Marlborough is introducing two new Upper School gender studies electives, Reproductive Justice and the Biology of Sex and Gender, for the 2022-2023 school year. Each of the courses will be a semester-long class. 10th-12th graders can enroll in the Biology of Sex and Gender and 11th-12th graders can take Reproductive Justice.
Dean of Gender Studies and Feminism Deborah Banner decided to create these courses based on her experience teaching past English electives.
“The Biology of Sex and Gender and the history of Reproductive Justice grew out of the electives I’ve taught in the English department, where just by nature of the subject in gender and sexuality, we overlap with a lot of disciplines like Political Science, history, philosophy and journalism,” Banner said.
Banner plans on teaching the Reproductive Justice along with Science Department Head Lisa Ellis class if it gets sufficient enrollment to be offered during the 2022-2023 school year. In the Reproductive Justice class, students will learn about the history of reproductive access in the United States and contemporary debates over reproductive justice. Banner was inspired by the political debates over abortion access to propose this class.
“The issue of reproductive rights as a form of healthcare impacts just about every election, but people are terrified to talk about it,” Banner said. “Nobody feels comfortable openly discussing what it means to legislate abortion access, why it causes such division, why it creates this sense of discomfort in the public sphere, yet it compels voters to turn out on both sides.”
Students will begin by looking at the ways that sexual reproduction happens in animals and how biologists ascribe the terms “male” and “female” based on biology. The elective will then focus on how mainstream understandings of sex and gender influence science, and vice versa. The course is inspired by recent bans on transgender athletes in sports and other debates surrounding transgender rights.
“Each of the factions in this debate appeal to scientific expertise or medical expertise, and none of them are really paying attention to what the medicine and the science are saying,” Banner said. “At the same time, lab science and medicine are far more influenced by non-scientific cultural ideas about binary sex and gender than they like to think of themselves.”
Ellis wants students to gain a better understanding of the complexity of categories such as sex and gender through the course.
“I hope students take away that things are complicated,” Ellis said. “Something that can be transferred throughout life is that our brains are built to put things into categories, but reality is not always simple, black-and-white categories.”
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