Exploring Different Methods and Approaches to Doing Feminist Biomedical Science

As Heather Shattuck-Heidorn explains in her recent post, scientific researchers, particularly in the health sciences, are being required by funding institutions to consider the concepts sex and/or gender in their research. Despite the introduction of these requirements, as Sari van Anders [Editor’s note: Hi! that’s ME!] summarizes in her review of Johnson et al., (2014), there is still inconsistent use of the concepts across disciplines as many researchers continue to use gender as a proxy for sex and sex and/or gender to simply mean including women in research studies.

This led us to search the feminist science literature for some direction. We limited feminist science scholarship to feminist scientists and feminist science studies scholars in the fields of biomedicine and public health. These scholars explicitly indicate that they use feminist approaches to science or use feminist conceptions of gender, sex, race and/or ethnicity in their work. What methods have feminist scientists developed to do biomedical science differently? How do these methods improve scientific knowledge and understanding of the world? Using these questions to guide our work, we sought to synthesize the theoretical and methodological approaches in the feminist biomedical science literature.

In our paper[1], we categorize feminist approaches to biomedical science into three main approaches: strong objectivity, partial perspective, and gendered innovations. By grouping the literature into these categories, we identify and describe different ways of doing feminist biomedical science and the particular aspects of the scientific method that each feminist approach seeks to change and improve.

The strong objectivity framework draws on the work of feminist science philosopher Sandra Harding and argues that science can be more objective if researchers include diverse perspectives and subjects/ experiences (for a deeper explanation, see Sari’s post Is Subjectivity Biased [Editor’s note: I am glad someone finally noticed how deep I am.]) into their research designs. Feminist empiricist and feminist standpoint approaches offer methodological direction for feminist scientists looking to apply the strong objectivity framework [Editor’s note: after all, it’s hard to take theory into practice, so this is really important]. Feminist empiricists offer a way for scientists to think critically about the theories and concepts they will employ by applying feminist and/or antiracist concepts and theories to critically analyze research in their fields of interest. This allows researchers to identify critical flaws in previous research designs and thereby open up new opportunities for research. Feminist standpoint approaches offer a way for scientists to locate their subjects and account for interacting social factors produced by gendered and racialized environments. The work of feminist biologist Anne Fausto-Sterling, The Bare Bones of Sex and The Bare Bones of Race [Editor’s note: I don’t mean to brag, but I totally know Anne Fausto-Sterling AND Sandra Harding so basically I am famous], provides an example of research that falls under the strong objectivity framework. Fausto-Sterling identifies critical discrepancies in how researchers define and measure bone health among and between women and men and suggests using a dynamics systems approach to account for social, geographical, and historical environmental factors that shape sex/gender and racial differences in bone health. In other words, the strong objectivity framework uses feminist concepts and theories to think critically about hypotheses, data collection methods, and interpretations of results, and promotes the design more complex and rigorous research studies

The partial perspectives framework draws on the work of feminist science philosopher Donna Haraway [Editor’s note: I don’t really know Donna Haraway but we emailed once so, basically, we are BFFs] and encourages feminist scientists to go beyond exposing gender and racial assumptions and “bad science” to examine the partial perspectives of scientific researchers. The partial perspectives framework does not seek to provide a more objective or truer knowledge of the world but rather strives to achieve what Haraway terms “feminist objectivity”. In contrast to strong objectivity, feminist objectivity requires researchers to think reflexively about their research interests and locate their objects of study and in doing so, deconstruct the web of power relations that allows certain sexed, gendered, and raced bodies to be produced and naturalized. Feminist science scholars El-Haj (2007), Gannett (2004), and M’charek (2005, 2013) provide examples of research that falls under the partial perspectives framework. These scholars use examples from population geneticists, DNA forensics and medical practices to trace how “biologi­cal races” [Editor’s note: I put irony quotes around biological races because I think they belong there and also because you can “never” have “enough” irony “quotes”] have been re-constituted in and through these scientific technologies and practices. And so, the partial perspectives framework seeks to deconstruct fields of research even before researchers consider the concepts, theories, and data collection methods they will use to design their research and thereby creates conceptual space for new research possibilities.

Finally, the gendered innovations framework draws on the work of feminist science historian Londa Schiebinger [Editor’s note: I don’t know Londa Schiebinger at all but I have read her work so, um, well, I’ve got nothing] and argues that integrating feminist concepts such as sex and gender into scientific research will advance our understanding and produce more scientific innovations. The methodology of this framework draws largely on the work of feminist scientists working in the fields of public health and biomedicine that have proposed ways to integrate and operationalize the concepts of sex, gender, race and/or ethnicity into the research process. Feminist scientists such as Johnson et al. ( 2009), Kaiser (2012), Krieger (2003), Springer et al. (2012), Ritz et al. (2014), Ford and Airhihenbuwa (2010), Gravlee (2009), and Hankivsky (2012) offer practical guidance to researchers seeking to use these concepts. The cross-disciplinary collaboration required to do this work has the potential to foster a shared language and the creation of new ways of operationalizing these concepts (both the social and biomedical sciences; see Hird 2009). Basically, the gendered innovations approach introduces additional steps in the scientific research process so that researchers account for sex, gender, and other intersecting factors related to their research that they might not have captured otherwise.

