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Genderless, or Clueless? May 24, 2011

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Nina Rosenstand's Posts, Philosophy of Gender, Philosophy of Human Nature.
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First of all, Hi everybody—sorry I’ve been so quiet lately. Just finishing the stacks of papers to be graded, and other work to be completed before the summer—it’s been a busy semester. Good classes, good discussions, but very little energy left over for blogging. I have, however, been tweeting! You can find my tweets under “@Socalethicsprof.”

Next, the story: I read it this morning, and it has been poking at me ever since: A family in Toronto has made a decision which seems to me right out of the Seventies (yes, I remember them well): they are raising their third baby without telling anyone his/her gender.

“When the baby comes out, even the people who love you the most and know you so intimately, the first question they ask is, ‘Is it a girl or a boy?’” says Witterick, bouncing Storm, dressed in a red-fleece jumper, on her lap at the kitchen table.

“If you really want to get to know someone, you don’t ask what’s between their legs,” says Stocker.

When Storm was born, the couple sent an email to friends and family: “We’ve decided not to share Storm’s sex for now — a tribute to freedom and choice in place of limitation, a stand up to what the world could become in Storm’s lifetime (a more progressive place? …).”

It seems to me that the parents are trying to do two different things, and they aren’t necessarily compatible: For one thing, they’re trying to educate the world about its knee-jerk ways of gender assumptions. Well, that’s been attempted since the 1960s, and while it is a noble thought—and I’ve done my share of attempting to Educate the World over the years, giving my cousins’ and friends’ babies stuffed toys and farm animal figures instead of dolls and toy trucks, and choosing green and yellow baby clothes instead of pinks and blues—you’re up against 100,000 years of Homo Sapiens stereotypes. And it is somewhat naive of the parents to think they can put a dent in hardwired human nature. However, things have changed since the mid-20th century, and gender roles have become more flexible, due to new ideals and a willingness to be nonconformist. But the other side to their project seems to me far less noble, and mostly self-serving: They are trying to force Storm into a mold that they consider politically preferable: a world where gender roles are a matter of choice. They’re waiting to see what kind of person s/he will choose to be—but after the sad case of David Reimer in the 1990s and other failed attempts at enforcing the psychosexual neutrality theory, haven’t we all had to realize that a fair amount of sexual identity is hardwired? In other words, Storm will discover who s/he is, not choose it, and no amount of societal pressure from people making assumptions about her/his gender is going to make a bit of difference. I’m afraid the only thing the parents will accomplish is turning their child into a social experiment. In a way all of us, as children, have of course been social experiments, and most of us have turned out fairly well-functioning, but part of being a child is being allowed to feel safe, and to belong. Children are hungry for rules and predictability, and little Storm is being set up so s/he will be the oddball of whatever community s/he will be a part of. Choice is great, but not until one is mature enough to know what one is choosing.

A psychologist, Diane Ehrensaft, author of Gender Born, Gender Made, has some good comments to the story:

Ehrensaft believes there is something innate about gender, and points to the ’70s, when parents experimented by giving dolls to boys and trucks to girls.

“It only worked up to a certain extent. Some girls never played with the trucks, some boys weren’t interested in ballet … It was a humbling experiment for us because we learned we don’t have the control that we thought we did.”

But she worries by not divulging Storm’s sex, the parents are denying the child a way to position himself or herself in a world where you are either male, female or in between. In effect they have created another category: Other than other. And that could marginalize the child.

“I believe that it puts restrictions on this particular baby so that in this culture this baby will be a singular person who is not being given an opportunity to find their true gender self, based on also what’s inside them.”

Ehrensaft gets the “What the heck?!” reaction people may have when they hear about Storm. “I think it probably makes people feel played with to have that information withheld from them.”

