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Hormone Research

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Hormone Research

Hormone research has been greatly influenced by cultural assumptions about the dimorphism of gender. Much of the scientific data produced and taken as ‘knowledge’ reaffirms social ideologies already thought to be true and uses this data to essentially prove these ideas. In the case of hormone research, ideas about the innate differences between males and females were imposed upon the scientific methodologies and the conclusions made. The misconception of estrogen and testosterone projected cultural ideas about femininity and masculinity, and implied difference. The fact that these hormones are secreted from ‘sexual organs’ gave scientific license to claim them as sexual hormones: the explanatory factor of the male female difference. This essay will discuss how the study of hormones reaffirmed culturally constructed notions of the innate difference between male and female and the idea that this fact is biologically determined.

The early 1900s was a time of social and political upheaval regarding developing thought on feminism and equal rights, the hormone studies and ideas of “sex antagonism” by the physiologist Eugen Steinach greatly show how this science was influenced by cultural notions (Fausto-Sterling, 159). As asserted by Anne Fausto-Sterling, Steinach’s “entire life’s work was premised on the unexamined idea that there must be a sharp ‘natural’ distinction between maleness and femaleness” (Fausto-Sterling, 158). Instead of observing these hormones without bias and looking to understand how they function, Steinach sets out to prove a difference. The language which he uses to define the characteristics of these hormones reflects the thought process of the times. Describing the interaction of hormones in “militaristic terms” he relates on the “battles of the antagonistic actions of sex hormones” and marks their “sharp antagonism” (Fausto-Sterling, 159). The language used to describe this study outlines his agenda as he uses loaded terms like antagonism instead of the more appropriate term, inhibition. This study dealing with the transplantation of ovaries and testes in guinea pigs uses the study of the abnormal or the object of study out of its natural context to understand it. The evidence and the conclusions made by Steinach illuminate his ideas as his data as his data can have many interpretations. This study, though valid in some ways to the understanding and effects of ovaries and testes essentially projects the “political story of human sex antagonism that paralleled contemporary social struggles” (Fausto-Sterling, 162). These studies and the terms used to define them create a degree of ‘fact’ which leads to further study along with living on in popular thought.
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