FPR-UCLA Sex & Gender Conference 2015
A Critical Moment: Sex/Gender Research at the Intersection of Culture, Brain, & Behavior
6th FPR-UCLA Conference | October 23–24 (Fri–Sat), 2015 | UCLA
A Critical Moment: Sex/Gender Research at the Intersection of Culture, Brain, & Behavior
6th FPR-UCLA Conference | October 23–24 (Fri–Sat), 2015 | UCLA
Arthur P. Arnold, PhD, Director, Laboratory of Neuroendocrinology, Brain Research Institute, UCLA
Sex differences in mind and body are caused by a bewildering interaction of biological and environmental forces. Our biology sculpts the environments in which we exist, and the environments in turn have profound physical effects on our genome, altering the biological instructions passed from our ancestors. Genome and environment cannot be understood except through an appreciation of the other. Understanding the sex differences, embedded within our genomes, starts with a consideration of the sex chromosomes, X and Y, both of which are unequally represented in females and males, and both of which independently cause sex differences in physiology and disease. Some sex-biased biological factors counteract the effects of others, reducing sex differences rather than enhancing them. The biological factors influence each other via numerous mechanisms, including epigenetic modification of the genome. The same epigenetic mechanisms are also sensitive to the social environments that are gendered and considerably different for the two sexes. Although little is known about the epigenetic effects of the gendered environments, the research tools are in place to begin to decipher how environments change the readout of the genome. Hopefully these tools will help achieve a better appreciation of the interplay of genes and environments in creating sex and gender differences.
Gilbert Herdt, PhD, Founding Director and Professor, Graduate Program in Human Sexuality, California Institute for Integral Studies; Emeritus Director, National Sexuality Resource Center; Professor of Sexuality and Anthropology, San Francisco State University
In two short generations the Sambia of Papua New Guinea experienced the most extraordinary transition, from constant warfare and ritual-controlled sexuality to contemporary individual-centered sexual meanings and relationships. Based upon long-term anthropological field work [1974-2010] and a humanistic eye both to detail and the big picture, this study reveals how Sambia sexual socialization and desire were grounded through ritual initiation and male-dominated arranged marriages in traditional warrior life, including prescribed secret homoerotic practices for all males. Male sexual fluidity resulted from this regime, enigmatically providing the resources young males needed to navigate a tight-jacket system of ritual-based initiation advancements and arranged marital obligations. However this ancient form of human development fell away in the colonial context of evolving interpersonal and individual norms, subjectivities, and behavioral development, as evangelical Christian practice revolutionized gendered and sexual relationships through socio-economic development and primary schooling, thus greatly empowering young women in their selection of mates and female preference for “luv” marriage and vaginal over oral sex found in male/male and male/female relationships. Although this overall sexual outcome superficially resembles everyday plain vanilla “date and mate” relationships in modern life, today’s Sambia psychosexual reality is actually more complex because of a powerful inter-generational struggle over the meaning of “good” versus “bad” sexual practice. The Sambia have proved themselves resilient as individuals in this historic transformation, even as their traditional sexuality and hegemonic male rituals have not. Sambia male sexual fluidity in particular was an ancient and extreme adaptation to war and reproductive selective pressure, an expression of human sexual plasticity not so difficult to create in other human groups; but the practice became increasingly problematic to control and keep secret, and ritual sex is now a suppressed history as the Sambia make their way into the dreary marketplace of global 21st individualism. This evolution and/or revolutionary transformation among the Sambia raises perennial questions regarding the plasticity and innateness of human nature and culture.