As Socrates would say, a well-balanced person is not just someone who understands himself or herself, but who also is a well-adjusted citizen. You can’t become a well-adjusted citizen in a world where other people think you’re trying to fool them…


Maybe a Brockovich Moment? April 4, 2009

Posted by Nina Rosenstand in Current Events, Film, Nina Rosenstand's Posts.
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I watched part of Erin Brockovich yesterday, and caught one of the best moments in the film—a really stellar movie moment—where the female corporate lawyer at the Big Meeting is trying to marginalize Erin’s concern for the drinking water while lifting a glass of water to her lips. Erin points out that the water could come from the contaminated area, and the woman pauses, looks at the water glass, and puts it down, with a look of terror and defeat on her face. This is a “Golden Rule” moment: How would you like it if you were the one about to lose your uterus, or your life, because of contaminants? The reason I bring this up is because of the news that baby formula, here in the U.S., has been found to contain low levels of a chemical also used in rocket fuel, perchlorate—all 15 brands tested. Now this is not exactly a melamine story, or even a contaminated-peanuts story. Nothing was added deliberately, or a contaminant ignored, for profit.

Perchlorate has been found in the water supplies of 35 states and has been detected in everything from vegetables to milk. In the case of dairy, the rocket fuel in the water flows into grass, which is eaten by cows, and is then passed along into milk.

And the Environmental Protection Agency says the levels are safe. But the concern is that not only does the formula contain the chemical in powder form; when it gets mixed with water (with local perchlorate) the contamination increases.

CDC researchers write that “this is reassuring at first glance,” but add that it could be problematic because drinking water in 26 states has high perchlorate levels. So, mixing contaminated powdered milk with contaminated water in those places could result in a dangerous exposure.


The current study was done in one (unnamed) city only, so it could simply be that that city is the one with the problem. Maybe. But how did perchlorate get into the water supply? The ABC News article quoted here doesn’t say, and neither does a New York Times report on the same story. So maybe it has a natural origin? This is what I’ve been able to find, from the CA Department of Toxic Control’s website: It’s partly naturally occurring, in caliche, but mostly found in fertilizer and, yes, rocket fuel. And it is really prevalent in California. But the news articles I read don’t say if the chemical is removed by water filters, or whether it is also present in bottled water. A lot of us simply don’t drink tap water, anyway. So is this the time to declare that our babies are slowly being poisoned? For some researchers and politicians, the EPA’s levels of safety are too high, and need to be revised. Others, such as Dr. Sheela Sathyanarayana from U. of Washington and a Seattle children’s hospital, says that this concern may be premature:

“Considered in isolation, these perchlorate concentrations in formula are not concerning for child health,” Sathyanarayana wrote in an e-mail to ABC News. “The reason that some may be concerned about health effects to children is that there are several sources of perchlorate in our environment … and, therefore, the cumulative dose of perchlorate to an infant may be much higher than that found in the formula.”

“That being said,” she added, “the most well-respected studies (only a handful exist) on perchlorate contamination have not found any link between perchlorate contamination in water and health impacts in children. Therefore, we truly do not know if this kind of contamination may be leading to health problems or not.”

 This may be another Alar scare (remember that? 1980s. Nobody dared eat apples because of a low-level carcinogenic chemical used to spray fruit. The concern was not unfounded, but blown out of proportion, according to some. As a result, Alar was removed from fruit production). And let’s face it, media scare stories get a lot of attention. I’m adding to it myself right here…This is an incomplete story. We need knowledge, not suspicion, hysteria, or paranoia. Sometimes chances are worth taking if the benefits are great, on social as well as personal levels. We all know that. But once we have solid knowledge (not “opinion,” or doxa, as Socrates would have said), we need to apply the Brockovich test, as part of our evaluation process: Even if it is statistically safe for, say, tens of thousands, would you agree for your own baby to be number 100,001, the statistical victim?

Friday Food Blogging 3/27/09 March 27, 2009

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Dwight Furrow's Posts, Food and Drink, Philosophy.
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Philosophy on the Mesa ponders all questions about how to live well—the spirit of Socrates lives on.

Questions like:

Stilltasty.com is a website with everything you need to know about what really matters. (h/t to IFA)

See! Isn’t philosophy practical?