In the workshop we will have about 3 time slots for discussion. Although the topics we’ll address in these discussions are of course open to change, we propose three big ones and a set of questions for each of them. We can all think about those before the workshop and that can guide the discussions.
TOPIC 1: On the specificities of female bodies
Our focus on female bodies has to do with our perceived need to pay attention to what is specifically female, something that we find has been forgotten by science, healthcare, and philosophy. Traditional essentialist thinking about sex and gender emphasizes natural biological differences to ground (mostly discriminatory) distinctions between female and male. Thus, although vindicating female bodies may be challenging for some feminist scholars who prefer to stay away of binary classifications, we intend to pay attention to recent work who finds so many important facts about females and elaborates such relevant thoughts about them. That is why we think that the time for discussing some forgotten characteristics of female bodies may be ripe now. At least to see what is lost otherwise. Our appeal to female bodies is necessarily pluralist, not essentialist, and the convenience -or not- of appealing to differences between female and male general categories remains a main matter of discussion.
Among feminist scholars there are major disagreements regarding how to approach sexual differences among human bodies. In what respects sex and gender, successive “waves” of feminism have discussed the convenience to appeal or not to differences and similarities that have to do with the female category. More recently, gender theorists belonging to the third-wave feminism have challenged the very notion of sexual difference as demarcating a clear separation between the male and the female sexes, and argued that sex itself is a social construct.
In what respects biology, the binary categorization is often responded either by postulating more sexes than two or by postulating a continuous range of sexgender individual differences, taking into account developmental plasticity and environmental interactions with biological processes and entities. Yet developmental and organismic potentialities across the sex/gender dimension may be also explored as producing discrete, although plural, variants or forms linked to what can be considered female in the broadest meaning. In this sense we endorse and support the exploration of relevant ranges of female biological phenomenologies in what respects developmental, evolutionary and interactive processes, because this work can be of use for many projects linked to the neglect of the female in science and philosophy. Also there are increasing evidences in fields such as epigenetics or immunology (transplants) that biological and other relations among organisms may be different depending on the female or male sex of the participants. Attention to both environmental influences and to relational processes among organisms, combined with evolved morphogenetic patterns may aid and greatly expand our knowledge of the female in a pluralistic and inclusive way.
The neglect of attention to female specificities is becoming particularly relevant in medicine and related healthcare fields. In recent decades, the implications of gender-bias in biomedical knowledge and practices are showing that the social and historical context have influenced scientific research. Current explorations of relevant specificities of female bodies will be relevant for education and practices. In addition, understanding of social/cultural/gender differences are perceived as crucial in fields such as medical humanities to develop a patient-based consideration in the education and the training of health professionals.
Some questions we intend to explore around this topic 1:
- Is the female/male binary distinction still worth using in some cases? Can we delimit which cases and for what purposes? How can gendered embodiments be understood?
- Does the fact that female bodies are not exclusively biological in the case of humans but can be constructed technologically, influence our view of females bodies?
- Can we distinguish kinds of male/female bodies in evolutionary terms or related to developmental processes? How will they be scientifically relevant?
- Does plasticity or the ability to be shaped by the environment affect our perception of female bodies?
- How can biology offer a criterion to recognize the reality of sex/gender differences? What would be their status?
- What are, in this case, the medical and social consequences of taking these differences into account? Do we need to call for gender related analyses of health? In what cases?
- What are the consequences of plasticity for our understanding of sex differences? What’s the role of nature and nurture (or more specifically, the role of genes and environment) in the development of sex-linked behaviour in the lifetime of an organism, and across generations?
TOPIC 2: On the perception of female bodies
Although we are surrounded by images of female bodies, their biological cores, captured in their interactions and experiences, have been all but forgotten in medicine, biology, and philosophy. Anatomy textbooks generally take “the male body” as the norm; biomedical research has primarily been conducted using the male body as the basis for laboratory and clinical studies, excluding women from the prevention, diagnosis, and optimal treatment of diseases; evolutionary biology mainly considers females only with regards to their role in reproduction; cognitive science and philosophy of mind consider there to be one body and cognition, universal and the same for all, but also based on a male (and adult, able, white) stereotype. Regular events in women’s reproductive lives, including pregnancy, childbirth, menopause, and menstruation, are interpreted as pathological aspects of women’s bodies and health. In sum, female bodies have been considered either as deviations of the male norm or as passive participants.
Beyond objectification, a painful factor of discrimination that has been a justified concern of feminist thought, we vindicate the need of strengthening the knowledge and perception of female bodies in those aspects that have been forgotten. For example, a major epistemic tool that has served the invisibilization of the female body is the so-called “container model” operating in the conceptualization of pregnancy, by which pregnant females are seen as mere carriers of their embryos/fetuses and not as, for example, whole, interactive organisms.
The perception of female bodies in science, healthcare and philosophy may be challenged in several ways to underline how alternative views can be envisaged.
Some questions we intend to explore around this topic 2:
- What other alternative views of females bodies can be relevant to enlarge philosophical, scientific and medical views?
- How does visual epistemology influence scientific pathways? What kind of diagnostics are used and what do they make visible? Are there invisible and relevant aspects that need to be stressed with respect to female bodies?
- How the conceptualisation of female bodies as vehicles of reproduction has affected medical treatment of pregnancy, the social perception of reproductive techniques or the debate on surrogate mothers?
- How can medical education and medical humanities account for the many gender specificities? How is gender-bias still growing in medical education? Do diseases affect women and men differently?
TOPIC 3: On perception/participation by female bodies
One of the major motivations of this workshop is to try to understand not only how we perceive female bodies, but also to explore whether female bodies perceive the world in a different way. Feminist epistemology has developed relevant work on the specificities of female perception and knowledge. One of the preferred topics in feminist writings has been that care and compassion have been remarkable ingredients of female views of realities as well as empathy and concern for others. But philosophical, scientific and artistic attention to the ways in which female bodies perceive and participate may generate unexpected insights, and disclose new avenues of research and exploration beyond those already considered.
Here we are particularly interested in exploring female perceptions in all species, as well as perception and participation of women in science topics but also in scientific and healthcare related collaborative work, participatory projects, and love relations.
The largest body of work in feminist analysis of science concerns revealing how gender biases in biological and biomedical research, such as the assumptions of female passivity and male activity underlying a wide range of biological accounts of sexgender, have entailed major methodological and empirical weaknesses in purported evidence for the cognitive and behavioural consequences of sex differences.
In phenomenology, the main question is “What is experience?” However, like in so many fields, in search for answers to this question, phenomenology has been guided and performed mainly by male bodies (or: male voices have been the most prominent). As a consequence, the invariants of experience that phenomenology has unearthed are often – even if at first sight they seem universal – in fact quite masculine, as feminist phenomenologists like Luce Irigaray, Donna Haraway, and others have shown.
Some questions we intend to explore around this topic 3:
- Do women do science differently?
- Do women do philosophy differently? Why are there so few women in philosophy?
- What happens when female bodies thematize themselves? What happens when female bodies investigate experience?
- What are the specific ways of participation or collaboration of females in healthcare that medical education needs to emphasise?
- How can a shift in perception as derived from the elimination of gender biased assumptions on sex differences influence scientific practices?
- Are relations different depending on the female/male sex/gender dimension of participants? What does epigenetics suggest about that?
- What changes when we consider female perspectives, i.e., female processes, interactions, and experiences in pregnancy, breastfeeding, childbirth, menstruation, abortion, miscarriage, morphology, surrogate mothers, menopause, female-specific diseases (endometriosis, breast cancer)…?