‘It's them faulty genes again’: women, men and the gendered nature of genetic responsibility in prenatal blood screening


Address for correspondence: Kate Reed, Department of Sociological Studies, University of Sheffield, Elmfield, Northumberland Road, Sheffield S10 2TU
e-mail: k.reed@sheffield.ac.uk


Prenatal blood tests are routinely offered to pregnant women in the UK. Male partners are tested only where a combined positive male and female test could detect fetal abnormality such as sickle cell anaemia. Little is known about the gendered nature of screening and the impact it has on lay feelings of genetic responsibility. For example, do women take exclusive ‘maternal responsibility’ for the fetus? How is this responsibility challenged when men are also screened? Drawing on empirical research with pregnant women and their male partners in a northern city in the UK, this paper aims to explore the gendered nature of genetic responsibility in prenatal blood screening. The paper will argue that women and men feel a sense of genetic responsibility for the fetus throughout screening. However, while women's sense of responsibility is directly ‘embodied’ and is heightened by the detection of ‘faulty genes’, men's manifests itself indirectly through shared responsibility with their pregnant partners and directly through their own genetic connections to the fetus. The paper concludes that the gendered nature of genetic responsibility is complex and contradictory, producing a set of gender roles that both challenges and reinforces a traditional gender division of labour.