Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Linda Layne, S. Vostral, and K. Boyer (eds), "Feminist Technology"

Linda L. Layne is Hale Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of Anthropology in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer. She is the author Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Account of Pregnancy Loss in America, and Home and Homeland: The Dialogics of Tribal and National Identities in Jordan and has edited two volumes on motherhood and consumption: Consuming Motherhood and Transformative Motherhood: On Giving and Getting in a Consumer Culture.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her latest book Feminist Technology (edited with Vostral and Boyer), and reported the following:
To my surprise, the page 99 test worked. It falls in the middle of my chapter, “Why the Home Pregnancy Test Isn’t the Feminist Technology It’s Cracked Up to Be, and How To Make It Better.” In that chapter I use first person accounts of home pregnancy test use to examine whether this utterly pervasive reproductive technology actually benefits women. I take each of the purported benefits of this technology in turn. Page 99 addresses two of these— more privacy, and knowing sooner, so that the user can either “start taking care of herself” or have an early abortion. Women who care most about privacy are those who do not wish to be pregnant and they report ways that using these tests makes them vulnerable to exposure at time of purchase and when disposing of the test. On page 99, I also discuss how while many of the women who hope they are pregnant do not share these concerns, (one reports feeling proud to be seen in the store looking at the tests trying to decide which of the many brands was the best), some do. The page ends by introducing my concerns about the assumption that earlier “detection” actually benefits women. Brands that boast “results four days sooner than other leading brands” in fact have an accuracy rate of about 50% (i.e., the same as flipping a coin). I conclude that home pregnancy tests do not offer women the benefits they purport to and in some ways disempower women by deskilling them and enticing them to squander their buying power on frivolous consumer products. Despite this critique, I recognize that these information technologies do to offer some benefits to some women sometimes, and so the chapter ends, like all of the other case studies in the book (on menstrual suppressing birth control pills, tampons, breast pumps, Norplant, anti-fertility vaccines, and microbicides), by making concrete suggestions on how these technologies should be improved to better serve women.
Learn more about Feminist Technology by following the blog at the University of Illinois website.

Visit Linda L. Layne's faculty webpage.

--Marshal Zeringue