No Sex Please—We’re Anthropologists!

With apologies to the old British farce “No Sex Please—We’re British!”, apparently academic anthropology wants to do a humorless remake. (Did I even need to include “humorless” after “academic anthropology”?)

I would have thought that case studies in sex lives was a rather integral part of anthropology, at least it seemed that way when Margaret Mead was the hot anthropologist of her day, a forerunner of the over-rated Jared Diamond. But no.

The next meeting of the American Anthropological Association (AAA) had scheduled a panel on the topic, “Let’s Talk about Sex Baby: Why Biological Sex Remains a Necessary Analytic Category in Anthropology.” The panel consisted of six women anthropologists.* And you can guess what happened next. The following letter came from the leadership of the AAA:

Dear panelists, 

We write to inform you that at the request of numerous members the respective executive boards of AAA and CASCA reviewed the panel submission “Let’s Talk about Sex Baby: Why biological sex remains a necessary analytic category in anthropology” and reached a decision to remove the session from the AAA/CASCA 2023 conference program(me). This decision was based on extensive consultation and was reached in the spirit of respect for our values, the safety and dignity of our members, and the scientific integrity of the program(me). The reason the session deserved further scrutiny was that the ideas were advanced in such a way as to cause harm to members represented by the Trans and LGBTQI of the anthropological community as well as the community at large. 

The six women anthropologists issued an open letter to the AAA decrying the decision; you can find the full text of the original panel description, the AAA’s appalling notice, and the open letter at Elizabeth Weiss’s website. But the conclusion of the letter is worth highlighting here:

Anthropologists around the world will quite rightly find chilling this declaration of war on dissent and on scholarly controversy. It is a profound betrayal of the AAA’s principle of “advancing human understanding and applying this understanding to the world’s most pressing problems”. 

* Kathleen Lowrey, Associate Professor at University of Alberta; Elizabeth Weiss, Professor at San José State University; Heterodox Academy Faculty Fellow; Kathleen Richardson, Professor at De Montfort University; Michèle Sirois, Présidente de PDF Québec; Silvia Carrasco, Professor at Autonomous University of Barcelona; and Carole Hooven, Associate, Department of Psychology, Harvard University.

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