Sex and Science: Dutch Medicine and Intersexuality

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Course Information
Gender Studies
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Western gender-critical thinkers such as philosophers, sociologists and anthropologists have been studying the ways in which gender ideologies influence the male/female, nature/culture and mind/body dichotomies in scientific and medical knowledge. Their critique was directed at the unaccounted use of the heterosexual viewpoint as a natural fact, overlooking and marginalizing those who cannot meet the male/female dichotomy. For example people that were born with both male and female sex characteristics.

In medical publications this variety of conditions is known as “disorders of sex development”, “(pseudo)hermaphroditism”, or “intersexuality”. In this course we will close-read the Dutch medical case studies of “patients” with atypical sex anatomies. Subsequently, with the help of international academic critics, we will make a (discourse) analysis of sex and gender ideologies that informed medical practice in the Netherlands from 1940 up until now. We will zoom in on how intersexuality became a medical problem, that was supposed to be cured with surgery, hormone replacement therapy and withholding of medical information.

Looking closely at both the original Dutch medical texts and the international scholarly endeavors that deconstructed medical knowledge as contingent and situated, this course provides students with a toolkit to develop their own ways of challenging gender dichotomies in science and medicine. Dutch biomedical case studies on intersexuality will be studied as well as efforts to deconstruct these assumptions.

To reach an understanding of how the scientific and medical discourses on sex and gender influence lived experiences of people with intersex conditions, we will view and discuss personal stories of this group along with analyzing the medical viewpoints.