Sara Schaafsma, PhD, and Donald Pfaff, PhD, Laboratory of Neurobiology and Behavior, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY
Sex differences comprise a prominent aspect of the behavioral biology of animals, but they tend to become very subtle as they proceed from those behaviors essential for reproduction toward those that are not connected with reproduction. Robust mechanistic explanations of sex differences in brain mechanisms and behavior have classically depended on the effects of testosterone and its metabolites. However, the thinking and experimental work of Arthur Arnold (UCLA; Conference Co-Chair) raised the concept of genetic contributions to sex differences independent of testosterone itself (Trends in Genetics, 2012). Beyond having a history of explaining sexually differentiated behaviors (summarized in Man and Woman: An Inside Story, Oxford University Press, 2010), we were drawn to study the large sex difference in autism (80% boys), the most prominent biological constant in the huge range of autism spectrum disorders. Our initial approach resulted in a”3-hit” theory of the sex difference: sex x early stress x genetic mutation (Autism Research, 2011). However, that theory was largely testosterone-based, and our subsequent and broader views of sex differences in brain and behavior, influenced by Arnold, were recently published (Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 2014). To test the 3-hit theory we used (1) the autism-related CNTNAP2 mutation published by the Geschwind lab; (2) early prenatal stress (first trimester); and (3) comparisons of males with female mice. On the one hand, we have behavioral data that fit the 3-hit theory, and can string together mRNA evidence and epigenomic (histone modification) evidence gathered from the same mice, in order to sketch a potential causal chain of events. On the other hand, not all of our data fit the theory, and we would not argue for the exclusion of other causal factors.
James Rilling, PhD, Winship Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Anthropology, Emory University
Compared with maternal caregiving, paternal caregiving is highly variable across species, across human cultures and among men within any given culture. I will briefly survey variation in paternal behavior across species and cultures, identifying factors associated with higher levels of male caregiving. While paternal provisioning and protection are cross-culturally ubiquitous, direct forms of paternal caregiving are more variable. In our own society, social structural influences place greater direct caregiving demands upon men, and there is good evidence that children benefit from this paternal involvement in terms of social, psychological and educational outcomes. Yet, men vary in their desire and ability to embrace the direct caregiving role. While acknowledging the critical influence of non-biological factors, I will use life history theory to attempt to explain variation in male parental caregiving. I will also present hormonal and neuroimaging data from our own lab and others that is consistent with this theory.
Kathy Huang, Filmmaker
Michael G. Peletz, Professor, Department of Anthropology, Emory University
This paper draws on long-term ethnographic research spanning the period 1978–2013 and has three goals. First, to illustrate how neoliberalism and the punitive cultural-political turn that commonly goes hand-in-hand with it have informed dynamics of gender and sexuality in Southeast Asia, particularly Malaysia and Indonesia. Second, to engage some of the ways that far-reaching but invariably uneven global processes help shape and give meaning to the intimate and embodied lives of variably situated social actors on the ground. And third, to elucidate how the concepts of “gender pluralism” and “graduated pluralism” that I have developed elsewhere (Peletz, 2009) can facilitate our understanding of these dynamics.
Melissa Hines, PhD, Professor, Department of Psychology, University of Cambridge, UK
Thousands of experimental studies in non-human species have documented the important role of testosterone in sexual differentiation of the mammalian brain and subsequent behavior. These studies suggest that testosterone influences basic processes of neural development, such as cell survival and neural connectivity, early in life, and that these early neural changes produce enduring changes in gender-related behaviour. In human beings, early exposure to testosterone also influences the development of gender-related behavior, contributing to behavioral differences between the sexes, as well as individual differences within each sex. The behaviors that are influenced include gender identity, sexual orientation and childhood gender-typed toy, playmate and activity choices, with the influences on children’s gender-typed play being particularly robust. Children’s gender-typed play also is influenced by other factors, however, including postnatal socialization and processes related to cognitive understanding of gender. This presentation will explore various mechanisms that could underlie the influence of early testosterone exposure on children’s gender-typed play. Conclusions include: 1. Testosterone contributes to the development of human gender-related behavior, but is unlikely to act solely by influencing neural development prenatally. 2. Neurobehavioral sexual differentiation is multi-dimensional, and different types of factors appear to contribute differently to each dimension. 3. A next step is elucidating the mechanisms by which testosterone influences specific aspects of human gender-related behavior.
Hillard Kaplan, PhD, Department of Anthropology, University of New Mexico
The paper reviews data on physiological and behavior investments in cognitive and somatic capital in economies based on foraging or a mix of foraging and horticulture. The review examines how both short and long term payoffs affect optimal physiological and behavioral phenotypes for men and women. Developmental commitments that evolve over many generations appear to interact with current ecological, social and economic conditions in determining the actual division of labor and its variation within and among societies. The implications of these considerations for the future are then discussed.