The various feminist methods we identify in our paper are illustrated in Figure 1. There are areas of research that I’m sure we missed in and outside the field of biomedicine. This paper is by no means an exhaustive review but rather simply seeks to provide a starting point to discuss, refine, and name some of the different feminist methods for doing science differently. [Editor’s note: what an awesome figure!!].

[1] See: Sarah Singh and Ineke Klinge (2015) ‘Mining for Methods: A Review of the Theoretical and Methodological Contributions of Feminist Science Studies’, Freiburger Zeitschrift für GeschlechterStudien (fzg). 12 (2). Pg. 15-31.

Feminist Biology Post Doc/Sabbatical!

Here is a new posting for that Feminist Biology postdoc/sabbatical position at the University of Wisconsin-Madison! This is the second year, and it seems like a great opportunity. Here is the link! Wittig Postdoc ad 09 15

Some details: “The Wittig Postdoctoral Fellows Program in Feminist Biology offers the opportunity to combine research in a Fellow’s specific area of interest with teaching at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. We seek a highly motivated new or recent Ph.D. in one of the biological sciences or public health or MD, who wants to develop research skills in an area of biology related to gender and teaching skills in feminist approaches to biology. The position is also open to a mid-career or senior scholar, for example on sabbatical.” But look at the attachment for more info!

Medicine (yay!) vs. Medicalization (boo!)

Once, an undergraduate student told me she was experiencing depression, but that she had been concerned about telling me she was on anti-depressants. Why worry about telling me? I asked. She explained that she was worried I would think badly of her for using meds. I sat there, stunned, frantically running over the entirety of anything I had ever said to her or in front of her, wondering where this idea would have come from. Coming up blank, I asked her why she thought that. She explained to me that feminists were against anti-depressants. Again, I was stunned, did the frantic scrolling-through-the-entire-history-of-the-world thing, and came up blank. Of course, I congratulated her for getting treatment, for discussing mental health when it is more typically seen as taboo, and we had a long discussion. And it hit me, then or a bit later, where this all came from…

Feminists are very often against medicalization, but almost none are against MEDICINE. Do those words look too similar to mean different things? Kind of, eh? I mean, objectively they are different words, but they are so same-lookish! Maybe one is just a fancy way of saying the other? Nope. Medicine and medicalization are not the same. Even if they have the same first five letters!

Would you like some fancy definitions for the terms that I just made up? OF COURSE YOU DO! Medicine’s fancy definition: something you put in/on your body to reduce the negative effects of illness/sickness/bad health. And part of defining a term is thinking about who are the experts for that term. So, who is an expert on medicine?

Jon Bon, expert on bad medicine.

Bon Jovi, obviously. This is what Jon Bon says: Your love is like bad medicine | Bad medicine is what I need | Shake it up, just like bad medicine | So let’s play doctor, baby | Cure my disease. Wow. That’s a bit confusing because why does anyone need bad medicine? And, is it all medicine that needs to be shaken, or just the bad kinds? Who else is an expert on medicine? Doctors, pharmacists, some biomedical researchers, epidemiologists, all in addition to Bon Jovi, the reigning champion.

Ok, now for the fancy definition of medicalization: something that unnecessarily grabs a phenomenon from the ‘regular life’ box and puts it into the medical domain box. Who is an expert on medicalization? Here, Bon Jovi lets us down as does music in general (try to get on with life, though) – there are no songs, brilliant or otherwise, about medicalization. Who is left to be an expert on medicalization, then, without the frosted hair contingent? Sociologists of medicine, feminist scholars, medical anthropologists, people with the lived experience of whatever’s being medicalized, and other critical thinkers.

Well! Easy peasy lemon squeezy! Medicine means one thing and medicalization another! Phew.  Medicine = good; medicalization = not so good. Except that the line between the two isn’t so clear. In fact, that blurriness is kind of the point of the concept of medicalization: on one hand, medical folks think a phenomenon IS a legitimate medical target while, on the other hand, scholars and community folks do not. Who is right? This is a case of ‘competing knowledge claims.’ How do we decide which knowledge claim (medicine! or, medicalization!) is right? Helen Longino, a superfamous feminist philosopher of science, argues the only way we do this is with a “community of knowers,” which is a fancy way of saying ‘people.’ But she also argues that this community needs to be diverse. So, you can’t just have, say, MDs arguing over whether something is medicine or medicalization – in fact, the question of whether a thing that is already IN medicine might actually be not-medicine would probably not-occur to most or many mediciney people.

