CORDIS - EU research results

Biomedicalizing Gender. The Globalization of Sexual Science and the Redefinition of Gender Roles in Poland

Final Report Summary - BIOMEDGEN (Biomedicalising gender. The globalisation of sexual science and the redefinition of gender roles in Poland)

The BIOMEDGEN project which was conducted by Dr Agnieszka Koscianska at Harvard University and the University of Warsaw focused on relations between scientific knowledge of sexuality and the construction of gender roles and stereotypes in contemporary Poland. Women and sexual minorities are frequently subject to discrimination in this country and Catholicism is often perceived as the exclusive source of discrimination. This project assumes that the influence of Catholicism cannot explain all mechanisms of inequality and that science also plays an important role here. Considering that in contemporary societies science is a vital source of knowledge and has significant authority, this research focuses on understanding gender and sexuality models and stereotypes within the scientific knowledge of sexuality in Poland in the context of post-socialist transformation and the European Union (EU) enlargement.

The project main objective was to answer a set of research questions:

- In what way does international (mainly North American) scientific knowledge of sexuality influence Polish scientific knowledge of sexuality?
- What models of gender roles emerge from this knowledge and how do these changing forms of scientific knowledge of sexuality through biomedicalisation simultaneously reinforce and deconstruct existing cultural stereotypes of gender, heteronormative discourse, and concepts of women's and men's agency?
- In what way do those concepts interact with health services, public health, sex education and, in consequence, with European polices such as gender mainstreaming?

To answer these questions, the researcher conducted archival and ethnographic (in-depth interviews, participant observation) research, employing the analytical tools of medical anthropology, gender studies, queer theory as well as science, technology and society studies.

The research showed that Polish sexology developed in the 1970s and 1980s as an interdisciplinary field presenting sexuality in its social and cultural context and gained an enormous popularity - the most popular Polish sexological book was sold in circa 7 million copies. It emancipated sexuality from the restraints of conservative catholic culture; but at the same time sexologists were very conservative in terms of gender roles and sexual orientation. In the 1990s and 2000s sexology remained popular but changed due to global trends - it became more medicalised as well as more open to feminism and gay activism. Being popular disciple, sexology reinforces gender and sexuality stereotypes. For example, referring to various scientific theories, sexologists argue that women's sexual expectations and their involvement in wage work made many men unable to perform or that improper sexuality and provocative behaviour of the victim causes sexual assaults.

The project shows that policies such as gender mainstreaming may only be effective if they look critically on expert discourses on sexuality.

The project might contribute to the improvement of gender mainstreaming policies and public health policies (e.g. sex education programmes).