On SAGE Insight: Biological Sex, Gender, and Public Policy

From Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences

Biological sex is increasingly cited as a basis for making policy. This policy is used to define sex and gender, differentiate men and women from each other, and clarify who is allowed to access single-sex spaces, services, or benefits. As policy makers define what they mean by sex or gender, and who counts as a woman or a man (or boy or girl), it is increasingly clear that these categories are not as obvious as often perceived. But, what is the biological science that these policies have, or might have, as a basis? This review describes how science of the biology of sex is relevant to three major policy areas: parenting (including leaves), sports, and public spaces.

Policy uses a variety of definitions of gender and sex, and there is no one scientific way to define sex, which means that there is no “getting sex right” for defining women and men. Indeed, scientists and legal scholars recognize that gender identity and legal recognition are more relevant than sex for policy is most cases. Many arenas once segregated by gender/sex are no longer so, including schools, workplaces, gyms, clubs, bars, and (some) religious institutions. One may therefore question the use of biology to justify ongoing segregation by gender/sex, because biology does not support a gender binary and, instead, highlights that sex is multifaceted. Policy based on bioscience should reflect science that is accurate, up-to-date, and reflective of biology’s role relative to other social factors. Read more…

Abstract

Policy debates have focused on who can participate in or access single-sex activities or services. This article describes how science of the biology of sex is relevant to three major policy areas: parenting (including leaves), sports, and public spaces. We focus on what scientists know about sex and gender (and gender/sex, where gender and sex are intertwined), and the role of various biological factors, including hormones such as testosterone and estradiol as well as genetics, gonads, genitals, and more. The policies under debate often use “biological sex,” but this fails to account for scientific understandings of sex and gender, misrepresents sex as single-faceted and binary, and overlooks scientific consensus about the importance of gender and identity.

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Article details
Biological Sex, Gender, and Public Policy,
Sari M. van Anders, Zach C. Schudson, Emma C. Abed, William J. Beischel, Emily R. Dibble, Olivia D. Gunther, Val J. Kutchko, and Elisabeth R. Silver
First Published September 14, 2017
DOI: 10.1177/2372732217720700
From Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences

 

 

     
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