9th Annual Korenman Lecture: Alice Dreger

Why Have Intersex Rights Been So Hard to Secure in America?

February 24, 2016

Dr. Alice Dreger
historian of science and medicine

For 25 years, people born with intersex (that is, body types that aren’t standard male or standard female) and their allies have been fighting for basic patient rights, including the right to full access to their medical histories and the right to decide for themselves about optional genital surgeries. Yet, although the public is today much more educated about intersex and intersex rights than 25 years ago, American pediatric medical care for intersex still involves invasive attempts to sex “normalize” boys and girls born intersex and still lacks adequate psychosocial care. Even while the United Nations has recently declared intersex genital surgeries to constitute human rights violations, American medicine treats unusual forms of sex as automatic pathologies in need of surgical “repair.” This talk explores why much more progress has been made abroad than in America, and in doing so, pays particular attention to tensions existing between the pursuit of justice and the pursuit of truth in America today.

Alice Dreger is an historian of medicine and science, a sex researcher, a mainstream writer, and an (im)patient advocate. An award-winning scholar and writer, Dreger’s most recent book is Galileo’s Middle Finger: Heretics, Activists, and the Search for Justice in Science, which argues that the pursuit of evidence is the most important ethical imperative of our time. Funded by a Guggenheim Fellowship and published by Penguin Press in 2015, the book has been praised in reviews, including in The New Yorker, Nature, and Salon. It was named an “Editor’s Choice” by The New York Times Book Review, where Dreger was labeled “a sharp, disruptive scholar.” The Chronicle of Higher Education has called her a “star scholar” and describes her writing as “reliably funny and passionate and vulnerable.” Dreger earned her PhD in History and Philosophy of Science from Indiana University. In August 2015, she resigned a part-time full professorship at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine following her dean’s censorship of her published work out of a hospital-related “branding” concern. Dreger has for many years embodied the idea of “the public intellectual,” simultaneously publishing widely-cited major original work in scholarly journals and high-visibility essays in the mainstream press.

Co-sponsored by the Gender and Women’s Studies Department; the Dresher Center for the Humanities; the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences; the Office of the Provost; the Office of the Vice President for Research; Women Involved in Learning and Leadership; and the Psychology Department.