Innovative changes in biomedicine: integration of sex and gender aspects in research and clinical practice

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In the past ten years my research has concentrated on the innovation of biomedical research practices in terms of paying attention to sex and gender aspects. This article will address thenewly gained insights and the innovative knowledge that has been produced.The innovation of ‘traditional’ biomedicine started with the women’s health movement andthe feminist critique of science in the 1980-s. Involvement with life sciences and biomedicalresearch is visible in publications as early as Alice through the Microscope by the BrightonWomen and Science group in 1980 which focused on science and women’s livesand where Alice discovered an amazingly gendered world of science!(Curran & Brighton Women andScience Group, 1980). A patriarchal science was unveiled that neglected or stereotypedwomen’s bodies, health and lives. Soon after pioneering feminist biologists like Lynda Birkeand Anne Fausto-Sterling started academic critiques of biomedicine, addressing biology andmedicine in the first place (Birke & Vines, 1987; Fausto-Sterling, 1985). The strategies theyemployed were directed towards the biomedical method itself. Both authors coulddemonstrate that the scientific method was not as objective as it was believed to be; instead,effects of gender were visible in the production of biomedical knowledge. The claim that processes of gender had an influence on the production of biomedical knowledge at the sametime opened up possibilities for change. Much knowledge that was regarded by feminists as‘biology is destiny’, turned out to be far from determinist. If taken account of the influence of gender on biomedical knowledge production, many myths about women and women’s rolescould become dismantled. Although it is a biological fact that only women can give birth to achild, in no way this is a blueprint for who (mother or father) should be charged withcaretaking during the consecutive years. Within the scope of this article a detailed historicalaccount of those 29 years of innovation is impossible and I can only refer to LondaSchiebinger who has twice produced an overview of the feminist involvement with science inher books Has Feminism changed Science and Gendered Innovations in Science and Engineering (Schiebinger, 1999, 2008). She has described the various fields in which a lot has been accomplished in those years including biomedicine. Gender Studies in biomedicinemarks the latest strand of innovative biomedical research: it focuses on gender & health, andaddresses women’s and men’s health issues in research and clinical practice.

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