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* New Book by Linda Layne Examines “Feminist  Technology”

New Book by Linda Layne Examines “Feminist

A new book edited by Linda Layne, the Alma and H. Erwin Hale ’30 Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences, and other feminist scholars examines “feminist technology” — objects in our daily lives that enhance women’s ability to develop, expand, and express their capacities.

The book considers many questions such as: Is there such a thing as “feminist technology”? Is so, what makes a technology feminist? Is it in the design process, in the product itself, in the way it is marketed, or in the way it is used by women (or by men)?

Feminist Technology presents case studies of products — specifically menstrual-suppressing birth control pills, home pregnancy tests, tampons, breast pumps, Norplant, anti-fertility vaccines, and microbicides — evaluating the claims that such products are liberating for women.

In each case the authors show how the products are not all they are promised to be and offer proposals for alternatives. Rather than simply offering post facto critiques of technology, the authors would like to intervene early in the design process. The authors would like to see feminism as pervasive a social goal as sustainability when it comes to designing products and human-made spaces.

The products, each of which is intended to help women control their reproductive system, provided a good suite of technologies with which “to think,” Layne wrote in the introduction to the book. “They are in some ways, the simplest test cases and yet, as we quickly found, not simple at all.”

“A technology may appear feminist in the light of one type of feminism and antifeminist through a different feminist lens,” said Layne.

One example studied in the book is the menstrual-suppressing birth control pill lauded by liberal feminists as a valuable addition to the range of contraceptive choices available to women, and rejected by radical feminists as irredeemably antifeminist.

Layne said that, in the U.S., one of the primary ways the feminist movement has worked to overcome gender bias has been through changes in the law and public policy. However, technologies also impact gender biases, becoming — as noted by a colleague — less considered “forms of legislation.”’

The book brings together feminist scholars trained in cultural anthropology, archeology, history, philosophy, geography, women’s studies, architectural design, and pedagogy to develop better tools for designing, promoting, and evaluating feminist technologies.

Recognizing the different needs and desires of women and acknowledging the multiplicity of feminist approaches, Feminist Technology offers an insightful examination of existing and emergent technologies that share the goal of improving women’s lives and guidelines for promoting more and better feminist technologies.

The book was edited by Layne, Sharra Vostral, associate professor of gender and women’s studies and history at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (formerly of Rensselaer), and Kate Boyer, a lecturer in the School of Geography at the University of Southampton (formerly of Rensselaer).

Layne, a professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies, said she is already planning a sequel on “feminist entrepreneurs,” and is currently seeking subjects. Her books include Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Perspective on Pregnancy Loss and Consuming Motherhood.

For more information about Feminist Technologies, visit the Illinois Press Book Blog entry about the book at

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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 4, Number 11, June 18, 2010
©2010 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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