"Gender, Time, and the Measurement of Fertility"
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Marion Boulicault, Postdoctoral Scholar in the Ethics of Technology, MIT.
Co-sponsored by the Graduate School or Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
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Sheila Jasanoff, Faculty Associate. Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies, Harvard Kennedy School.
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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.