Reproductive Timing and “The Biological Clock”: Exploring the Feedback Loop among Culture, Science, and Politics

14 Mar 2011
4:00 pm - 6:00 pm

470 Stephens Hall

Event Type

Michele Pridmore-Brown
Visiting Scholar

This talk will explore the role of reproductive timing in constructions of the female and male life-course. In particular, it will trace the evolution of the reproductive clock, or the “biological clock” as it’s now tellingly called. This clock has, historically, ticked out time only for women: prime female fertility has generally been regarded as occurring between 20 and 22, declining in the later 20s, and dropping precipitously in the mid- to late-30s. Aristotle famously pronounced that women should therefore marry at 20, whereas men could wait until 37 so that their reproductive decline would felicitously coincide. Reproductive technologies have served to considerably tweak the female clock. I trace medical and popular attempts to fix or stabilize the clock at various points in the 20th century, and the growing and irrevocable “disestablishment” of the clock in the late 20th and early 21st centuries—as revealed in particular in the bioethical qua biopolitical statements of the American Society of Reproductive Medicine, and, on the material level, in the reproductive trajectories of a growing and highly visible sector of the population (female professionals, politicians, media stars, etc.). Of course, age-related infertility nonetheless remains a fact of life, and, like longevity, is unequally distributed. I end with the ways in which the (disestablished) female clock has, in this century, increasingly been applied, rhetorically and by way of biomedical risk assessments, to men.

This event is sponsored by CSTMS.
Additional sponsorship comes from:  Office for the History of Science and Technology

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