Instructor: Bilinda Straight

Office: 1020 Moore Hall

Email: Bilinda.Straight (@)




ANTH 3480: Gender and Plastic Bodies



Course description

In U.S. society we tend to assume that there are two sexes—male and female. Even if we have learned that gender roles can change, as in expecting men to be more nurturing while more and more women pursue careers for example, we tend to accept that this is simply social change based on natural sexes. In this course we will focus on the United States with some cross-cultural comparisons in order to question this assumption of 'natural' sexes as we explore physiological variations as they are culturally interpreted and understood and cultural interventions of 'natural' sex. Thus, based on work in our own society and cross-culturally, we will focus our attention at and beyond the limits of sex and gender, examining: (1) the ways in which human societies interpret physiological variation; (2) transgender experiences and categories as they vary cross-culturally; (3) and the role of technology in (re)shaping the 'natural' sexes. Whether we are considering cyborg bodies, virtual bodies, tattooed and pierced bodies, or bodies surgically altered in a stunning variety of ways, we will be asking what is 'natural' and 'unnatural' about the assumed biological categories of male and female.


Course Texts are available at the campus bookstore or from online vendors like or 

1. Anne Fausto-Sterling (2000). Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality.

2. Alice Domurat Dreger (2000). Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex.

3. Serena Nanda (1998). Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India.


Other Readings are linked within the modules.


Course Requirements:


q  Participation in online class discussions via Discussion Board in D2L/e-learning



q  One Discussion Board (E-learning) posting of at least 250 words for each module according to module guidelines, due by 11:59 p.m. on dates in Course Schedule. 

q  One response (Blackboard) of at least 150 words to another student's posting for each module according to guidelines, due by 11:59 p.m. on dates in Course Schedule.

q  Additional assignments due as posted in modules and course schedule.


Explanation of assignments:

Reading assignments

All readings must be completed before completing discussion board postings. This course is based on the assumption that the course materials are intrinsically interesting and most of the work is your thoughtful response to readings and films, with some additional sleuthing on your part as suggested in modules.


D2L Discussion Board Posting and Response (70% of grade)

You must post a thoughtful, concise response of at least 250 words to the readings on the Blackboard Discussion Board for each module by 11:59 p.m. of due dates listed in Course Schedule. Your posting should reflect synthesized consideration of the readings for that module, guided by module questions but reflecting your own reactions to the readings. You must also read other students' postings and respond to at least one of them (150 word minimum) by 11:59 p.m. the day that module is due.  

The very important fine print on postings: You MUST do them, and every one that you miss will affect your grade very directly. Your grade will be calculated based on the number of postings you did divided by the name of postings possible. Thus, if there are 26 postings possible, and you did half of them, you would get 13 out of 26, or a 50% -- failing, in other words. If you missed four of them, you would have 22 out of 26, or an 84%.

Assignments (30 % of grade)

There are a few brief assignments, with due dates as posted in e-learning. Assignments will be graded on a 0, 1, 2, 3, 4 system, where 0 means you did not complete it or did not follow criteria; 1 means you did it to a minimum satisfactory level (70%), 2 means you did it satisfactorily (85%), 3 means you did A level work (94%), and 4 means you did an absolutely outstanding job (100%). The last assignment is meant to be a cumulative application of your learning in this course.





Introduction to the course


Module One

Introduction, Ground rules, and Trust-building


Defining Sex and Gender


Module Two

1. Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body (in your required purchased text): Ch 1: Dueling Dualisms 2. Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body (in your required purchased text): Ch 2: 'That Sexe Which Prevaileth'

3. Ch 6, Toward a Theory of Gender in Gender: An Ethnomethodological Approach (by Suzanne J. Kessler and Wendy McKenna) in D2L (this module)


Sexing Bodies

Module Three

1. Ch 4: Should There Be Only Two Sexes, Ch 6: Sex Glands, Hormones, and Gender Chemistry in Fausto-SterlingÔøΩs Sexing the Body (your required purchased text)

2. Ch 9: Gender Systems: Toward a Theory of Human Sexuality in Fausto-Sterling's Sexing the Body (your required purchased text)


Module Four

1. Prologue: 'But My Good Woman, You are a Man!' in Dreger's Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex (your required purchased text)

2. Ch 1: Doubtful Sex in Dreger's Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex (your required purchased text)

3. Ch 3: In Search of the Veritable Vulva required in Dreger's Hermaphrodites and the Medical Invention of Sex (your required purchased text) (and reading whole book is recommended)


Genital Surgeries for Ideal Categories: Desire and Anti-Desire Meet Plastic.


