Deleted sex scenes from Living in Love and Faith (3)

I’ve explained what these pieces represent, in the first post of the series. So here is another. In terms of trying to condense a huge topic into a few accessible words, this one was the biggest challenge. But I wanted to get across the point that ‘science’ is not neutral, that biological differences have been read in social terms, and that science is contested.

The history of biology 

While ‘sex’ is commonly used for biology and ‘gender’ for social roles, it’s clear from history that things are more complicated. 

Blood has long been seen as a key bodily fluid. In medieval and early modern medicine, it was one of the ‘four humours’, which could cause disease if there was an excess; the amount in the body could be controlled by diet and regulated by bloodletting. Menstrual blood was considered to be the result of women having more spongy flesh which took up more fluid from their diet, and many disorders in women were attributed to menstrual blood accumulating in the wrong place. By the nineteenth century, those arguing against women’s education suggested that too much use of the mind would deprive the womb of the blood needed to make a baby. Ideas about gender roles clearly influenced how biology was seen.

In the early twentieth century, when blood chemistry was still developing as an area of medicine, differences between men’s and women’s blood were noted. On average, women had lower levels of haemoglobin and of calcium. These biological differences were quickly interpreted in social terms. Women’s lower haemoglobin meant they should not exert themselves too much: their lower calcium made them more ‘highly strung’ and less ‘stable’. In England, those interpretations were then used by a 1923 Board of Education report into whether boys and girls should have the same school curriculum. The report was evidence of concern about the risk of ‘physical fatigue and nervous overstrain’ in girls, and it was recommended that they should be set less homework because it was assumed that they would also be doing domestic duties at home. The report drew on the second edition of Dr William Blair Bell’s book The Sex Complex, published in 1921, on the effects of puberty on both sexes, although the authors noted that this was ‘not yet generally accepted by physiologists’. 

About fluff35

I blog on a range of subjects arising from various aspects of my life. On, I focus on my reactions to early retirement and think about aspects of teaching and research which I hope will be stimulating to those still working in higher education. On, I blog as an authorized lay preacher in a pretty standard parish church of the Church of England, who needs to write in order to find out what she thinks. I took part in the Oxford/St Albans/Armed Forces C of E 'Shared Conversations' in March 2016, worked on the Living in Love and Faith resources from 2017 and was elected to General Synod in October 2021, and continue to try to reflect on some of the issues. On I share my thoughts on various aspects of the history of medicine and the body. I have also written for The Conversation UK on
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1 Response to Deleted sex scenes from Living in Love and Faith (3)

  1. Pingback: Living in Love and Faith – news and opinion – Thinking Anglicans

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