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How children develop gender identification

by Mark Schwerin

Nov. 18, 2011 | WMU News

Photo of Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling.
KALAMAZOO--A visiting scholar will take up the question of when and how children know they are male or female when she speaks next month at Western Michigan University.

Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling will speak at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, in Kirsch Auditorium of the Fetzer Center. Her presentation is titled "How Does a Child Know It is Male or Female: From Pre-symbolic to Symbolic Embodiment." Her talk will be followed by a question-and-answer session and reception.

Free and open to the public, Fausto-Sterling's talk will address critical aspects of the pre-symbolic gender embodiment that occur during infancy as part of the synchronous interplay of the caregiver-infant dyad. While on campus, she also will meet with students and faculty.

Fausto-Sterling is professor of biology and gender studies in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry at Brown University, where she is chair of the Faculty Committee on Science and Technology Studies.

A fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, author of the award-winning book "Sexing the Body" and author of scientific publications in developmental genetics and developmental ecology, Fausto-Sterling has achieved recognition for works that challenge entrenched scientific beliefs while engaging the general public.

Her work applies dynamic systems theory to the study of human development to understand how cultural differences becomes bodily differences. She uses case studies to examine sex differences in bone development and the emergence of gender differences in behavior in early childhood.

Fausto-Sterling's visit is sponsored by the WMU Visiting Scholars and Artists Program; the anthropology, English and psychology departments; Gender and Women's Studies Program; College of Arts and Sciences; Women's Caucus; University Center for the Humanities; University Cultural Events Committee; and the School of Medicine.

For more information on Fausto-Sterling's visit, contact Dr. Bilinda Straight, WMU associate professor of anthropology, at (269) 387-0409 or