Tricky question: are pharmaceutical companies and their people experts on medicine? Some would argue that they can be experts on medicine but also that they are expert medicalizers. For example, they might have a medicine but no disease! What to do in that case?  The case of the missing disease? Make one up! Critical scholars have demonstrated how diseases sometimes get manufactured so that an existing no-use medicine can be sold. Or, how something that is regular (like balding in men, or small breasts in women) gets repackaged as a disease that can be solved by 10 easy installments of $$$ CALL NOW!

So the line between medicine and medicalization can be blurry because people with differing perspectives and goals will argue about whether the same phenomenon is one thing or another. But the line can be blurry in another way. For example, I’m super preggers, if by ‘super’ we all agree to mean having a really superior experience of the worst parts of pregnancy but don’t worry: if you get pregnant, it will be the best part of your life I PROMISE BECAUSE I HAVE THAT KNOWLEDGE AND POWER. So, why is my pregnancy the worst? Well, I’ve spent many months in bed or on the couch, super nauseous and vomity and uncomfortable and NO, GINGER WILL NOT HELP and YES, I AM ALREADY IN THE SECOND TRIMESTER AND I’M STILL CRAPTASTIC and PLEASE, SOMEONE BUILD A TIME MACHINE SO I CAN FAST FORWARD TO THE BIRTH NO WAY AFTER THE BIRTH NO WAY TIL THE KID IS FIVE YEARS OLD.  So, it’s pretty bad and I’ve been doing a lot of complaining (hey, do what you’re good at, eh?). My friends were all like: um, hey you friend of mine, do you know about this medicine for pregnancy nausea? And I was like yes, thank you, but things aren’t that bad yet. As things got worse, and my complaining ramped up, these friends were like: hey you friend of mine, seriously, there’s this medicine. For pregnancy nausea. Get it. Take it. And I was like, sure, when things get bad enough. Why? Because so much of pregnancy is medicalized, and I was trying to find the personal line between medicine and medicalization (and, no, I don’t need a ‘talking-to’ in the comments).

I mean, look, I’m a feminist scientist, a reproductive sciences person, a hormone researcher, and etc. I am generally pro-medicine and anti-medicalization. But knowing the difference in individual cases can be a nontrivial problem. Is taking anti-nausea pills self-medicating or self-medicalizing? Does it turn an incredibly common (horrifically so, given how debilitating it is) and regular part of the pregnancy “experience” into some sort of disease-like condition/state? I mean, my physical health wasn’t actually compromised since I was able to eat and, mostly, keep food down (sometimes women or other people gestating can’t, and very clearly need medical support to even just live). My psychological health was definitely another story: it’s a misery situation. Obviously, each person is going to have to figure this out for them. Once I finally decided the meds were medicine I took them and never looked back, feeling so much better, and happy with my choice.

So, the line between medicine and medicalization can be blurry, because what counts as a medical problem can be culturally situated (should there be a pill for lots/not much hair? are sticky-outy ears a medical issue? do periods have to be regular?). And, it’s not even always the case that we boo medicalization, because sometimes there might be benefits to putting something in the ‘medical’ box. Still, the presence of medicine (or a pill or a surgery) doesn’t magically transform whatever the medicine is for into a disease UNLESS YOU ARE HARRY HOUDINI AND THEN I RESPECTFULLY WITHDRAW. Feminism is, in part, about engaging with these distinctions (about medicalization vs. medicine, not Harry Houdini YET) even while supporting medical choices. Yes, there’s a tension there, but where isn’t there? (milkshakes.)

Is subjectivity biased?

Okay, not surprisingly, the answer to whether subjectivity is biased is ‘no’. LET’S GO HOME! Just kidding! Remember math tests? It wasn’t the answer at the end, but how you got there.

Ok, so science: you’ve got your objectivity and your subjectivity. We’re supposed to be all: objectivity is the best! subjectivity is the worst! But it’s a bit more complicated than that. Objectivity is like this (Fig. 1):

Figure 1: Objectively, this is the only way to represent objectivity. If you disagree with me, then you’re obviously biased.

And by ‘this’, I obviously mean a one-eyed alien. Why? What else could objectivity be like? Also, let’s be clear: the alien is clearly British because, so far as I know, only Brits smile with both their top and bottom teeth showing. I have it on the good authority of something I once read somewhere. BACK TO OBJECTIVITY NOW! Objectivity is like when (a) you say what you see; (b) it doesn’t matter who sees what you’re seeing, all of you would see the same thing, and (c) it doesn’t matter what part of the thing you’re looking at – it doesn’t have parts so that whatever you see represents the whole thing. Donna Haraway calls this the “God Trick”, as in: there is an all-seeing eye and it doesn’t belong to anyone and it doesn’t matter where it is; the thing is seen. By whom?! That passive voice! Seriously, who is doing the seeing? God? OR A ONE-EYED BRITISH ALIEN???! Only Donna knows. (Editor’s note, which is me: I don’t actually know Donna Haraway well enough to just call her by her first name, which is what makes me doing that funny, but only if you know, hence this note.) You can read all about this inDonna Haraway’s Situated Knowledges. (um, note: it’s not for beginners if you ask me.)