Marcia Inhorn, PhD, MPH, William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs, Department of Anthropology, Yale University
Contrary to popular expectation, male infertility is the world’s most common form of infertility, contributing to more than half of all cases of childlessness around the globe. In the 21st century, men in a variety of national settings are engaging in high-tech forms of assisted reproduction to overcome their childlessness. Indeed, the gender relations surrounding infertility appear to have changed significantly over time, as diagnostic semen analysis techniques and assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) spread around the globe. Overall, ARTs appear to be changing gender relations in several positive ways through: 1) increased knowledge of both male and female infertility among the general population; 2) normalization of both male and female infertility problems as medical conditions that can be overcome; 3) decreased stigma, blame, and social suffering for both men and women; 4) increased marital commitment as husbands and wives seek ART services together; and 5) increased male adoption of ARTs, especially for male infertility problems. In other words, the coming of ARTs to previously ART-poor settings can lead to major, positive impacts on sex/gender systems more generally. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Middle East, a region that has witnessed an true proliferation of ART services over the past three decades. Through in-depth ethnography undertaken in ART clinics in four countries, this paper captures the “emergent masculinities” of ordinary Middle Eastern men as they struggle to overcome their infertility and childlessness through ARTs. Although few Middle Eastern Muslim men are willing to accept sperm donation or the social fatherhood of donor children, they are nonetheless rethinking manhood and the imperative of biogenetic fatherhood as they undertake transnational quests for conception with wives they love. In forwarding the trope of “emergent masculinities” to capture these new norms and forms of masculine practice, this paper questions taken-for-granted assumptions about Middle Eastern men as men in an era of emerging science and technology.
Carole H. Browner, PhD, MPH, Distinguished Research Professor, Center for Culture and Health, Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior; Departments of Anthropology and Gender Studies, UCLA; Member of the FPR Advisory Board
While societies necessarily hold stakes in their own perpetuation, the extent to which their female members have managed to control their bodily integrity and reproduction has varied throughout time and place. I will discuss the circumstances under which women have succeeded in maintaining control over their bodies, often despite severe societal strictures. In so doing, I offer an analysis of the impact of contemporary population policies, biopower, biopolitics, and neoliberalism in enabling or deterring women from exercising reproductive autonomy. My conclusions will reflect upon global challenges to women’s reproductive freedom today and consider whether a comprehensive notion of reproductive justice provides a viable framework for understanding the broad range of threats to reproductive autonomy and the means to overcome them.
Karen Devries, BSc, PhD, Department of Global Health and Development, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
Back in the 19th century, the eminent sociologist Emile Durkheim decided that suicide rates were lower among women because the protective respite of the domestic sphere seemed to have a calming and stabilising influence on mental health. Indeed, for men, it seems that being married is protective against poor mental health outcomes. But new data paints a different picture about what things are actually like at home, for women. I will present results of a recent global study we conducted to examine the prevalence and health effects of intimate partner violence against women. We showed that fully 30% of women will experience physical and/or sexual violence from an intimate partner at some point in their lifetime. Yet, there is considerable variation across regions in levels of violence. Drawing on this study and other recent work, I will discuss whether or not this form of male violence against women is inevitable.
Matthew Gutmann, PhD, MPH, Professor, Department of Anthropology; Faculty Fellow, Watson Institute; Director, Brown International Advanced Research Institutes (BIARI), Brown University
I will explore popular enthusiasm for putative scientific beliefs that men have minimal control over their sexual and violent “natures” and that they must be managed and restrained, usually by societal restrictions, and by the women in their lives. A folk biological narrative can be compelling when trying to understand gendered undercurrents in biological explanations about human behavior pervasive today in various societies. Nonetheless the biology of maleness may be more remarked upon than understood, and why and how analytic frames referencing heredity, genes, and hormones hold sway in the popular imaginary in three societies (China, Mexico, and the United States) at this particular historical moment rests on more than simply the credibility of scientific discovery.
Robert Lemelson, PhD, Filmmaker