Analyzing Gender

Gender comes into play when cultural attitudes are important to a project (see Term: Gender). This method looks specifically at:

  1. Researchers' and engineers’ gender assumptions and behaviors as these relate to the proposed research.
  2. Research Subjects' and Users’ gender needs, assumptions, and behaviors as these relate to the proposed research.
  3. How #1 & #2 interact—or gender relations between researchers/engineers and subjects/users.

Gender attitudes and behaviors “reside” and are (re)produced at various levels—in individuals, social institutions, and wider society and cultures. This method assumes that researchers can begin to learn how gender functions. The value of its implementation depends, as with other research methods, on the skill and creativity of the research team.

Gender is a primary linguistic, cognitive, and analytical category in science, health & medicine, and engineering (Schiebinger, 2008; Klinge et al., 2010; Zorn et. al, 2007; Bührer et al., 2006; Oudshoorn et al., 2003; Strum et al., 2000). Yet gender assumptions often go unquestioned and hence remain invisible to a scientific community (Schiebinger, 1989; Oudshoorn, 1994; Richardson, 2013). These background assumptions unconsciously influence scientific priorities, research questions, and choices of methods (see also Rethinking Research Priorities and Outcomes, Rethinking Concepts and Theories, and Formulating Research Questions). When gender assumptions are invisible and remain unexamined, they may introduce bias into science and engineering. They can undermine the “self-correcting” mechanisms in research and design.

  1. What are the researchers' or engineers’ gendered assumptions and behaviors that affect the proposed research?
    1. Do background assumptions—or “taken-for-granteds"—in the research community affect research in unexamined ways? Take, for example, the genetics of sex determination. For decades the study of sex determination focused on “testis determination.” The ovary-producing female pathway was considered a passive, “default” pathway. New models of sex determination show both female and male development as parallel, active, gene-mediated processes (see Case Study: Genetics of Sex Determination).
    2. What background assumptions have influenced choices about research subjects or users? For example, basic research in animals has focused on males largely because researchers assume that males are less variable (see Case Study: Animal Research).
    3. What unexamined assumptions have researchers made about women/men (or females/males of other species) in their research? When they consider men, do they consider which men? Are these poor men, wealthy men, fit men, poorly-educated men (see also Analyzing Factors Intersecting with Sex and Gender)? Not all men (or women) are the same. To avoid stereotypes, researchers should identify their subjects/users specifically. For example, HIV microbicides have been added to vaginal gels. In addition to delivering microbicides (contraceptives or other products), gels also act as lubricants—which may make them undesirable to some potential users (see Case Study: HIV Microbicides).
    4. How do gender divisions of labor affect a project? What former blind spots may prove fertile areas for innovation? For example, researchers who studied divisions of labor in service call centers found that most employees with direct contact with customers were women (Russell, 2008). These women typically used software based on managers’ assessments of their needs and not on direct study of their work flow. Engineers who observed how these women worked were able to redesign software in ways that ultimately boosted productivity (Maass et al., 2007).
  2. What are the research subjects' and users’ gender needs, assumptions, or behaviors as they affect the proposed research?
    1. Do men and women have differing needs and expectations for outcomes?
    2. What are the actual characteristics of subjects and users. what are the self-reported characteristics, and how might they be influenced by stereotypes? For example, understanding the characteristics of elderly populations is crucial to designing successful assistive technologies. While elderly women and men often have similar needs, understanding how sex and gender interact to impact aging can assist engineers develop technologies that best fit user needs (see Case Study: Exploring Markets for Assistive Technology for the Elderly).
  3. How do #1 & #2 interact? How do the genders of the researcher and the genders of the subject/user interact?
    1. How might a subject respond differently to a man researcher or a woman researcher? For example, in a telephone interview, the perceived sex of the interviewer may influence the responses of research subjects. This effect may be different for women subjects and men subjects, reflecting interactions between researchers’ and subjects’ gender attitudes (Kane et al., 1993). Similar effects may also be related to researchers’ and research subjects’ race and ethnicity (Streb et al., 2008).
    2. What scope is there for the groups concerned to be involved in the research? For instance, the expertise held by particular groups of women or men might be usefully accessed for gendered innovations (see also Participatory Research and Design). For example, because water procurement is women’s work in some societies, many women have detailed knowledge of soils and their water yields. Tapping into this knowledge is vital to civil engineering and development projects—for instance, in determining where to place wells and water taps (see Case Study: Water).

Related Case Studies

Climate Change
Exploring Markets for Assistive technology for the Elderly
Heart Disease in Women
Making Machines Talk
Osteoporosis Research in Men
Public Transportation
Video Games

Works Cited

  • Bührer, S, & Schraudner, M. (Eds.) (2006). Wie können Gender-Aspekte in Forschungsvorhaben erkannt und Bewertet Werden? Karlsruhe: Fraunhofer Verlag.
  • Kane, E., & Macaulay, L. (1993). Interviewer Gender and Gender Attitudes. Journal of the American Association for Public Opinion Research, 57 (1), 1-28.
  • Klinge, I. & Wiesemann, C. (Eds.) (2010). Sex and Gender in Biomedicine: Theories, Methodologies, and Results. Göttingen: Universitätsverlag.
  • Maass, S. & Rommes, E. (2007). Uncovering the Invisible: Gender-Sensitive Analysis of Call Center Work and Software. In Zorn, I., Maass, S., Rommes, E., Schirmer, C., & Schelhowe, H. (Eds.), Gender Designs IT: Construction and Deconstruction of Information Society Technology, pp. 97-109. Berlin: VS Verlag Für Sozialwissenschaften.
  • Oudshoorn, N. (1994). Beyond the Natural Body: An Archaeology of Sex Hormones. London: Routledge.
  • Oudshoorn, N., & Pinch, T. (Eds.) (2003). How Users Matter: The Co-Construction of Users and Technologies. Cambridge: MIT Press.
  • Richardson, S. (Forthcoming). Sex Itself: Male and Female in the Human Genome. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Russell, B. (2008). Call Centres: A Decade of Research. International Journal of Management Reviews, 10 (3), 195-219.
  • Schiebinger, L. (Ed.) (2008). Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Spritzley, A., Ohlausen, P., Sprath, D. (Eds.) (2010). The Innovation Potential of Diversity: Practical Examples for the Innovation Management. Stuttgart: Fraunhofer-Institut für Arbeitswirtschaft und Organisation.
  • Streb, M., Burrell, B., Frederick, B., & Genovese, M. (2008). Social Desirability Effects and Support for a Female American President. Public Opinion Quarterly, 72 (1), 76-89.
  • Strum, S. & Fedigan, L. (2000). Primate Encounters: Models of Science, Gender, and Society. Chicago: Chicago University Press.
  • Zorn, I., Maas, S., Rommes, E., Schimer, C., Schelhowe, H. (Eds.) (2007). Gender Designs IT. Weisbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.