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Anne Fausto-Sterling papers

Biographical/Historical note

Dr. Anne Fausto-Sterling is a leading expert in feminist and scientific inquiry. Until her retirement in 2014, Fausto-Sterling held the Nancy Duke Lewis Chair as Professor Emerita of Biology and Gender Studies in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology and Biochemistry at Brown University. In addition to her academic positions, she is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Integrating feminism and science, Fausto-Sterling is an activist as well as a scholar, working to challenge entrenched scientific beliefs in society as well as the academy.

Fausto-Sterling was born in 1944 in Queens, New York to Philip and Dorothy Sterling. She became an activist early in life, primarily involved with movements for peace, civil rights, and issues surrounding gender, sexuality, and feminism. She graduated from the University of Wisconsin in 1965 with a degree in zoology and completed her doctoral studies in developmental genetics at Brown University.

In 1966, Fausto-Sterling married Nelson Fausto (1936-2012), a notable pathologist at the University of Washington. The marriage ended in divorce in 1992. In 2004, Fausto-Sterling married the Pulitzer-winning playwright Paula Vogel, writing about her gay marriage and relationship in a letter to editor of the Providence Journal entitled, “The Social Good of Same Sex Marriage.” Fausto-Sterling also offered “Testimony to the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee on H-5744 (the bill ending marriage discrimination)” in 2009.

Over her teaching career, Fausto-Sterling developed courses including “The Biology of Gender,” “Vertebrate Embryology,” “History of Embryology and Genetics in 20th Century US,” and “Social Issues in Biology.” In 2002-2003, she directed the Pembroke Center's research seminar on “Theories of Embodiment.” In addition to teaching at Brown for over forty years, she has been a visiting faculty member at institutions throughout the U.S. and abroad in departments of Biology, Medical Science, Gender Studies and Science Studies.

Fausto-Sterling’s revolutionary research applies gender theory and cultural difference to biology and gender development, challenging categories of difference – and corresponding assignments of “good” or “bad” – as natural and exposing the cultural production of difference that science obscures as natural and normal sex and gender. Instead of interrogating the body through categories of difference in traditional scientific epistemology, Fausto-Sterling applies dynamic systems theory to break the dichotomy of nature/nurture and challenge our ideas of science as objective and apolitical. Her published work engages topics of gender and science, intersexuality, homosexuality and the construction of heterosexuality, race and science, and rethinking the nature/nurture divide. Involving those with lived experience in her studies, Fausto-Sterling’s archive points to her work as revolutionary not only formally, but personally, transforming the ways in which people think about their own bodies and selves.

As the author of over sixty scholarly articles and three books, Fausto-Sterling has published widely both within and beyond the academy. Her books Myths of Gender: Biological Theories About Women and Men (1985) and Sexing the Body: Gender Politics and the Construction of Sexuality (2000) and the article, “The Five Sexes” (1993), demonstrate the ways science acts to politicize and produce the body and have been transformative in the academy, public discourse, and social policy. Her most recent work focuses on applying dynamic systems theory to the study of gender differentiation in early childhood. She is a frequent commentator for several major media outlets and contributes regularly to the Boston Review, Huffington Post and Psychology Today.