The Trouble with Nature: Sex in Science and Popular Culture
Roger N. Lancaster
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Roger N. Lancaster provides the definitive rebuttal of evolutionary just-so stories about men, women, and the nature of desire in this spirited exposé of the heterosexual fables that pervade popular culture, from prime-time sitcoms to scientific theories about the so-called gay gene. Lancaster links the recent resurgence of biological explanations for gender norms, sexual desires, and human nature in general with the current pitched battles over sexual politics. Ideas about a "hardwired" and immutable human nature are circulating at a pivotal moment in human history, he argues, one in which dramatic changes in gender roles and an unprecedented normalization of lesbian and gay relationships are challenging received notions and commonly held convictions on every front.
The Trouble with Nature takes on major media sources—the New York Times, Newsweek—and widely ballyhooed scientific studies and ideas to show how journalists, scientists, and others invoke the rhetoric of science to support political positions in the absence of any real evidence. Lancaster also provides a novel and dramatic analysis of the social, historical, and political backdrop for changing discourses on "nature," including an incisive critique of the failures of queer theory to understand the social conflicts of the moment. By showing how reductivist explanations for sexual orientation lean on essentialist ideas about gender, Lancaster invites us to think more deeply and creatively about human acts and social relations.
hard to negotiate these ‘discussions’ when your whole legitimacy as a human being is being questioned.”38 If my rehearsal of nineteenth-century confusions indicates my discomfort with Vaid’s refuge in nature, with the rhetoric of science, and with the implication that people’s sexual feelings are immutably “hardwired,” I can offer no easy solution to the problems posed by the recurring engagement in which her arguments participate. The long-standing demand, made by religious conservatives,
about human evolution. tales of the modern subject Notwithstanding the paucity of any compelling evidence, narratives of normal order and good form sound out above the collapse of empires and the siege of white male privilege. Manifestly, such accountings for biology, beauty, and normal desire are narratives less about than of twentiethcentury anxieties—especially race, class, gender, and sexual anxieties. When Lionel Tiger and Robin Fox describe sexual and generational politics in their
It is to say that perceptual practice is both empowered and befuddled by political habit and by the complex body of acquired dispositions that gives us intelligible objects to begin with. When the object in question belongs to the realm of astronomy or physics—areas theoretically far removed from the heave and shove of social interests—the work of social intentionality shows up in varied and layered ways: in the use of humorous or clever names to designate mysterious entities, in
similarities. . . . Gender is not only an identiﬁcation with one sex; it also entails that sexual desire be directed toward the other sex.”8 Dennis Altman provides a similar analysis of the connection between gender (or “sex roles”) and sexuality (the social suppression of nongenital, nonheterosexual desires) in his groundbreaking book Homosexual: Oppression and Liberation. Homosexuality, he argues, represents “the most blatant challenge of all to the mores of a society organized around belief in
shove of social struggles and are thereby open to the effects of history. Today, more than ever, representations of nature are, in Foucault’s sense, “polyvalent, mobile discourses.”17 Radical ideas are constantly appropriated by reactionary causes, and even the most conservative discursive formations move, like tectonic plates, beneath the visible social landscape, subject to underlying forces and headed toward uncharted constellations. Should we, then, be won over by a reformed, soft-pedaled,