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Baby X: An Update

Way back in 1972 (yes I was alive then and finishing my PhD--I was very precocious), Lois Gould wrote a short story about Baby X . It starts:

Once upon a time, a baby named X was born. This baby was named X so that nobody could tell whether it was a boy or a girl. Its parents could tell, of course, but they couldn't tell anybody else. They couldn't even tell Baby X, at first.

I'm figuring you can tell how it goes from there; but even if you think you can, read the story- it's a good one.

Anyway, I'm bringing it up now because at the Franklin Park Zoo, gorilla Kiki gave birth. The reporters were concerned because: "the gender of the new baby is unknown, because Kiki is holding it close, not allowing zookeepers to get near it." Our local TV wasn't sure how to report the story because they didn't know if the baby was a boy or a girl and Kiki would, you should pardon the expression, whip the butt of anyone who tried to find out.

Why was it so important to find out? Well that is the question or perhaps the problem. We have our own version of this story. We've had our albino corn snake Orlando for almost 20 years and we still don't know Orlando's sex. It's not easy to sex a snake and since we weren't breeding him/her it never seemed important (and of course hence the name). We and, we assume, Orlando are fine with that but visitors almost always ask if Orlando is a girl or a boy snake.

There is something very interesting about how important it is for us to know the sex of a human, gorilla, snake, whatever. Would I really interact differently with Orlando if Orlando were a she than if Orlando were a he? Orlando is a snake-- we don't have a whole lot of gender issues. And of course how is that different from a baby gorilla? or a baby human?

PS Not to worry-- Orlando was never a wild snake, neither were her/his parents and grandparents. At our house wild snakes only visit.


Following a link from Sue Klein's list to your amusing Blog comments on Lois Gould's "Baby X" story, to your NSF-sponsored "Fairer Science" article prompts me to comment on the trouble with the words "fairer" and "equity."

"Fairer" is a comparative, suggesting a sliding scale in place of a clear standard. Unless women want things to be just a little bit better, the stronger term is "equal."

"Equity" has been well defined as "the authorities in charge of keeping things unequal deciding what is fair." In my feminist work, the satisfaction of those who fear going too far too fast is well expressed by the word "equity."

It's obvious, I suppose that I like the term "equal" because it rejects mere approximation for an assumption that a measurable standard of equality can and should be achieved.

Despite my dissatisfaction with its title, I appreciate the "Fairer Science" web site and will certainly make much use of it, especially in responding to student inquiries in my small role as reference@now.org.

I enjoyed re-reading "Little X" after all these years and thought that you might want to read the very interesting New York Times obituary of writer Lois Gould who died in 1992.


Hi Twiss

Thanks so much for your comments and the link to Lois Gould's obit. I had forgotten that she was the first writer for the Hers Column which of course got me thinking about the Hers column and led me to this.
http://www.nytimes.com/1996/01/21/magazine/news-about-the-magazine.html (hmm feels like fodder for a blog post).

We chose "Fairer Science" with the idea of making science more fair. I’m hoping others will give some feedback about their response to the name “Fairer Science” and heck we may even get a discussion started

PS Everyone does need to know that while FairerScience started with NSF funds in collaboration with the Wellesley Centers for Women (many thanks to both of them); for the past two years it has been under Campbell-Kibler Associates, which means as I wrote in

"the opinions expressed are those of Campbell-Kibler Associates only," although hopefully others will agree or at least enjoy. Sometimes the opinions expressed may only be mine. (You probably will be able to figure out which ones those are).

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