Module Five

1. Eric K. Silverman (2004). Anthropology and Circumcision. Annual Review of Anthropology 33: 419-445. In D2L (the module)

2. Simone Weil Davis (2002). Loose Lips Sink Ships. Feminist Studies 28(1): 7-35. In D2L (the module)

3. Straight and Holtzman (2003) Samburu. Encyclopedia of Sex and Gender: Men and Women in the World's Cultures. Human Relations Area Files at Yale University, Kluwer/PlenumIn D2L (the module)


Module Six

1. Fuambai Ahmadu (2007). 'Ain't I a Woman Too?': Challenging Myths of Sexual Dysfunction in Circumcised Women. Pp. 278-310 In Ylva Hernlund and Bettina Shell-Duncan (eds.) Transcultural Bodies: Female Genital Cutting in Global ContextIn D2L (the module)

2. Kirsten Bell (2005). Genital Cutting and Western Discourses on Sexuality. Medical Anthropology Quarterly, New Series 19(2): 125-148. In D2L (the module)




Module Seven

1. Robert Darby (2005) Ch 1, 'Introduction: The Willful Organ Meets Fantasy Surgery'. In D2L (the module)

2. Robert Darby (2005) Ch 2, 'The Best of Your Property: What a Boy Once Knew About Sex') (Pp. 3-43). In D2L (the module). Both chapters are in the book A Surgical Temptation: The Demonization of the Foreskin and the Rise of Circumcision in Britain.

3. Faiz Ansari (2007). Penis Enhancement Surgery: A Self Help Guide for Men. Excerpt: Pp. 1-11; 51-59. In D2L (the module)




Sensuous Alterations


Module Eight

1. Katherine Frank (2006). Agency. Anthropological Theory 6(3): 281-302. In D2L (the module).

2. Anne Balsamo (1995). On the Cutting Edge: Cosmetic Surgery and New Imaging Technologies. Pp. 56-79 In Balsamo's Technologies of the Gendered Body: Reading Cyborg WomenIn D2L (the module).


Module Nine


1. Virginia Blum (2006). Love My Neighbor, Hate Myself: The Vicissitudes of Affect in Cosmetic Surgery. Pp. 47-53 In Nancy Chen and Helene Moglen (eds.) Bodies in the Making: Transgressions and Transformations. (6 pages). In D2L (the module).

2. Victoria Pitts-Taylor (2007) Normal Extremes: Cosmetic Surgery Television (Chapter 2). Pp. 39-72 In Surgery Junkies: Wellness and Pathology in Cosmetic Culture. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. In D2L (the module).


Module Ten

1. Gabriela Sandoval (2006). Cutting Through Race and Class: Women of Color and Self-Injury. Pp. 85-88 In Nancy Chen and Helene Moglen (eds.) Bodies in the Making: Transgressions and Transformations. (3 pages). In D2L (the module).

2. Victoria Pitts (2003). Cyberpunk, Biomedicine, and the High-Tech Body. Pp. 151-184 In Pitts' In the Flesh: The Cultural Politics of Body Modification. In D2L (the module).

3. Rachel Gear (2001). All Those Nasty Womanly Things: Women Artists, Technology and the Monstrous-Feminine. Women's Studies International Forum 24(3/4): 213-333. In D2L (the module).


Module Eleven

1. Marc Blanchard (1991). Post-Bourgeois Tattoo: Reflections on Skin Writing in Late Capitalist Societies. Visual Anthropology Review 7(2): 11-21. In D2L (the module).

2. Michael Atkinson (2004). Tattooing and Civilizing Processes: Body Modification as Self-Control. Canadian Review of Sociology and Anthropology 41(2): 125-146. In D2L (the module).



Defining Transgender, Sculpting Transgender


Module Twelve

1. Serena Nanda (1998). Neither Man Nor Woman: The Hijras of India (your required purchased text). Read the entire book (it's slender), and read the Conclusion carefully.




Module Thirteen

1. Susan Stryker, Ch 1, Transgender Terms and Concepts in Transgender History. In D2L (the module).

2. Nan Alamilla Boyd (1997) Bodies in Motion: Lesbian and Transsexual Histories in A Queer World: the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies Reader. In D2L (the module).

3. Emi Koyama (2000) Whose Feminism is it Anyway? The Unspoken Racism of the Trans Inclusion Debate. In D2L (the module).


Module Fourteen

1. Jordy Jones (2006) Gender Without Genitals: Hedwig's Six Inches, Chapter 31 in The Transgender Studies Reader. In D2L (the module).

2. Jay Prosser (1998). A Skin of One's Own: Toward a Theory of Transsexual Embodiment. Pp.61-98 In Prosser's Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality. In D2L (the module).

3. Bernice Hausman (1995) Body, Technology, and gender in Transsexual Autobiographies in Changing Sex : Transsexualism, Technology, and the Idea of Gender. In D2L (the module).