7:08 - 7:10
    We look, for example, about the fact
  • 7:10 - 7:14
    that we share at least 95 percent
    of our DNA with chimpanzees.
  • 7:14 - 7:16
    What are we to make of the fact
  • 7:16 - 7:20
    that we differ from them
    only, really, by a few nucleotides?
  • 7:20 - 7:22
    And as we get farther
    and farther with our science,
  • 7:22 - 7:24
    we get more and more
    into a discomforted zone,
  • 7:25 - 7:28
    where we have to acknowledge
    that the simplistic categories we've had
  • 7:28 - 7:30
    are probably overly simplistic.
  • 7:31 - 7:35
    So we're seeing this
    in all sorts of places in human life.
  • 7:35 - 7:37
    One of the places
    we're seeing it, for example,
  • 7:37 - 7:39
    in our culture,
    in the United States today,
  • 7:39 - 7:42
    is battles over the beginning
    of life and the end of life.
  • 7:42 - 7:43
    We have difficult conversations
  • 7:44 - 7:47
    about at what point we decide
    a body becomes a human,
  • 7:47 - 7:50
    such that it has a different
    right than a fetal life.
  • 7:50 - 7:52
    We have very difficult
    conversations nowadays...
  • 7:52 - 7:55
    Probably not out in the open
    as much as within medicine...
  • 7:55 - 7:57
    About the question
    of when somebody's dead.
  • 7:57 - 8:00
    In the past, our ancestors
    never had to struggle so much
  • 8:00 - 8:02
    with this question
    of when somebody was dead.
  • 8:02 - 8:04
    At most, they'd stick
    a feather on somebody's nose,
  • 8:04 - 8:07
    and if it twitched,
    they didn't bury them yet.
  • 8:07 - 8:08
    If it stopped twitching, you bury them.
  • 8:08 - 8:10
    But today, we have a situation
  • 8:10 - 8:12
    where we want to take
    vital organs out of beings
  • 8:12 - 8:14
    and give them to other beings.
  • 8:14 - 8:15
    And as a consequence,
  • 8:15 - 8:18
    we have to struggle
    with this really difficult question
  • 8:18 - 8:20
    about who's dead,
  • 8:20 - 8:22
    and this leads us
    to a really difficult situation
  • 8:22 - 8:25
    where we don't have such simple
    categories as we've had before.
  • 8:25 - 8:28
    Now you might think that all this
    breaking-down of categories
  • 8:28 - 8:30
    would make somebody like me really happy.
  • 8:30 - 8:34
    I'm a political progressive,
    I defend people with unusual bodies,
  • 8:34 - 8:36
    but I have to admit to you
    that it makes me nervous.
  • 8:36 - 8:38
    Understanding that these categories
  • 8:38 - 8:41
    are really much more unstable
    than we thought makes me tense.
  • 8:41 - 8:44
    It makes me tense from the point of view
    of thinking about democracy.
  • 8:45 - 8:47
    So in order to tell you
    about that tension,
  • 8:47 - 8:50
    I have to first admit to you
    a huge fan of the Founding Fathers.
  • 8:50 - 8:53
    I know they were racists,
    I know they were sexist,
  • 8:53 - 8:54
    but they were great.
  • 8:54 - 8:59
    I mean, they were so brave and so bold
    and so radical in what they did,
  • 8:59 - 9:03
    that I find myself watching that cheesy
    musical "1776" every few years,
  • 9:04 - 9:07
    and it's not because of the music,
    which is totally forgettable.
  • 9:07 - 9:10
    It's because of what happened in 1776
    with the Founding Fathers.
  • 9:10 - 9:12
    The Founding Fathers were,
    for my point of view,
  • 9:12 - 9:14
    the original anatomical activists,
  • 9:14 - 9:16
    and this is why.
  • 9:16 - 9:19
    What they rejected
    was an anatomical concept
  • 9:19 - 9:21
    and replaced it with another one
  • 9:21 - 9:24
    that was radical and beautiful
    and held us for 200 years.
  • 9:24 - 9:26
    So as you all recall,
  • 9:26 - 9:30
    what our Founding Fathers were
    rejecting was a concept of monarchy,
  • 9:30 - 9:33
    and the monarchy was basically based
    on a very simplistic concept of anatomy.
