In matters of health, the word “biological” is often used in a non-controversial way that simply insinuates the involvement of the body in some way. In mental health (where the role of the body is sometimes doubted), the term “biological” has taken on unique meanings. In particular, the word has come to be used to convey the idea that a problem or condition is fundamentally or primarily arising from deficiencies in the body (rather than the surrounding environment, etc.). Someone might say, for instance, “ADHD is biological!” or “bipolar is biological!”- in a way that both insists on the medical basis of a condition and (sometimes inadvertently) minimizes other lines of inquiry. Furthermore, once labeled as “biological,” these conditions are almost always addressed through exclusively “biological” treatments such as psychiatric medication.
Similar usage of the term has been used in the gay rights movement in characterizingsexual orientation as arising primarily (or exclusively) from biological underpinnings rather than any connection to environment.
What is and isn’t biological and what that means to identity is also important to conversations around sex and gender, particularly between conservatives, radical feminists, and transgender rights advocates. In an interesting overlap, conservative women and radical feminists both argue that womanhood is defined by a woman’s unique biology, and some point out that the distinct experiences of women, as well as the historical oppression of women, are based on this biological reality. Because of this, some argue that people who are or were born biologically male simply cannot and should not expect to be able to identify as women nor have access to women-only spaces.
QUESTIONS TO PLAY WITH:
-Why do you think the word “biological” carries such power in society today?
-Is it a good thing this word is so influential – or a reflection of something negative?
-In comparison to other related words (spiritual, emotional, mental), how important do you think something being “biological” should actually be?
-Does it matter to you whether homosexuality is “biological” or not? If not, why do you think it matters to some people?
-Does it matter to you whether depression, anxiety or ADHD are “biological” or not? If not, why do you think it matters to some people?
Jacob Hess, Erika Decaster
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