Bülow/Holm: What men are made of

Logo des Podcasts von Jenseits der GeschlechtergrenzenDie Vorlesungszeit des Sommersemesters 2011 liegt nun hinter uns. Bis wir im Oktober in die neue Saison starten habt ihr also genügend Zeit, verpasste Vorträge im Podcast nachzuhören oder euch eine Repetition zu gönnen. Diese Woche präsentieren wir euch einen Vortrag von Morten Hillgaard Bülow und Marie-Louise Holm, die sich mit Männlichkeit, Testosteron und Hormonforschung auseinandersetzen: „What men are made of – The construction of concepts of masculinity in research projects about testosterone in Denmark from the 1910s to the 1980s“. Morten Hillgaard Bülow ist PhD Fellow am Medical Museion der Copenhagen University und Mitglied des board of Network for Research on Men and Masculinities (NeMM), Dänemark. Marie-Louise Holm ist Forschungsassistentin am Institut für Psychologie und Education Studies der Roskilde Universität und ebenfalls im NeMM aktiv.

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Since the 1920s the chemical substance called testosterone has been characterized as ‘the male hormone’ despite its presence in both male and female gendered bodies. This characterization is common in both the natural sciences’ hormone research, in everyday speech, and in various media presentations. In these contexts, testosterone has been – and is – often used as a metaphor for, or even synonymous with, ‘manliness’ and ‘masculinity’.

Scientific research about hormones has played a substantial role in linking testosterone to masculinity. From the 1910s onwards this research has influenced conceptions about what to designate as male or female, masculine or feminine, by connecting certain hormones to physical and psychological traits and arguing for a more or less direct causal relation between them. In the public the scientific results have been used in normative discussions about what is a good life for human beings with certain genders. It can be argued that the construction of a connection between testosterone and masculinity has played a significant role in the common perception of gender as consisting of two separate categories, ‘men’ and ‘women’, and in constructing the notion that they are naturally and fundamentally different, having different wishes, skills and abilities which in a heterosexual relationship complement each other. This perception of gender has influenced the view on and medical treatment of people categorised as homosexuals, transsexuals, and other groups of people who in various ways did not meet (the scientifically strengthened) gender expectations.

In this talk we want to discuss how and why testosterone and masculinity have been connected in scientific research, and what consequences this has had for societal norms about gender and the view upon and medical treatment of different so-called gender/sexual minorities. The talk is based on historical examples from Danish research projects about testosterone from the 1910s to the 1980s.