  • 9:33 - 9:37
    The monarchs of the old world
    didn't have a concept of DNA,
  • 9:37 - 9:39
    but they did have a concept of birthright.
  • 9:39 - 9:41
    They had a concept of blue blood.
  • 9:41 - 9:44
    They had the idea that the people
    who would be in political power
  • 9:44 - 9:47
    should be in political power
    because of the blood being passed down
  • 9:47 - 9:51
    from grandfather to father
    to son and so forth.
  • 9:51 - 9:54
    The Founding Fathers rejected that idea,
  • 9:54 - 9:57
    and they replaced it
    with a new anatomical concept,
  • 9:57 - 10:00
    and that concept
    was "all men are created equal."
  • 10:00 - 10:04
    They leveled that playing field
    and decided the anatomy that mattered
  • 10:04 - 10:08
    was the commonality of anatomy,
    not the difference in anatomy,
  • 10:08 - 10:11
    and that was a really radical thing to do.
  • 10:11 - 10:13
    Now they were doing it in part
  • 10:13 - 10:15
    because they were part
    of an Enlightenment system
  • 10:15 - 10:17
    where two things were growing up together.
  • 10:17 - 10:19
    And that was democracy growing up,
  • 10:19 - 10:22
    but it was also science
    growing up at the same time.
  • 10:22 - 10:26
    And it's really clear, if you look
    at the history of the Founding Fathers,
  • 10:26 - 10:28
    a lot of them were very
    interested in science,
  • 10:28 - 10:31
    and they were interested
    in the concept of a naturalistic world.
  • 10:31 - 10:34
    They were moving away
    from supernatural explanations,
  • 10:34 - 10:37
    and they were rejecting things
    like a supernatural concept of power,
  • 10:37 - 10:41
    where it transmitted because
    of a very vague concept of birthright.
  • 10:41 - 10:43
    They were moving
    towards a naturalistic concept.
  • 10:43 - 10:47
    And if you look, for example,
    in the Declaration of Independence,
  • 10:47 - 10:49
    they talk about nature and nature's God.
  • 10:49 - 10:51
    They don't talk about God
    and God's nature.
  • 10:52 - 10:55
    They're talking about the power of nature
    to tell us who we are.
  • 10:55 - 10:59
    So as part of that,
    they were coming to us with a concept
  • 10:59 - 11:01
    that was about anatomical commonality.
  • 11:02 - 11:05
    And in doing so, they were really
    setting up in a beautiful way
  • 11:05 - 11:07
    the Civil Rights Movement of the future.
  • 11:07 - 11:11
    They didn't think of it that way,
    but they did it for us, and it was great.
  • 11:11 - 11:12
    So what happened years afterwards?
  • 11:12 - 11:16
    What happened was women, for example,
    who wanted the right to vote,
  • 11:16 - 11:19
    took the Founding Fathers' concept
    of anatomical commonality
  • 11:19 - 11:21
    being more important
    than anatomical difference
  • 11:21 - 11:24
    and said, "The fact that we have
    a uterus and ovaries
  • 11:24 - 11:27
    is not significant enough
    in terms of a difference
  • 11:27 - 11:29
    to mean that we shouldn't
    have the right to vote,
  • 11:29 - 11:33
    the right to full citizenship,
    the right to own property, etc."
  • 11:33 - 11:35
    And women successfully argued that.
  • 11:35 - 11:37
    Next came the successful
    Civil Rights Movement,
  • 11:37 - 11:39
    where we found people like Sojourner Truth
  • 11:39 - 11:42
    talking about, "Ain't I a woman?"
  • 11:42 - 11:46
    We find men on the marching lines
    of the Civil Rights Movement
  • 11:46 - 11:47
    saying, "I am a man."
  • 11:47 - 11:51
    Again, people of color
    appealing to a commonality of anatomy
  • 11:51 - 11:54
    over a difference of anatomy,
    again, successfully.
  • 11:54 - 11:57
    We see the same thing
    with the disability rights movement.
