Science, Technology, and Society Seminar: STS Circle at Harvard (Zoom)


Monday, September 27, 2021, 12:15pm to 2:00pm


Online Only

"Gender, Time, and the Measurement of Fertility"

Attend this event via Zoom (advance registration required)


Marion Boulicault, Postdoctoral Scholar in the Ethics of Technology, MIT.


Emily Neill

Co-sponsored by the Graduate School or Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

This event is online only. Please click the "Read More" link for full instructions on how to attend this seminar.


Sheila JasanoffFaculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.

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Please note: This event requires registration in advance in order to receive the meeting link and password.


Human fertility is in an apparent state of crisis. In July 2017, scientists reported that sperm counts among men from North America, Europe and Australia have decreased by 50 – 60% since 1973, with no sign of halting (Levine et al. 2017). For women, the story is bleak and familiar: women’s fertility decreases with age, yet women are waiting longer than ever to have children (Kincaid 2015). In this talk, I investigate this crisis by analyzing the seemingly mundane practice of measurement, i.e. the standards, methods and instruments by which the phenomenon of fertility is quantified. By comparing two widely-used measures – semen analysis in men, and ovarian reserve testing (ORT) in women – I argue that racialized gender values, norms and ideals play a significant role in constructing fertility as a measurable phenomenon. Different temporal assumptions implicit in semen analysis and ORT reflect and enforce a view of women as more responsible for – and therefore more to blame for – infertility than men. I conclude by arguing that, with respect to semen analysis and ORT, it’s not just fertility that’s being measured, but degrees of adherence to entrenched, racialized norms of masculinity and femininity.