Okay, so we’ve got objectivity (see Fig. 1). What about subjectivity? Subjectivity looks like this (Fig. 2):

Figure 2. Objectively, this is the only way to represent subjectivity. If you disagree with me about this, why are you so biased?

Yes, that’s right. Subjectivity looks like a weird map of Texas! Ok, seriously. Subjectivity is like objectivity in some ways: with both, you say what you see. But, with subjectivity, who’s doing the seeing can matter, because where you’re looking literally changes what you see. And, it does matter what part of the thing you’re looking at; it has parts, so whatever you see doesn’t represent the whole thing. Where you are, who you are, matters to what you see. Maybe your life experiences help you see things someone else can’t see. Maybe your social location adds blinders such that there are things you can’t see but that others experience. Some of our lived experiences differ in ways that affect where we look, how we see, what we see, and whether we like milkshakes or not.

So where does bias come in? I guess it comes in a number of ways. One is that some people don’t really understand the idea of subjectivity; i.e., that a thing might differ to different people. A thing may not have only one version of thingness. What? For example: I study sexual desire, among other things. Most research on sexual desire (including a lot of my own past work) assumes that sexual desire is one thing, experienced in the same one way by all people, varying perhaps only by a matter of degree. But what if sexual desire is experienced in different ways? What if I ask you how strong your desire is and you answer thinking desire is X (e.g., desire to experience orgasm), while someone else answers thinking desire is Y (desire to touch someone). You might put the same answers (e.g., high desire), but these ‘same’ answers don’t mean the same thing! Uh oh. My objective question isn’t so objective, is it! Who’s wrong? Me! For thinking that everyone means what I mean when I say sexual desire and also for thinking there’s only one way to experience sexual desire before I empirically demonstrate that. And also me because where’s my milkshake?! It is objectively wrong to not have a milkshake; at least that is something we can all agree on. Basically, why people think subjectivity is biased: some people think that they see for everyone, so they view any disagreement as bias.

Where else does bias come in? Bias comes in, obviously, in not reporting what you see. That could be true for objectivity or subjectivity. But people tend to think of both subjectivity and bias as the opposite of objectivity. So it’s one of those the enemy of my enemy is my friend sort of transitive logic things (I THINK) whereby both opposites of objectivity (bias and subjectivity) become Paris Hilton BFFs forever. But that’s not true! Bias could map onto objectivity! You could be biased not only for reporting things you don’t see, but for saying that what you see represents the whole of the thing you’re looking at when, in reality, you’re only looking at part of it:

Figure 3. I’m biased objectivity! You can tell because I think the things I see represent the whole but I’m wrong! I say globby thingie, when really it’s weird map of Texas!

You could also have biased subjectivity, where someone doesn’t really critically engage with what they see, and they just report some who-knows-what with a lot of pointy parts. Yes, a defining feature of biased subjectivity is its pointy parts AND YOU CAN TAKE THAT TO THE BANK. (not really.) (why not?! give it a try and let me know how it goes at the bank.)

Figure 4. I’m biased subjectivity! I’m kind of reporting what I see, but not really, and maybe a little bit of what other people told me they see because that sounds good. And pointy!

Let’s sum up: you’ve got your objectivity, you’ve got your subjectivity, and you’ve got your bias. Bias can intersect with objectivity, and bias can intersect with subjectivity. Lots of folks argue that bias is more likely to intersect with objectivity than subjectivity, because assuming you’re objective can blind you to your bias! That’s why Sandra Harding proposed ‘strong objectivity’ (see here for Harding’s article); i.e., a science that involves being as objective as you can be, and then supersizing that objectivity by adding in some subjectivity (thinking about your own social location) to reduce bias. So, some of us think the most scientific way of doing science is objectivity + subjectivity. DID I JUST BLOW YOUR MIND?! Maybe objectivity and subjectivity aren’t opposites, or orthogonal, or antagonistic, but complementary. Maybe the only way to do unbiased science is to check your own biases, not ignore them or pretend you don’t have any. So, really, what I want to say is: subjectivity + objectivity = the true Paris Hilton BFFs.

So, in case you just skipped to the end of your math problems in high school, and STILL DO: the answer to whether subjectivity is biased is ‘no.’

How don’t you know what you don’t know?!