  • 11:57 - 12:00
    The problem is, of course,
  • 12:00 - 12:02
    that, as we begin to look
    at all that commonality,
  • 12:02 - 12:06
    we have to begin to question
    why we maintain certain divisions.
  • 12:06 - 12:08
    Mind you, I want to maintain
    some divisions,
  • 12:08 - 12:10
    anatomically, in our culture.
  • 12:10 - 12:14
    For example, I don't want to give a fish
    the same rights as a human.
  • 12:14 - 12:16
    I don't want to say
    we give up entirely on anatomy.
  • 12:16 - 12:18
    I don't want to say a five-year-old
  • 12:18 - 12:21
    should be allowed to consent
    to sex or consent to marry.
  • 12:21 - 12:23
    So there are some anatomical divisions
  • 12:23 - 12:26
    that make sense to me
    and that I think we should retain.
  • 12:26 - 12:29
    But the challenge is trying
    to figure out which ones they are
  • 12:29 - 12:31
    and why do we retain them,
    and do they have meaning.
  • 12:32 - 12:35
    So let's go back to those two beings
    conceived at the beginning of this talk.
  • 12:35 - 12:37
    We have two beings, both conceived
  • 12:37 - 12:41
    in the middle of 1979
    on the exact same day.
  • 12:41 - 12:44
    Let's imagine one of them, Mary,
    is born three months prematurely,
  • 12:44 - 12:47
    so she's born on June 1, 1980.
  • 12:47 - 12:51
    Henry, by contrast, is born at term,
    so he's born on March 1, 1980.
  • 12:52 - 12:54
    Simply by virtue of the fact
  • 12:54 - 12:56
    that Mary was born
    prematurely three months,
  • 12:56 - 13:00
    she comes into all sorts of rights
    three months earlier than Henry does...
  • 13:00 - 13:05
    The right to consent to sex,
    the right to vote, the right to drink.
  • 13:05 - 13:06
    Henry has to wait for all of that,
  • 13:06 - 13:09
    not because he's actually
    any different in age, biologically,
  • 13:09 - 13:12
    except in terms of when he was born.
  • 13:12 - 13:15
    We find other kinds of weirdness
    in terms of what their rights are.
  • 13:15 - 13:18
    Henry, by virtue of being
    assumed to be male...
  • 13:18 - 13:20
    Although I haven't told you
    that he's the XY one...
  • 13:20 - 13:24
    By virtue of being assumed to be male
    is now liable to be drafted,
  • 13:24 - 13:26
    which Mary does not need to worry about.
  • 13:26 - 13:30
    Mary, meanwhile, cannot in all the states
    have the same right
  • 13:30 - 13:32
    that Henry has in all the states,
  • 13:32 - 13:33
    namely, the right to marry.
  • 13:33 - 13:36
    Henry can marry, in every state, a woman,
  • 13:36 - 13:39
    but Mary can only marry today
    in a few states, a woman.
  • 13:39 - 13:42
    So we have these anatomical
    categories that persist,
  • 13:42 - 13:46
    that are in many ways
    problematic and questionable.
  • 13:46 - 13:48
    And the question to me becomes:
  • 13:48 - 13:54
    What do we do, as our science
    gets to be so good in looking at anatomy,
  • 13:54 - 13:56
    that we reach the point
    where we have to admit
  • 13:56 - 13:59
    that a democracy
    that's been based on anatomy
  • 13:59 - 14:01
    might start falling apart?
  • 14:02 - 14:05
    I don't want to give up the science,
    but at the same time,
  • 14:05 - 14:08
    it feels sometimes like the science
    is coming out from under us.
  • 14:08 - 14:09
    So where do we go?
  • 14:10 - 14:14
    It seems like what happens in our culture
    is a sort of pragmatic attitude:
  • 14:14 - 14:18
    "We have to draw the line somewhere,
    so we will draw the line somewhere."
  • 14:18 - 14:20
    But a lot of people get stuck
    in a very strange position.
  • 14:20 - 14:25
    So for example, Texas has at one point
    decided that what it means to marry a man
  • 14:25 - 14:28
    is to mean that you don't have
    a Y chromosome,
  • 14:28 - 14:31
    and what it means to marry a woman
    means you have a Y chromosome.
