BIS 482 Problems in Interdisciplinary Science, Autumn 2004
Sexual Science: Historical and Critical Perspectives

Home Page (Syllabus)

Instructor: Joanne Woiak
Email: jwoiak at

Office: UW1-246
Office Hours: T & Th 4:30-5:30 and by appointment
Telephone: 425-352-3364 (better to contact me by email)

Class meetings: T & Th 5:45-7:50 pm, in UW1-020
Check the course website regularly for updates:



Course Description
Are men really better at mathematics than women are? Who believes that there is a gay gene? Why has there been so little medical research on the effects of hormone replacement therapy? Will there ever be an effective birth control pill for men? What happens to people born with an intersex condition? Do reproductive technologies expand or limit women’s choices? What kind of evidence—and what kind of politics—supports the theory that males have evolved to be promiscuous and even rapists? This course will examine these kinds of skeptical questions about “sexual science” that have been raised by scholars in gender studies and science studies. The texts we will analyze claim that the content of science is integrated with its cultural context, and therefore scientific knowledge and practices often reflect existing power structures and reinforce sexist ideologies and hierarchies. We will look at case studies (past and present) of gender influences in certain areas of the biological, medical, and social sciences. If indeed science is not gender neutral, and there is a “politics of women’s biology,” then can/should there be efforts to supplant biased theories and questions with new approaches based on the more egalitarian values of “feminist science”?


Participation in class discussion & research group (15%)
Homework exercises, 6 total (30%)
Research proposal & annotated bibliography, due Nov 9 (15%)
Research essay, 8-10 pages, due Dec 13 6pm in my office (30%)
Oral presentation of research results, 10 minutes, format & date TBA (10%)

Readings & Activities

The assigned textbook is available in the UWB bookstore and on library reserve: Londa Schiebinger, Has Feminism Changed Science? (Harvard University Press, 1999). The rest of the required readings are posted on the course website (as pdf files), to be accessed using your UWB ID. In the first half of the quarter, you must read for each class period several articles focusing on particular examples of gendered science. You will also complete 6 homework assignments, which will be found on the course website. (The due dates may change from what's on the printed syllabus.) Hand in a hard copy of your homework answers at the beginning of the class period. You must visit the website regularly in order to download the assignments and check for updates to the course content. The “extra” links are supplementary material that might be used in class discussion or might serve as starting points for developing a research question for your final essay. A number of important “gender and science” books will be placed on the library reserve shelf. You are expected to do all of the day’s required reading before the start of class and to be prepared with questions and opinions to discuss. The instructor will give some lectures introducing critical methods and issues, but this is principally a discussion course with content to be directed by student interests, insights, and queries. The topics to be covered are controversial, political, and often sensitive in nature, so my aim is to create an atmosphere of open and respectful sharing of ideas. The last several weeks will be spent on intensive individual and group work on your research project. More information about this part of the course will be distributed later. Start your research at the library resources webpage that has been compiled specially for this course.

Course objectives
1. This course follows the interdisciplinary approach called “science studies,” which challenges the claim that science is autonomous and objective, and critically evaluates scientific knowledge and technologies in their social contexts. Students should learn to ask questions about how cultural beliefs and interests can shape scientific inquiry and its applications. We will explore whether and how value-laden sciences may be problematic and what can be done about this. Our focus will be on using the methods of feminist/gender analysis in order to critique sexist biases in the substance of the life sciences and social sciences. Most of the required readings, as well as the main sources you will use for your research project, are representative texts by feminist scholars working in history/sociology/philosophy of science. A few of the readings may include technical scientific information (since many of the leading feminist critics of science are themselves practicing scientists), but it is not expected that you understand all the details. You are also encouraged to find and analyze relevant items from popular media sources. By the end of this class you should have a good overview of the theoretical tools and body of knowledge called “feminist science studies.” You should be able to analyze the arguments of different feminist scholars, and you should be able to apply these types of questions and approaches to your own original research on the effects of gender in science. Note that gender studies and science studies are vibrant fields in which research is ongoing and informed debate is welcomed – you may not agree with everything you read, and you are encouraged to come up with new findings and interpretations of the social meanings of science. All of us as citizens ought to acquire some degree of scientific literacy and be politically aware of the public uses and abuses of science, technology, and medicine.

2. This course is designed to sharpen your practical skills in critical textual analysis, written and oral communication, and the synthesis of knowledge gained from diverse fields of study. Your participation grade will be based on evidence of preparedness and the quality and consistency of your contributions. Participation includes expressing your own reasoned arguments, as well as constructively responding to your classmates. Part of the participation grade will be based on your cooperative efforts with classmates in small “research groups” (see below). Missing classes will prevent your involvement in these activities and thus affect your grade adversely. During the first several weeks, you will complete a series of outcome-directed short homework exercises. These will develop the kinds of critical thinking and writing skills that you will need to undertake a successful final research paper. In the second half of the course, class time will be allotted for consultations on your research proposal, essay arguments, and sources to be used as textual evidence. You are encouraged to get feedback from the instructor at any stage of your work, during office hours and via email. Each student will also be part of a research group, in which you will evaluate each others’ paper proposals, make comments on drafts of the final essay, and be available to confer with one another outside of class time. I will base your participation grade partly on peer and self assessments.

