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MIT Philosophy PhD candidate Marion Boulicault has been awarded the 2018 Benjamin Siegel Writing Prize from MIT STS Program. The prize committee, John Durant and Robin Scheffler, selected her paper “Gender and the Measurement of Fertility: A Case Study in Critical Metrology” from a rich field of competitors.

We are pleased to award the 2018 Benjamin Siegel Writing Prize to “Gender and the Measurement of Fertility: A Case Study in Critical Metrology” by Marion Boulicault, a graduate student in the Philosophy Department. This paper is a meditation—informed by scientific papers, feminist science studies, philosophy, and Science and Technology Studies—on the “liminal field” of fertility science, its interplay with the politics of gender difference, and the different notions of time and life-course that discussions of fertility evoke. Infertility carries a strong stigma, but its very definition is elusive. Boulicault approaches these issues through metrology—the study of measurement. In her hands, metrology serves as a thread to connect the different levels of the fertility question. In doing so, however, she also alerts readers to the fact that the very act of measuring fertility, which might appear to exist outside these debates, is in fact defined by them.

Boulicault combines humanistic reflection with a lucid description of the scientific and technical ideas at the core of how fertility has been measured. Her analytical talents are on display in a comparative analysis of Ovarian Reserve Testing and semen analysis. While infertility can be thought of as a problem touching on the reproductive lives of both women and men, the problem is figured very differently in each case. The discourse of fertility around women tends to emphasize body and individual responsibility, whereas that around male infertility tends to focus on environmental factors that are beyond the control of the individual. By tracing how these ideas are built into the very processes of measuring fertility. Boulicaut suggests that we need a different view of the metrics that we use to understand this debate. Her analysis has far ranging implications for how women and men structure their personal and professional lives. “If nature isn’t a feminist, perhaps that’s at least partially because our metrics aren’t either.”