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Full transcript here. This month, it is our privilege to have R. A. Briggs (Stanford University) back on a second time to discuss the nature of gender. Click here to listen to our conversation.

What exactly is gender? Simone de Beauvoir drew a distinction between gender and biological sex, and encouraged us to think of the former as the social significance of the latter. There’s the set of social roles that men are expected to play, and the set of social roles that women are expected to play. Whereas in the recent past, it was assumed to be a necessary condition on being a (for instance) a man [woman] that one exhibit the physiological features associated with being biologically male [female], these days, a lot of people either question or fully abandon that assumption. If a person’s biological sex isn’t tied by definition to their gender anymore, you might wonder what the relation between those two things is.

In this episode, our guest makes an argument in the style of Hilary Putnam’s famous Twin Earth thought experiment to show that any explanation of what the relation between sex and gender now is has to make reference to what the relation between sex and gender used to be. That is, the current social conventions according to which people occupy gender roles have to be thought of historically, in response to the social conventions that came before. Professor Briggs has been pursuing this research jointly with B.R. George (Carnegie Mellon University).

Tune in to hear our guest explain why gender, at least in its current form, has to be thought of in this historical way.

Matt Teichman