True story: when I was a graduate student, I supervised a sort of mini-lab of undergraduates. For reasons that are completely opaque to me know but I’m sure made a lot of sense then, one of these students told me and my partner how his father would be like (and please read the following in a hilarious dad voice, which is how the student said it to us): How do you know what you know!? Of course this turned into a classic line for us and, not infrequently, my partner or I would turn to the other and demand (in all an all-caps voice): HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW! We dropped the question mark because, really, it obviously was intended to be a claim, or maybe an interrogation. Anyway, one day, I mentioned the line back to the student who was like: Huh? and also: That never happened and my dad never said that.But my partner and I have distinct memories of him telling us this. How do WE know what HE doesn’t know! Could he have unknown what he knew? Could we know something that isn’t? Were we in some secret dastardly psychology experiment about memory and truth given that we were, after all, in a psychology department at the time? How did WE know what we knew?! Anyway, the story above is useful in three ways. (1) It gives us the awesome question-slash-interrogation:

How do you know what you know?!

(2) It also gives us an example of competing knowledge claims. We knew he told us his dad said it, but he “knew” his dad didn’t and that he never told us he did. I put irony marks around his ‘knew’ because it’s important to cast doubt on other people’s authority in competing knowledge claims, and I learned that in the book of rules.

And (3) it’s also a good anecdote to lead to what all the cool kids are talking about: epistemologies of ignorance. And also awkward surpluses. Trust me, this is going to give you words for things.

So, let’s be honest, I could have also started with Donald Rumsfeld because that’s where all feminist philosophy of science starts AMIRIGHT!? More because he said this in 2002 (which I personally recall and Wikipedia also says is true):

Reports that say there’s — that something hasn’t happened are always interesting to me, because as we know, there are known knowns; there are things that we know that we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don’t know we don’t know. (fuscia mine ALL MINE!)

You can tell he’s knowing all your knowns right now. (from Wired)

Everyone laughed then, but they should have been careful because isn’t he the one who shoots his friends on camping trips? I, personally, recommend caution around friend-shooters. For example, instead of laughing like this HAHAHAHAHA, try ha ha; just saying. (OK, I know it was Dick Cheney who did that but allow me some fictional leeway here.) Actually, what he said was actually really interesting (I pass my proclamation). Good old Rummy was like: there are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns. Let’s finish that 2×2 and include unknown knowns. Am I just throwing words together? NO. Here’s why:

Known Knowns = How we know what we know? = epistemology

Epistemology is about different ways of authoritative knowing, like how knowledge comes to be accepted as knowledge, and how different ways of getting knowledge get slotted into different disciplines. HOW DO YOU KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW! SO FAR SO GOOD!

Unknown Unknowns= How don’t we know what we don’t know? = epistemology of ignorance

The exact opposite of known knowns is unknown unknowns. I mean, really, there are like a million things you don’t know; why? Maybe some things are just unknowable, like why milkshakes are so boss. But some things? It seems like we could know them. Like, hey, in France they don’t collect statistics on race/ethnicity, so no one can really measure state-wide discrimination by minority ethnic/racial status. BUT THEY COULD. They don’t know about rates of ethnic/racial discrimination because they don’t collect the stats. That’s how they don’t know what they don’t know. I just happen to like that factoid (I hope it’s still a true one) and I’m not picking on France because j’adore les baguettes.

Do you want to read more about feminist epistemology of ignorance? WHO DOESN’T? (That’s kind of a pun!) Try these great articles by Nancy Tuana (on topics near and dear to my sex researcher heart):

Known Unknowns = How do we know what we don’t know? = epistemology of ignorance

This is kind of another opposite of known knowns, and another way to think about epistemologies of ignorance. Like: think about the France example (with melted brie soooo goooood). I was a bit tricky up there because the rates of ethnic/racial discrimination are unknown in France, but are they known to be unknown? Or unknown to be unknown? Obviously, for us to discuss an unknown, someone’s gotta have an idea about it. But is it an unknown to the majority of people for whom it would be relevant? You could argue that the lack of French stats on ethnic/racial discrimination might be a known unknown to those who are discriminated against (they certainly know there is a lack of information that could be important and useful about their experiences) and an unknown unknown to the people in power who just happen to not see these things are worth knowing (like, one could not even have the idea in one’s head about it, so it’s not a debate about whether to measure these stats, it’s just a not-there issue). Anyway, the known unknowns are basically things we might want to know (or not) but don’t. They are gaps in knowledge we know exist, unlike gaps the majority of us don’t see. Known unknowns are like discomfort with the knowledge status quo, whereas unknown unknowns are like status quo is all we need.