  • 14:31 - 14:33
    In practice they don't test people
    for their chromosomes.
  • 14:33 - 14:35
    But this is also very bizarre,
  • 14:35 - 14:37
    because of the story I told you
    at the beginning
  • 14:37 - 14:39
    about androgen insensitivity syndrome.
  • 14:39 - 14:43
    If we look at one of the Founding Fathers
    of modern democracy,
  • 14:43 - 14:44
    Dr. Martin Luther King,
  • 14:44 - 14:47
    he offers us something of a solution
    in his "I have a dream" speech.
  • 14:47 - 14:50
    He says we should judge people
    "based not on the color of their skin,
  • 14:50 - 14:52
    but on the content of their character,"
  • 14:52 - 14:54
    moving beyond anatomy.
  • 14:54 - 14:57
    And I want to say, "Yeah, that sounds
    like a really good idea."
  • 14:57 - 14:59
    But in practice, how do you do it?
  • 14:59 - 15:01
    How do you judge people based
    on the content of character?
  • 15:02 - 15:03
    I also want to point out
  • 15:03 - 15:07
    that I'm not sure that is how we should
    distribute rights in terms of humans,
  • 15:07 - 15:10
    because, I have to admit, that there
    are some golden retrievers I know
  • 15:10 - 15:14
    that are probably more deserving of social
    services than some humans I know.
  • 15:14 - 15:18
    I also want to say there are probably
    also some yellow Labradors that I know
  • 15:18 - 15:21
    that are more capable of informed,
    intelligent, mature decisions
  • 15:21 - 15:23
    about sexual relations
    than some 40-year-olds that I know.
  • 15:23 - 15:28
    So how do we operationalize
    the question of content of character?
  • 15:28 - 15:30
    It turns out to be really difficult.
  • 15:30 - 15:31
    And part of me also wonders,
  • 15:31 - 15:33
    what if content of character
  • 15:33 - 15:36
    turns out to be something
    that's scannable in the future...
  • 15:37 - 15:39
    Able to be seen with an fMRI?
  • 15:39 - 15:41
    Do we really want to go there?
  • 15:41 - 15:43
    I'm not sure where we go.
  • 15:43 - 15:45
    What I do know is that it seems
    to be really important
  • 15:45 - 15:48
    to think about the idea
    of the United States being in the lead
  • 15:48 - 15:50
    of thinking about this issue of democracy.
  • 15:50 - 15:53
    We've done a really good job
    struggling with democracy,
  • 15:53 - 15:55
    and I think we would do
    a good job in the future.
  • 15:55 - 15:58
    We don't have a situation
    that Iran has, for example,
  • 15:58 - 16:00
    where a man who's sexually
    attracted to other men
  • 16:00 - 16:01
    is liable to be murdered,
  • 16:01 - 16:04
    unless he's willing
    to submit to a sex change,
  • 16:04 - 16:06
    in which case he's allowed to live.
  • 16:06 - 16:08
    We don't have that kind of situation.
  • 16:08 - 16:11
    I'm glad to say we don't have
    the kind of situation with...
  • 16:11 - 16:13
    A surgeon I talked to a few years ago
  • 16:13 - 16:16
    who had brought over a set
    of conjoined twins
  • 16:16 - 16:19
    in order to separate them,
    partly to make a name for himself.
  • 16:19 - 16:22
    But when I was on the phone with him,
    asking why he'll do this surgery...
  • 16:22 - 16:26
    This was a very high-risk surgery...
    His answer was that, in this other nation,
  • 16:26 - 16:30
    these children were going to be treated
    very badly, and so he had to do this.
  • 16:30 - 16:33
    My response to him was, "Well,
    have you considered political asylum
  • 16:33 - 16:34
    instead of a separation surgery?"
  • 16:34 - 16:37
    The United States has offered
    tremendous possibility
  • 16:37 - 16:39
    for allowing people
    to be the way they are,
  • 16:39 - 16:43
    without having them have
    to be changed for the sake of the state.
  • 16:43 - 16:45
    So I think we have to be in the lead.
