New Book From Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Professor Advocates Feminist Technology
A new book edited by Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Professor Linda Layne and other feminist scholars examines
“Feminist Technology” — objects in our daily lives that enhance
women's ability to develop, expand, and express their
The book considers many questions, including: Is there such
a thing as a “feminist technology”? If so, what makes a
technology feminist? Is it in the design process, in the
technology object 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 study, 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, they seek to intervene early in the design
process. They would like to see feminism as pervasive a social
goal as sustainability when it comes to designing products and
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
“A technology may appear feminist in the light of one type
of feminism and antifeminist through a different feminist
lens,” said Layne, a medical anthropologist and Alma and H.
Erwin Hale ’30 Professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at
One example studied in the book is the menstrual-suppressing
birth control pill lauded by liberal feminists, according to
Layne, 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 United States, 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 in the book — less considered “forms of
Layne said she is already planning a sequel on “feminist
entrepreneurs,” and is currently seeking subjects.
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 L. 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
Layne is the Hale Professor of Humanities and Social
Sciences and a professor of anthropology at Rensselaer.
Her books include Motherhood Lost: A Feminist Perspective
on Pregnancy Loss and Consuming Motherhood.
For more information about Feminist Technology,
visit the Illinois Press Book Blog entry about the book at http://www.press.uillinois.edu/wordpress/?p=5719