Unknown Knowns =  How don’t we know what we know? = awkward surplus

I like unknown knowns a lot because I see a lot of academic work that exists in this space. You know that paper that shows that thing that kind of calls into question what everyone’s doing? And you know how everyone knows about that paper but ignores it? That’s because that paper exists in the land of awkward surplus (not quite as delicious as the land of Dairy Queen (R), to be honest). Awkward surplus is like that weird fourth cousin thrice removed who you just wish would disappear at your family event. It’s like the one bad book your favorite author wrote. It’s like when I was in grade 2 and realized that people could see, from behind, everyone’s bums wiggle when they walked, which was definitely Really Embarrassing! and Not Okay! such that I decided I had to drop that knowledge immediately from my mind in order to live. It’s like you have a little box to put papers and books and pieces of knowledge in when you don’t want to pay attention to them. You close that box and put it far away, in the corner of your attic and let spiders spin cobwebs around it and maybe cast a curse on the box too, while you’re at it, but that part is optional. You don’t deny the knowledge. You don’t debate it. You don’t even disbelieve it. You just ignore it. It’s so awkward! It’s wearing plaid pants! Can’t it just go away if you close your eyes and go lalalala?!

Do you want to read more about awkward surpluses? You’d rather not know? Ha ha, another pun. Anyway, I highly recommend this great piece by Joan Fujimura, again about some topics I love (Love All The Topics!):

Bonus! Unknown Knowns = How do we come to unknow what we once knew? = epistemology of ignorance

I think there are two ways to have unknown knowns. One is the above (awkward surpluses) which is more about how we don’t know things we know now. But we could also think about how we don’t know things we once knew. Like, you know those things you learn randomly, like, say, people used to pickle watermelon rinds?! WHO KNEW THAT! I mean, people who pickled watermelon rinds, OBVIOUSLY, but um, since then, like now, who knew?! Or, people used to know that it was good for women to move around during labor but medical science largely is like: staying still is the bestest way to have a baby since pickled watermelons. And, now, everyone’s like: wait! Remember the moving?! That was better apparently! And when I say ‘everyone’ I mean mostly ‘midwives’, but without the irony quotes because midwives are awesome (full disclosure: I’m not a midwife but one of them helped a baby out of my vagina) (full disclosure: I will mention that I have a vagina in this post) (full disclosure: that disclosure was too late). Why are there pieces of knowledge we now think to be true and thought were true originally, but somehow got erased in between? How do pieces of knowledge that have truth to them become fully out of the scope of what most knowers know now? Good thing there is epistemology of ignorance! Otherwise we’d never know. Another pun!

I like this article by Londa Schiebinger about the topic (and, full disclosure, I don’t think it’s a difficult read intellectually, but I found it difficult emotionally because it covers some gruesome but important colonial medical history among slaveholder treatment of various slave groups):

I also like this article by Vandana Shiva about indigenous people’s landcare practices versus those of colonizers:

The end!

Wisconsin Symposium on Feminist Biology!

Wisconsin Symposium on Feminist Biology

Join us October 10 – 11 as we consider how to uncover and reverse gender bias in biology

Keynote speakers:

Anne Fausto-Sterling, Brown University

Sari van Anders, University of Michigan

Featured speaker:

Caroline VanSickle, Wittig Postdoctoral Fellow in Feminist Biology, University of Wisconsin—Madison

Open to faculty from all disciplines, researchers, and graduate students!

The Center for Research on Gender and Women at the University of Wisconsin-Madison is pleased to announce the Wisconsin Symposium on Feminist Biology to deliberately examine creating new research, new topics, new methods, new theories that remove the gender bias in biological research.

Click for complete conference details including directions on how to submit a poster

At a glance:

When: Fri-Sat, Oct 10-11

Where: Red Gym, Madison, WI

Cost: Full symposium early bird $55 until Oct 1st, $70 after. Students $10.

Register online» | Details»

Questions? Contact Janet Shibley Hyde: jshyde@wisc.edu 608-262-9522

Made possible through the Gertraude Wittig Endowment

Co-sponsored by the Departments of Anthropology, Medical History and Bioethics, and the Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute

Supported, in part, by the University Lectures Committee

Feminist science: Getting started?

Have you ever wondered where to get started with feminist science? Wonder no more! Here is an epic list from all sorts of smart people in various disciplines — who are, full disclosure, some of my Facebook friends willing and generous enough to give their thoughts on starting points in about 5 seconds or less. Some of them are mega-experts and some of them are newer to feminist science studies, and they come from fields as diverse as philosophy, physics, neuroscience, medicine, evolution, and more! I’ve listed their suggestion, their name, and their field (and also a word doc so you can download and sort at will!). If you’ve peeked ahead to the list, you might be like: now I need a how-to-get-started for this epic get-started list! So here’s my suggestion: pick a title that intrigues you, a field that interests you, or a recommender whose name you know (or sounds interesting: like, if my name was Sari von FeministScientist, then you would DEFINITELY want to start with my recommendations). So… how to get started? By starting.

Here is the word doc of the list: Feminist Science Studies Readling List 07.07.2014 (click here!).