  • 16:45 - 16:48
    Well, just to close,
    I want to suggest to you
  • 16:48 - 16:50
    that I've been talking
    a lot about the Fathers.
  • 16:50 - 16:52
    And I want to think
    about the possibilities
  • 16:52 - 16:55
    of what democracy might look like,
    or might have looked like,
  • 16:55 - 16:57
    if we had more involved the mothers.
  • 16:58 - 17:01
    And I want to say something
    a little bit radical for a feminist,
  • 17:01 - 17:04
    and that is that I think that there may be
    different kinds of insights
  • 17:05 - 17:07
    that can come from different
    kinds of anatomies,
  • 17:07 - 17:09
    particularly when we have
    people thinking in groups.
  • 17:09 - 17:12
    For years, because
    I've been interested in intersex,
  • 17:12 - 17:14
    I've also been interested
    in sex-difference research.
  • 17:14 - 17:17
    And one of the things
    that I've been interested in
  • 17:17 - 17:19
    is looking at the differences
    between males and females
  • 17:19 - 17:22
    in terms of the way they think
    and operate in the world.
  • 17:22 - 17:24
    And what we know
    from cross-cultural studies
  • 17:24 - 17:26
    is that females, on average...
  • 17:26 - 17:28
    Not everyone, but on average...
  • 17:28 - 17:33
    Are more inclined to be very attentive
    to complex social relations
  • 17:33 - 17:35
    and to taking care of people
  • 17:35 - 17:37
    who are, basically,
    vulnerable within the group.
  • 17:38 - 17:40
    And so if we think about that,
  • 17:40 - 17:42
    we have an interesting situation in hands.
  • 17:42 - 17:44
    Years ago, when I was in graduate school,
  • 17:44 - 17:47
    one of my graduate advisors
    who knew I was interested in feminism...
  • 17:47 - 17:50
    I considered myself
    a feminist, as I still do,
  • 17:50 - 17:51
    asked a really strange question.
  • 17:51 - 17:54
    He said, "Tell me what's feminine
    about feminism."
  • 17:54 - 17:57
    And I thought, "Well, that's the dumbest
    question I've ever heard.
  • 17:57 - 18:00
    Feminism is all about undoing
    stereotypes about gender,
  • 18:00 - 18:02
    so there's nothing
    feminine about feminism."
  • 18:02 - 18:04
    But the more I thought about his question,
  • 18:04 - 18:07
    the more I thought there might be
    something feminine about feminism.
  • 18:07 - 18:10
    That is to say, there might be
    something, on average,
  • 18:10 - 18:13
    different about female
    brains from male brains
  • 18:13 - 18:18
    that makes us more attentive
    to deeply complex social relationships,
  • 18:18 - 18:21
    and more attentive
    to taking care of the vulnerable.
  • 18:21 - 18:24
    So whereas the Fathers
    were extremely attentive
  • 18:24 - 18:28
    to figuring out how to protect
    individuals from the state,
  • 18:28 - 18:31
    it's possible that if we injected
    more mothers into this concept,
  • 18:31 - 18:35
    what we would have is more of a concept
    of not just how to protect,
  • 18:35 - 18:37
    but how to care for each other.
  • 18:37 - 18:40
    And maybe that's where
    we need to go in the future,
  • 18:40 - 18:42
    when we take democracy beyond anatomy,
  • 18:42 - 18:46
    is to think less about the individual body
    in terms of the identity,
  • 18:46 - 18:48
    and think more about those relationships.
  • 18:48 - 18:52
    So that as we the people
    try to create a more perfect union,
  • 18:52 - 18:55
    we're thinking about what we do
    for each other.
  • 18:55 - 18:56
    Thank you.
  • 18:56 - 18:59
    (Applause)
Title:
Is anatomy destiny? | Alice Dreger | TEDxNorthwesternU
Description:

Alice Dreger works with people at the edge of anatomy, such as conjoined twins and intersexed people. In her observation, it's often a fuzzy line between male and female, among other anatomical distinctions. Which brings up a huge question: Why do we let our anatomy determine our fate?

more » « less
Video Language:
English
Team:
TED
Project:
TEDxTalks
Duration:
19:11

English subtitles

Revisions Compare revisions