In the book Sexing the Body, Fausto-Sterling begins her first chapter “Defining Dualism” by exploring society’s ideas about gender and sex. Past sexologists have differentiated between sex and gender by defining sex as biologically and physiologically determined while describing gender as something that is more psychological and dependent on a person’s behavior. Furthermore, second-wave feminists stressed the idea that socialization is the primary factor that creates gender, rather than physiological differences. Fausto-Sterling explains that through this book she is attempting to demonstrate the ways in which science has created “truths about sexuality” and how these truths are what lead to our socially constructed views of gender. Thus, although many may accept information about gender, race and sexuality as factual we often do not see the impact of the social world and our experiences on these “facts”.
The world today has become obsessed with the idea of normalization, Fausto-Sterling explains. We are constantly trying to maintain the norm and therefore we only define two sexes. People look to define the normal as male or female, as well as either heterosexual or homosexual. People like clear-cut categories expressed through dualisms, which are often portrayed as part of a hierarchy. In the way that we define genders and sexuality in our society, Fausto-Sterling argues that we “narrow life’s possibilities while perpetuating gender inequality”.
The chapter, “Dueling Dualisms” also discusses the historical background concerning sexuality. Fausto-Sterling explains how our perception of sexuality has changed with time as well as culture, demonstrating that it is constructed socially. Furthermore, she emphasizes the idea that sexuality encompasses everything from physical factors to behavior and motivation. Sexuality is only constructed through a combination of these factors.
Fausto-Sterling also focuses on the idea of nature versus nurture with regards to dualistic thought processes. Developmental systems theory rejects the idea of two fundamentally different processes of genes and the environment, suggesting that the two concepts need to be combined.
The second chapter of Sexing the Body, “The Sexe Which Prevails”, explains that society works to establish two distinct sexes, even though biologically there is more of a sexual continuum. The idea of more than two sexes goes against norms and greatly disrupts society and thus we find benefit in keeping a male-female system of sex. Hermaphrodite history demonstrates that hermaphrodites were considered disruptive in the past; still, depending on the culture and nation they were treated in various manners. Some societies were more accepting such as the Italians, while others like the English found it “distasteful”. Nevertheless, these societies emphasized the idea of a male-female sex system.
The arrival of teratology worked to classify people with different bodies, lending explanations to uncommon births. Now due to scientific improvements, doctors are better able to “fix” sexuality abnormalities at birth. In this manner, doctors decide what sex the baby should be; Fausto-Sterling explains that this type of surgery emphasizes the societal assumptions that there should be only two sexes, heterosexuality is correct and that gender roles identify men and women. Thus, this works to maintain the socially constructed view of gender.