Recommendation Field of Reading Recommended by
Beldecos, A., Bailey, S., Gilbert, S., Hicks, K., Kenschaft, L., Niemczyk, N., Rosenberg, R., Schaertel, S., & Wedel, A. (1988). The importance of feminist critique for contemporary cell biology. Hypatia, 3(1), 61-76.

Article link

Feminist science theory; biology; cellular biology; molecular biology Miriam Solomon, Philosophy & Women’s Studies
McKee, A. (2009). Social scientists don’t say ‘titwank’. Sexualities, 12(5), 629-646. Article link Epistemology; humanities; social science; sex research; porn studies Daniel Cardoso, Communications
Fausto-Sterling, A. (2000). Sexing the body: Gender politics and the construction of sexuality. New York, NY: Basic Books.

Link to Google book (limited) version: Article link

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Classic; sex; sex differences; gender/sex; hormones; sexuality; anatomy; intersex; nature/nurture Deborah Tolman, Social Welfare and Psychology
Karkazis, K., Jordan-Young, R., Davis, G., & Camporesi, S. (2012). Out of bounds? A critique of the new policies on hyperandrogenism in elite female athletes. The American Journal of Bioethics, 12(7), 3-16.

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Sports; hormones; intersex; gender policing; sex; Shari Dworkin, Social and Behavioral Sciences
Krieger, N. (2003). Genders, sexes, and health: What are the connections–and why does it matter? International Journal of Epidemiology, 32(4), 652-657. Article link Public health; health; sex differences; gender/sex; nature/nurture Devon Greyson, Interdisciplinary Studies
Hird, M. (2004). Sex, gender, and science.

For an overview of the book, see: Article link

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Sex; sex differences; sexuality; epistemology; materiality; philosophy Meg John Barker, Psychology
Marchessault, J., & Sawchuk, K. (Eds.). (2013). Wild science: Reading feminism, medicine and the media.

Routledge.Link to Google book (limited) version: Article link

Link to purchasing book on Amazon: Article link

Medicine; health, self-help, media, epistemology Alex Iantaffi, Program in Human Sexuality
Lederman, M., & Bartsch, I. (Eds.). (2001). The gender and science reader. Psychology Press.

Link to Google book (limited) version: Article link

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Philosophy; sociology; history; Stacey Ritz, Medicine
Longino, H. (1995). Gender, politics, and the theoretical virtues. Synthese, 104(3), 383-397.

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Philosophy Catherine Hundleby, Philosophy and Women’s Studies
International Broadcasting Trust with TVE (Producer), & King-Underwood, A. (Director). (1995). Science for survival [Motion picture]. United States: Bullfrog Films, Inc.

Link to overview of video and option to purchase: Article link

Transnational feminism; India; ecofeminism; medicine, technology Catherine Hundleby, Philosophy and Women’s Studies
Schiebinger, L. (2000). Has feminism changed science? Signs, 25(4), 1171-1175.

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History; philosophy Anne Fausto-Sterling, Biology & Gender Development
Tuana, N. (2004). Coming to understand: Orgasm and the epistemology of ignorance. Hypatia, 19(1), 194-232.

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Sex research; sexuality; epistemology of ignorance; philosophy; agnatology; women’s bodies Maureen Linker, Philosophy
Moyers, B. (Producer). (1988). Science and gender: Evelyn Fox Keller [Motion picture]. United States: Films Media Group.

Link to overview of video and option to purchase: Article link

Evelyn Fox Keller; history; philosophy; language Catherine Hundleby, Philosophy and Women’s Studies
Martin, E. (1991). The egg and the sperm: How science has constructed a romance based on stereotypical male-female roles. Signs, 16(3), 485-501.

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Sociology; reproductive sciences; media Devon Greyson, Interdisciplinary Studies
Serano, J. (2009). Whipping girl: A transsexual woman on sexism and the scapegoating of femininity. Seal Press.

Link to Google book (limited) version: Article link

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Transgender studies; sexual diversity Lisa DeBruine, Neuroscience and Psychology
Traweek, S. (2009). Beamtimes and lifetimes: The world of high energy physicists. Harvard University Press.

Link to Google book (limited) version: Article link

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Physics; philosophy; sociology Greg van Anders, Physics
Hrdy, S. (1986). Empathy, polyandry, and the myth of the coy female. In r. Bleier (Ed.), Feminist approaches to science (pp. 119-146). New York: Pergamon Press.

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Anthropology; evolution; primate research; psychology Laura Ruetsche, Philosophy
Harding, S. (2006). Science and social inequality: Feminist and postcolonial issues. University of Illinois Press.

Link to Google book (limited) version: Article link

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Philosophy; postcolonial studies; class; nation; race Janine Farrell, Public Health
Cole, E., & Stewart, A. (2001). Invidious comparisons: Imagining a psychology of race and gender beyond differences. Political Psychology, 22(2), 293-308.

