So texty post with lots of thinky thoughts. Basically just inspired by a chance encounter with one of my friend’s textbooks at school today. Feel free to skip.
I’m probably way more feminist than the average person on the street. I’m also a science student, studying biology at university with a view to becoming a paleobiologist somewhere down the line. I don’t think that these things are exclusive. Today, I was studying with a friend (who is taking sex and gender anthropology, considered a science option, natch) and on a whim, because I can’t see a book and not read it, I picked up her text for that class and flipped through it. I was pretty goddamn horrified. Much of the book was, although it purported to be a book on sexual selection, a takedown of science as “inherently male” and promoting an “ecofeminist” view, claiming that science was equivalent to the domination and abuse of all nature and inextricably linked with the abuse and domination of women.
I fully acknowledge that there is a serious male bent in a lot of science today. I’ve had men talk over my head all day in lab groups when I knew how to do the damn assignment. Biology, which is a field that women are going into more often, is being derided as a “soft” science. Much of the focus in medicine is tilted towards the effects of disease on men and the symptoms of disease in men. There are a lot of problems in science. But these problems are not inherent in science. Science itself, good science, is blind. That’s the entire point of science. The problems that we have in science that are to do with male bias are because we are practising science in a patriarchy, and as much as good science ought to be blind, that’s too idealistic for our world.
This book, however, claimed that science itself was patriarchal, and was inherently prejudiced against women. Science, it claimed, was all about the domination and subjugation of nature, and somehow since women are “more attuned” to nature than men are, science is all about subjugating women as well. The idea that women are “more attuned to nature” is bullshit. Nature itself is a broad, vague term that doesn’t actually define anything. Men and women are part of the biosphere, and to claim that women are somehow more in touch with the biosphere because women give birth is disingenuous and downright false. If women feel more spiritual and fulfilled by giving birth via natural methods, or by practising yoga in the park, more power to them. But the idea that feminism and women themselves don’t have any place in science because science is masculine is hurtful to the many women who practise science and the many, many women whose lives are saved every day by science.
The book also advocated a “feminine” approach to science, based on holistic practises and feelings, rather than the scientific method and facts. There are two things that are way, way wrong with this. First off, the association between “feminine” and “feelings”. I totally agree that the world would be a better place if we could let everyone express their feelings without being judged for it. But having feelings is not a uniquely female characteristic. Everyone has feelings, and there are many women out there who like making decisions based on facts rather than feelings (like men who prefer making decisions based on feelings rather than facts). Decisions based on feelings are fine in anyone’s personal life. They have no place in science. Science is based on the scientific method (which basically involves making a hypothesis, observing and acquiring data, and testing that hypothesis based on the data), and that is based on observable facts. To argue that facts are “masculine” is just about as ridiculous as the Republicans arguing that facts are liberal. The great thing about facts is that they exist whether or not you want to believe in them. If we were, as the book advocates, to abolish the scientific method in favor of a feelings-based method, we would soon have a lot of very bad science and make no progress whatsoever.
I don’t like it when someone tells me that I’m a traitor to the feminist movement because I also like doing science. I believe that science is there to help humanity and all of the planet. The problems in science are problems that should be and can be addressed by feminism as it is today, without any need to “feminize” science.