engineering, medicine, technology and government policy. She designed the recently
launched site as a global guide
to all facets of sex and gender
analysis, highlighting definitions, methodologies and case
studies that include notable
“My goal,” says Schiebin-
ger, former director of Stan-
ford’s Clayman Institute for
Gender Research, “is to see sex
and gender become a standard
part of science and engineering,
One of Schiebinger’s themes
is the potential of sex and gender analysis
to foster discovery and community prog-
ress, as opposed to merely exposing bias.
Her case studies lean toward problems
involving the unequal treatment of
women, but Schiebinger has taken pains
to emphasize solutions rather than com-
piling a lengthy list of grievances. For
instance, she cites the improved under-
standing of traumatic brain injuries
gained by including female animals in the
research. That contrasts, says Schiebin-
ger, with a history of female animals being
underrepresented in many biomedical
studies that are relevant to both men and
women. Another prominent example:
Women and girls have primary responsi-
bility for procuring water in most coun-
tries, which means they could offer
invaluable knowledge to international
Swarthmore College biology professor
Scott Gilbert is familiar with Schiebinger’s
work. He puts her concept of gendered
innovations in the context of “science as
both a product of, and as a participant in,
society”—thereby recognizing the possibility of science borrowing language or
assumptions that bias research.
Note to Innovators: Sex Matters
An online guide aims to improve products
and services through more inclusive analysis.
We all need to demonstrate more interest
in sex and gender. Intellectually.
And if we do it well, says history of science professor Londa Schiebinger, we’ll
save lives and influence the way researchers approach almost every field of study.
It’s going to take considerable effort—
“Few people know how to do sex and gender analysis,” Schiebinger says—but she’s
propelling her ideas onto an international
stage with the fervor you’d expect from
someone unveiling the signature project
of her career.
In simplest terms, Schiebinger’s message is that public policy and scientific
research often fail to account for key differences bet ween men and women, leading
to alarming flaws in products and services.
Two striking examples: seatbelt testing
and design that ignores the effect of the
restraints on pregnant women; and, in
health care, inattention to the way osteoporosis afflicts males as well as females.
With joint funding from Stanford and
the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Research & Innovation,
Schiebinger has synthesized her work on
the website Gendered Innovations, her
catchphrase for new ways of stimulating
Sex or Gender?
Sex refers to the biological differences
between males and females, while gender
refers to cultural and social rules or traditions that are associated with feminine
and masculine behavior.
A FAIRER SHAKE: Schiebinger cites
car safety designs that ignore the
needs of pregnant women.
to characterizations of “active” sperm
racing toward the “passive” egg as an
example of a cultural skew instead of
helpful scientific data. “Dr. Schiebinger is
compiling a manual to analyze what we
are being told and to catch science when it
becomes less objective than its own rules
Schiebinger says her work benefits
enormously from the “incubator” envi-
ronment at Stanford, and that her time
as director of the Clayman Institute was
highlighted by input from colleagues of
almost every discipline. She’s hoping the
gendered innovations website will entice
equally diverse attention from around the
world, generating additional case studies
that reflect the latest scientific trends.
The notion of taking “bold leaps” in
sex and gender research is exciting in
itself, but the scholarship is ultimately
important, says Schiebinger, because of
how tangibly it “can make a difference in
people’s lives.” n