Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography

Rebecca Jordan-Young and Katrina Karkazis, moderated by Helena Hansen
Oct 28, 2019 | 6:30pm
Reading and Discussion
Denise Jackson Lewis '66 Conference Room, 614 Milstein Center, Barnard College, 3009 Broadway, New York, NY 10027
Co-Sponsors: Barnard College Department of Women's, Gender, and Sexuality Studies and Word Up Community Bookshop

Testosterone is not what you think it is, and it is decidedly not a “male sex hormone.” Testosterone is a familiar villain, a ready explanation for innumerable social phenomena, from the stock market crash and the overrepresentation of men in prisons to male dominance in business and politics. It’s a lot to pin on a simple molecule. Yet testosterone levels don’t in fact predict one’s competitive drive or tendency for violence, appetite for risk or sex, or physical strength or athletic prowess. It’s neither the biological essence of manliness nor even “the male sex hormone.”

In their new book, Testosterone: An Unauthorized Biography, sociomedical scientist Rebecca Jordan-Young and cultural anthropologist Katrina Karkazis write a debunking life story of a molecule, prying it loose from over a century of misconceptions that undermine science even as they make myths and legends about this hormone seem scientific.

T’s story didn’t spring from nature: It is a tale that began long before the hormone was even isolated, when nineteenth-century scientists went looking for the chemical essence of masculinity. This molecule’s outmoded, authorized life story persisted, providing a handy rationale for countless behaviors—from the boorish and the belligerent to the exemplary and enviable.

In their book and in this discussion, Rebecca Jordan-Young and Katrina Karkazis will focus on what T does in six domains: reproduction, aggression, risk-taking, power, sports, and parenting, allowing us to see the real T for the first time.

Books will be available for sale from independent bookseller Word Up Community Bookshop/Librería Comunitaria.


About the Speakers 

Rebecca M. Jordan-Young is a sociomedical scientist whose research has been supported by grants from the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the National Science Foundation, and others. Jordan-Young is Professor of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Barnard College, Columbia University, and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her writing has appeared in top science journals (NatureTrends in Cognitive Sciences), The New York Times, and the Guardian.

Katrina Karkazis is a cultural anthropologist who spent fifteen years at the Stanford Center for Biomedical Ethics, working at the intersection of science, technology, gender studies, and bioethics. She is Carol Zicklin Endowed Chair in the Honors Academy at Brooklyn College, City University of New York; Senior Research Fellow with the Global Health Justice Partnership at Yale Law School; and recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, the GuardianWired, and the New York Review of Books.

Helena Hansen is Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Anthropology at New York University.