Formulating Research Questions and Envisioning Design

The power of Western science—its methods, techniques, and epistemologies—is celebrated for producing objective and universal knowledge, transcending cultural restraints. With respect to sex, gender, race, and much else, however, science is not objective, or value neutral. Scholars have documented how gender inequalities, built into the institutions of science, have influenced the knowledge issuing from those institutions (Schiebinger 1993, 1999; Spanier 1995; Faulkner, 2006; Regitz-Zagrosek, 2006; Wajcman, 2007; Klinge, 2007; Wylie, 2007). Bias that is systematic cannot be readily recognized. 

The greatest potential for creativity is in asking new questions. Strategy for removing systematic gender bias:

  • Examine assumptions. Examine "background assumptions" about sex and gender and how these concepts function in research (Longino, 1990).  What does the research community assume—what are the shared preconceptions and practices—that shape research?  What are the researcher’s own assumptions regarding sex and gender? Uncovering these “blind-spots,” or unexamined assumptions, may lead to new questions or open new areas of research. (See also Methods: Analyzing Sex & Analyzing Gender). Specifically:
  • a. Has a specific condition, disease, or physical state been stereotyped as “male” or “female” due to gendered beliefs? If so, researchers are likely to perform research within the boundaries of such stereotypes. For example, the widespread belief that women are physically fragile and men are physically robust meant that osteoporosis researchers initially saw little need to study the disease in men. Indeed, when men and women present with hip fractures secondary to falls from standing height, women’s fractures are much more likely to be deemed “fragility fractures” (Kiebzak et al., 2002; Lonborg et al., 2007). 
  • b. Are researchers keen on discovering sex differences in order to explain or justify prevailing gender roles? For example, intense interest in neurological sex differences may be motivated by gendered beliefs—that women are caring, passive, and emotional while men are aggressive, active, and logical (Tavris, 1993). 
  • c. How does gender influence the priorities of funding agencies and regulators? When agencies allocate grant money to certain fields, or when regulators require certain research to be performed before a new drug or pesticide is marketed, research in such areas will be favored. For example, concern that endocrine-disrupting pollutants were “feminizing” men led the United States Congress to pass laws requiring research into estrogen-mimicking pollutants, but not testosterone-mimicking pollutants (US Public Law 104-70, 1996).

Works Cited

Faulkner, W. (2006). Genders In / Of Engineering: A Research Report. Institution of Civil Engineers Economic and Social Research Council. Retrieved from

Kiebzak, G., Beinart, G., Perser, K., Ambrose, C., Siff, S., & Heggeness, M. (2002). Undertreatment of Osteoporosis in Men with Hip Fracture. Archives of Internal Medicine, 162 (19), 2217-2222.

Klinge, I. (2007). Bringing Gender Expertise to Biomedical and Health-Related Research. Gender Medicine, 4, S59-S63.

 Lonborg, S., & Travis, C. (2007). Living Longer, Healthier Lives. In Mühlbauer, V., & Chrisler, J. (Eds), Women over 50: Psychological Perspectives, pp. 53-79. New York: Springer Science and Business Media.

Longino, H. (1990). Science as Social Knowledge. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

 Regitz-Zagrosek, V. (2006). Therapeutic Implications of the Gender-specific Aspects of Cardiovascular Disease. Nature Reviews Drug Discovery, 5, 1-14. Retrieved from

Schiebinger, L. (1993). Nature’s Body: Gender in the Making of Modern Science. Boston: Beacon Press.

Schiebinger, L. (1999). Has Feminism Changed Science? Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Spanier, B. (1995). Im/partial Science: Gender Ideology in Molecular Biology. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Tavris, C. (1993). The Mismeasure of Women. Feminism and Psychology, 3 (2), 149-168.

United States Public Law 104-70. (1996). An Act to Amend the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, and for Other Purposes. P. 44, sec. P1. 

Wajcman, J. (2007). From Women and Technology to Gendered Technoscience. Information, Communication & Society, 10 (3), 287-298.

Wylie, A. (2007). Doing Archaeology as a Feminist: Introduction. Journal of Archaeological Method and Theory, 14 (3), 209-216.



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