Thursday, March 25, 2010

Feminist Theory and Analytic Sentences

I just came across a discussion of the analytic/synthetic distinction in a philosophy of science textbook (one that's still in print and available through Wadsworth).

As the only example of an analytic sentence, the (male) author gives

"All women are female"

with the further explanation that it's analytic because the "meaning of the words determines its truth and because nothing that has happened in the world, can happen, or will happen, can change its truth status."

This seems like a good time to bring up the sex/gender distinction, something that is taught in introductory women's studies classes. We may go on to question and trouble the distinction itself, but a good place to start is to note:
1. sex (female) is biological and gender (woman) is social
2. the male-female sex dichotomy does not hold perfectly in humans. Indeed, for about 1% of the human population one or more sexual features are out of step with the others--chromosomal abnormalities, hormonal abnormalities, anatomical abnormalities. Some argue that to call these "abnormalities" is itself ignorant of how common they are. Moreover, in the US, about .25% of the population has changed gender.

And yes, the beautiful woman in that image is not female.


Khadimir said...

Good post.

What about the further subdivision of biological sex, gender, and erotic inclination, of which I know you are familiar?

Anonymous said...

wow. Kind of boggles my mind that that ended up in a textbook.

Evelyn Brister said...

I mentioned this example in my philosophy of science class. Not a beat passed before my students were all over it. "Analytic?" "Is that sexist or homophobic?" one student wondered. I guess it's a generational thing?

I brought up this example because students were talking about why Wesley Salmon chose to develop an example of probabilistic causality that considered a man with impotence, his frigid wife, and what sort of psychotherapy would be most likely to cure them. "Frigid?" they asked. "That's insulting." "It's a medical problem" another said. One pointed out that the chances of being cured by a non-directive psychotherapist could not be estimated without first knowing the psychotherapists' estimate of how much money could be extracted from the patient.