Sandra Eder

Making Gender: Sex, Body, and Norm in American Medicine and Science
Spring 2017

Sandra Eder is an Assistant Professor in the History Department at the University of California, Berkeley, where she teaches courses in the history of gender and sexuality in the U.S. and the history of medicine and science. Her research focuses on gender and sexuality in medicine and science, clinical practices and patient records, and the science of happiness. As a historian of gender and medicine, she aspires to blend the insights of gender studies and the history of medicine to contextualize and historicize the origins of our modern concept of “gender” in American biomedicine. Before coming to Berkeley, Professor Eder was a post-doctoral fellow at the University of Zürich and a visiting scholar at the Max Planck Institute for the History of Science in Berlin.

Her manuscript, Making Gender: Sex, Body, and Norm in American Medicine and Science tells the story of how gender was invented in 1950s medicine.  At its core is a case study of the clinical practices that led to this transformation of sex. The term “gender role” was introduced into American biomedicine in the mid-1950s at Johns Hopkins’ Pediatric Endocrinology Clinic to help doctors decide which sex to assign to “pseudo-hermaphroditic” children. Making Gender utilizes previously inaccessible sources such as patient records from the Hopkins Clinic and complements them with largely ignored verbatim transcripts of discussions among clinicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, and sex researchers to revise the history of gender. Physicians and psychologists at the clinic claimed that gender role was learned and congruent with the sex in which the child was raised rather than any biological characteristics. The differentiation between sex and gender and the assumption that gender was socially and culturally constructed subsequently became a cornerstone of feminist scholarship and the social sciences. However, the book shows that the invention of gender emerged as a pragmatic solution for restoring a patient’s health and maintaining clearly defined social roles rather than as a critique of the biological determinism of sex. Making Gender, as a result, situates the invention of gender within specific medical concepts of health and care and a broader epistemic shift in American theories about cultural relativism, child rearing, and personality formation.