3. Your major assignment will be an original research paper (8-10 double-spaced pages), written in the form of an argumentative essay (i.e. defending a thesis statement). In consultation with the instructor and campus librarians, each student will select an appropriate topic to investigate in depth. You may choose something covered on the syllabus or you may suggest another issue on the theme of “gender and science” or “sexual science” (NOT “women in science”). The broad range of subjects covered in class during the first several weeks should give you plenty of ideas about relevant and important issues to explore, as well as suggestions on the types of source materials to utilize. I will provide more detailed guidelines on what is expected in terms of content and format. Your topic must be approved in advance, by submitting a research proposal with bibliography (Nov 9) that persuades me you have begun seriously studying a topic. The proposal will be about 1-page long, explaining your research issue/questions and making a preliminary thesis statement. Your annotated bibliography will consist of concise summaries—in your own words—of the main arguments in several published sources that are crucial to your research. Finally, each student will share her findings with the class in a 10-minute oral presentation (format and date TBA).

Grading scale
for individual assignments and final grade:
4.0 = 97-100%; 3.9 = 95-96%
3.8 = 93-94%; 3.7 = 92%; 3.6 = 91%; 3.5 = 90%
3.4 = 88-89%; 3.3 = 87%; 3.2 = 86%
3.1 = 85%; 3.0 = 84%; 2.9 = 83%
2.8 = 82%; 2.7 = 81%; 2.6 = 80%; 2.5 =N/A
2.4 = 78-79%; 2.3 = 77%; 2.2 = 76%
2.1 = 75%; 2.0 = 74%; 1.9 = 73%
1.8 = 72%; 1.7 = 71%; 1.6 = 70%; 1.5 = N/A
1.4 = 68-69%; 1.3 = 67%; 1.2 = 66%
1.1 = 65%; 1.0 = 64%; 0.9 = 63%
0.8 = 61-62%; 0.7 = 60%; 0.0 = 0-59%

DOCUMENTING SOURCES: When writing an essay, ALL direct quotations, paraphrases, information, interpretations, and opinions taken from another person’s work must be identified. Providing documentation will answer your reader’s questions such as “Where did you get that?” or “Why should this claim be believed?” Use quotation marks and citations whenever you use someone else’s exact words. Citations are also required to indicate that you have borrowed ideas or facts from a particular source, even if you are not quoting from it. Every essay submitted for this course must have a bibliography listing all sources cited and consulted. I prefer that you use MLA documentation style, which includes giving exact page numbers. When you have questions about citations, look here:
Woiak class handout on documenting sources.
For MLA guidelines see
On citing internet sources see

ACADEMIC INTEGRITY: All work submitted for evaluation and course credit must be an original effort. Plagiarism means presenting the words or ideas of another person as if they were your own, for example by turning in someone else’s work or failing to document material you have quoted or borrowed. It is a serious offence and punishable under the provisions of the University’s Student Conduct Code. If you are unsure about your use of sources or are having other difficulties with your writing, please come to my office hours or make an appointment with the UWB Writing Center (425-352-5253, UW2-124). Any evidence of plagiarism, whether intentional or accidental, will result in a grade of zero for that assignment. Additional sanctions may also be imposed by the University. You are responsible for understanding all aspects of the regulations regarding academic integrity.
UW Academic and Behavioral Conduct

SUBMITTING WORK: Homework assignments and the research proposal will be collected at the start of the class period. Late homework will NOT be accepted unless there was an emergency. Late proposals and essays will receive grade penalties of 5% per day. The final paper should be delivered to my office (UW1-246) no later than 6pm on Monday Dec 13. All work must be submitted in hard copies, and will be returned with comments. I will accept NO work electronically unless you have obtained permission from me in advance. Keep copies of all submitted work for your protection. No extra credit or paper re-writes will be permitted. If you want your final essay returned, please provide a large mailing envelope, self-addressed and stamped.

Incompletes: In accordance with University policy, I can give an incomplete only if the student has been attending class and doing all the major assignments until within two weeks of the end of the quarter, and if proof has been provided that the work cannot be completed because of circumstances beyond the student’s control.

Disabilities: I will do my best to accommodate all documented disabilities. For information see

Communication: All requirements and policies of this course are outlined in this syllabus. The schedule of readings and assignments may change, and it is your responsibility to get updated information from the course website. The best way to get hold of me reliably is via email. You are also encouraged to use the course email list for questions and discussion:
bis482a_au04 at
Send mail to: jwoiak at
Last modified: 10/11/2004 2:36 PM