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Harvard says masculinity and testosterone are not ‘connected’

Based on a book that it may have misconstrued

Last week we learned that the University of California instructs staff in the Office of the President that “female” and “woman” are “not necessarily linked” as concepts.

This week we learned that Harvard University insists, without a modifier such as “necessarily,” that masculinity and testosterone are not “connected.”

Harvard University Press International is promoting one of its new books, co-authored by Brooklyn College cultural anthropologist Katrina Karkazis. She’s also a senior research fellow with the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale University.

The book “debunks the commonly held idea that testosterone and masculinity are connected,” according to the academic press.

GQ interviewed Karkazis for a feature on “Voices of the New Masculinity,” which plays down the extent to which masculinity is affected by biology rather than social norms.

Even so, Harvard’s tweet about the article appears to misconstrue the source material: The opening question for Karkazis says the book “debunks some commonly held ideas about the connection between testosterone and masculinity,” not that they have no connection. (Another professor also noticed the discrepancy.)

Karkazis tells the magazine that testosterone – which she also refers to as “high T” – “doesn’t actually map on very well to what we understand as masculinity.” She cites unnamed “researchers” who claim that “the relationship between testosterone and aggression is weak or nonexistent,” for example.

She acknowledges that the attempt to play down the role of testosterone in masculinity is informed by unease with the idea that “gender hierarchies are tied to evolution and biology,” suggesting they are “impossible to change”:

Testosterone often gives men a pass for their negative behavior, and a pass for their success. With titans of Wall Street, for example, testosterone didn’t have anything to do with those men reaching the highest level in their field—there are other structures that elevated men and suppressed women. If biology and testosterone aren’t the explanation, then we have the much harder work to do of addressing the social causes.

MORE: U. California tells staff ‘female’ and ‘woman’ are ‘not necessarily linked’

Left unmentioned: why women who identify as men often start taking testosterone supplements, and why men who identify as women often start taking treatment to inhibit testosterone, if testosterone is so inconsequential to masculinity. Also unmentioned: the role of testosterone in athletic performance.

It’s not clear whether Karkazis has academic or field training that makes her a plausible expert on biology, but her website explains that her interest in testosterone stems from “my research on ‘sex testing’ and sport regulations that ban women athletes with naturally high testosterone.”

Like the former Northwestern University sexuality researcher Alice Dreger, Karkazis previously studied treatment for people with intersex traits. Dreger is far more controversial, however, because of her views on the factors behind transsexualism, which have made her a repeated target of some transgender activists.

Harvard’s tweet provoked the ire of science writer Jesse Singal, who himself has earned blowback from transgender activists and woke media outlets for his writing on people who “detransition.”

“The claims just keep getting stronger and stronger and less and less defensible,” he tweeted. “Epistemic closure on the left is becoming a serious problem.”

Singal went on to argue with Jeffrey Sachs, a lecturer at Acadia University, on the scope of Karkazis’s argument.

Other responses to Harvard’s tweet mock the article’s contents.

Evergreen State College graduate Benjamin Boyce, who has often covered his alma mater’s woke-driven controversies and whose YouTube channel was partially demonetized without warning this summer, wrote that the article is really about how “social constructivists” want to change masculinity.

Another pointed to research from a randomized controlled trial, reported Tuesday in the left-wing newspaper The Guardian, that found boosting testosterone levels “significantly improves female athletic performance.”

Read the GQ interview.

MORE: Feminist site pulls sex researcher’s article because it’s not ‘inclusive’

IMAGE: El Nariz/Shutterstock

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About the Author
Associate Editor
Greg Piper served as associate editor of The College Fix from 2014 to 2021.