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SOMGEN 150Q: Challenging Sex and Gender Dichotomies in Medicine

Cross listed: FEMGEN 150Q

Please note: Human Biology or Biology Core or AP credit would be helpful, but is not a prerequisite.


Course Description

This course explores and challenges the physiological basis for distinguishing human “males” and “females,” expands the concept of “intersex” beyond reproductive anatomy/physiology (i.e., beyond the genitalia), and discusses some known consequences of “gender biases” in medical diagnoses and treatments. The influence of gender (sociocultural) “norms,” (i.e., gendered behaviors and relations) on human biology is juxtaposed with the role of biological traits on the construction of gender identity, roles, and relationships, thereby focusing on the interactions of sex and gender on health and medical outcomes. 

Examples include how sex (biological factors) and gender interact to affect neuroplasticity of the brain, mental health and psychiatric disorders, body composition (muscle, bone, and fat), and the immune system. Problems that may arise by labeling conditions that vary in incidence, prevalence, and/or severity across the “male-female” spectrum as “men’s” or “women’s” health issues will be discussed. For example, heart disease is still viewed as a “man’s disease” by many, even though it's the leading cause of death in women as well; and osteoporosis is usually presented as a “woman’s disease,” even though one of every three hip fractures is in a man. In addition, the importance of recognizing the spectrum of sex and gender, as well as sexual orientation, in clinical practice, from pediatric to geriatric populations, will be highlighted, with consideration of varying perspectives within different race/ethnic, religious, political, and other groups.

Each class will include a didactic presentation (i.e., a short lecture that complements assigned readings); small (three students) group discussions generated by questions prepared before class by the individuals within each group; and sharing and discussing particularly interesting points with the full class and instructor.


Meet the Instructor: Marcia Stefanick, Ph.D.

Marcia L. Stefanick, Ph.D.

"As the middle child of seven (two older, two younger brothers; one older, one younger sister), I wondered why boys and girls were treated and expected to behave so differently, and why we developed so differently, physically. In college (Penn), I began challenging gender roles at the same time I became fascinated with biology, particularly 'sex' hormones, behavior, and anthropology—both physical (primates) and cultural (gender roles). After a gap year at the Oregon Regional Primate Research Center, a Ph.D. in physiology (Stanford) focusing on hormones, (reproductive) behavior, and neuroendocrinology in rats, and a postdoctoral fellowship at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, gaining expertise in exercise, diet and body composition in humans, I developed a research career studying both hormonal and lifestyle effects on human health (and chronic disease). As director of the Stanford Women's Health and Sex Differences in Medicine (WHSDM, 'wisdom') Center, I am also pursuing my quest to understand the biology of sex in relationship to gender."

Professor of medicine, professor of obstetrics & gynecology.