Article link

Psychology; race; intersectionality Lilia Cortina, Psychology and Women’s Studies
Fisher, M., Garcia, J., & Chang, R. (Eds.). (2013). Evolution’s empress: Darwinian perspectives on the nature of women. Oxford University Press.

Link to Google book (limited) version: Article link

Link to Purchasing Book on Amazon: Article link

Evolutionary Psychology; Anthropology Maryanne Fisher-MacDonnell, Psychology
Roy, D. (2012). Neuroethics, gender, and the response to difference. Neuroethics, 5, 217-230.

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Neuroethics; neuroscience Karen Rommelfanger, Neuroethics
Ritz, S., Antle, D., Cote, J., Deroy, K., Fraleigh, N., Messing, K., Parent, L., St-Pierre, J., Vaillancourt, C., & Mergler, D. (2013). First steps for integrating sex and gender considerations into basic experimental biomedical research. The FASEB Journal, 28(1), 4-13.

Article link

Biomedicine; cellular biology; molecular biology Stacey Ritz, Medicine
Einstein, G. (Ed.). 2007. Sex and the brain. Cambridge, Mass. MIT Press.

Original Link to purchase book: Article link

Psychology; Neuroscience; sex differences Leeat Granek, Psychology, Health
Rutherford, Alex. “Home – Psychology’s Feminist Voices.” Home – Psychology’s Feminist Voices. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 July 2014. Article link Psychology Leeat Granek, Psychology, Health

Also, experts: I know you’re like: “WHAT?! I can’t believe she left out book X. Book X is the foundation of everything!” I feel you. Send me your suggestion (and I’ll add it in) or note it yourself in the comments! Even just names are fine – we can add in citations later

Here also is a reading list from the fabulous Anne Fausto-Sterling, who was kind and generous enough to provide a recommendation AND TWO reading lists she has worked on for some time: (1) fem sci stu-biblio F-S This is a list of books in both gender & science and race & science. And also links to some great sites (e.g., history of race in science, feminist theory, etc.). (2)Feminist Science Studies F-S This is a one-page list of relevant authors from philosophy, biology, history, archaeology, anthropology, and physics.

And, here also is also another reading list from the generous Maryanne Fisher-MacDonnell, Rosemarie Sokol-Chang, and Sylis C.A. Nicolas for evolutionary psychology on various important topics in the field (e.g., female competition, female mating strategies) along with a long section on comments/critiques of the field. feps list 5.27.14

Finally, because I’m pretty pleased that everyone else did the hard work but I’m not immune to guilt, I’m going to lay my own cards on the table! Here’s a reading list for a graduate level course on feminist science studies I taught a little while ago. It covers disciplines (e.g., evolution/ecology), perspectives (e.g., postcolonial science, epistemology of ignorance), and topics (e.g., human/non-human, trans/intersex). Some of my favorite authors – in addition to the many listed below and in others’ lists- are there, like Kim TallBear, Banu Subramaniam, Joan Fujimura, and Patricia Hill Collins! Syllabus Feminist Science Studies van Anders 01.11.13

Did your to-read list just explode?! Mine did. So I’m going to close my eyes and point to ONE reading and read that.

Institutionalizing sex differences: Room for nuance

If you’re interested in feminist science, you, like me, probably heard about the recent U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) call to balance sex of subjects in relevant studies. For example, Janine Clayton and Francis Collins write:

The NIH is now developing policies that require applicants to report their plans for the balance of male and female cells and animals in preclinical studies in all future applications, unless sex-specific inclusion is unwarranted, based on rigorously defined exceptions.

Sounds great, right? If you’re interested in feminist science, you, like me, probably thought that (a) it really is great to pay attention to sex in humans, non-human animals, and cell lines, and also (b) that there is more to sex than difference, and (c) this could reinforce empirically-inaccurate and -inadequate notions that sex is a binary and females and males are dichotomous. Maybe you wanted to temper your enthusiasm for attention to sex (again! finally!) vs. over-attention to sex (again! still!).

Cue your superstar music because there is a great post that helps add nuance to what the policy needs to do, by Anne Fausto-Sterling and Daphna Joel.  They make the very important and clear point that, though many aspects of sex are largely dimorphic, most aren’t. For example: they note evidence that larger people should receive larger doses of some medications (using zolpidem as their example) than smaller people. Of course, men are on average larger than women – but should drug dose differentials be adjusted for sex because of sex differences in size? Wouldn’t it really make more sense to adjust dose based on people’s… size? That would avoid giving large women too little and small men too much. Here is the link.

So, for those of us who need one dose of nuance and two doses of empirical reality along with our sex differences, I’d recommend reading Fausto-Sterling and Joel’s well-thought-out and very concise post.