Anthropology, University of Massachusetts Boston
April 16, 2020 28, Platinum Ballroom
Since 2002, endocrinology researchers have warned that American men’s testosterone levels are in decline. While the etiology of the decline is uncertain and average levels remain within normal range, fear for the future of men has become a rallying cry among white nationalists, who view declining testosterone as evidence of slipping social and political power. The science and rhetoric of testosterone decline claims merit urgent attention from physical anthropologists for two reasons. First, physical anthropologists have unique methodological expertise with which to assess their validity, functional importance, and ecological variability. Physical anthropologists recognize that cross-population comparative data reveal no single, optimal level of testosterone for fertility and longevity. They distinguish between bound and bioactive hormone, consider receptor density and sensitivity, and analyze hormone levels both as developmentally modulated individual traits and as states that react to diurnal, energetic, immune, and psychosocial context. Second, when human biology data are mobilized to support discriminatory agendas, physical anthropologists have an opportunity and a responsibility to educate the public about human variation. While the discipline has made strides in the discourse on genetics and race, physical anthropology research and approaches have low uptake in popular dialogue around testosterone. In a Google news search for testosterone, 12 of 30 articles published between July and October of 2019 concern low testosterone in men. None mentions physical anthropology findings or principles. This paper proposes a research and public outreach agenda to intervene in the narrative linking testosterone to masculinity and white nationalism.
No funding to declare.