A paper examining the connection between the way in which Western science is conducted and the way our hierarchical society is perpetuated.
Modern science is a cultural movement that emerged in Europe sometime in the middle ages and grew tremendously throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. During this period, also known as the enlightenment, we began to govern our conduct based purely on clear-sighted rationality as opposed to arbitrary tradition. The authority of the church began to diminish and thus we saw the birth of the “Age of Reason”. Early scientists were often persecuted and ostracized for their new way of thinking, however as the centuries passed science came to be seen as the new authority, and in Western culture today, science is now found in the direct center of society. Modern science holds that nature is to be controlled, measured, manipulated, and predicted as scientists fiercely claim to be absolutely objective and unquestionably value-neutral. When we examine the major aspects and claims that science holds, as well as the social contexts in which it has evolved as a movement, it becomes blatantly obvious that science is rife with masculine bias and loaded with patriarchal values. Using a poststructuralist perspective to examine this problem, this paper will take a look close look at patriarchal science as well as several other related issues. If we are to ever achieve a just and egalitarian society where men and women are seen and treated as equals, it will be absolutely necessary to significantly alter the way in which science is conducted and move towards a new feminist science.
Science: A Cultural Product Right From its Beginnings
Western science is something that is taken largely for granted as a way of knowing that exists outside of society and thus outside of culture. This illusion stems from the way in which science is presented to the public as an objective and disinterested form of knowledge. I believe we should be very weary of this and take into consideration the undeniable parallels between science and culture that can be seen when we look back at Western society’s history.
Joe Kincheloe and Ladislaus Semali (1999) point out that a major contributing factor to the birth of science (and the beginning of the Modern era) was the Black Death plague that cast itself across Europe. This catastrophic event caused enormous devastation, so much so that it motivated many people to search for new way or thinking about the natural world; one that was different than the Greco-Christian (faith and reason) knowledge system that was in place at the time. When we look here, at the beginning of science and the Age of Reason, we see that this drastic change in thought was sparked by society and culture, and it should be obvious that this spark could have in fact came to be in any other society or culture. Science rose in Europe purely as a result of historical circumstances and there was nothing natural or inevitable about it.
After it’s birth, science evolved directly along side of society. E. Doyle McCarthy (1996) tells us that despite scientists claims to be objective and value-neutral, science can not possibly exist outside of culture. The place science has inside society changes as well. In her words, McCarthy states; “…science is something historically variable. As with any other central features of industrial societies, science changes, as does its place, in contemporary societies – such as its place in government, war, in social policy and planning” (1996: 89). In the introduction is was mentioned that scientists were frowned upon by many when they came forth with new theories at the start of the enlightenment, this is not surprising and is something that always takes place when new ideas are proposed that have the potential to racially change a society. As time went on however, science’s popularity among the masses increased greatly and it began to move towards the center of Western society. Even in the last 60 years we have seen science become more prevalent in our society,. When we look back to the year 1940, in the United States, the federal budget for scientific research was around 70 million dollars and there were around 200,000 scientists present. Moving forward in time to the year 1996 we see that the American federal budget for science grew to 25 billion, and the number of scientists working grew to one million (Hilts, 1992 as cited in McCarthy, 1996: 89).
Science is culture. It is influenced by culture and it also creates and transforms culture with the new technologies it produces. If this is true then it could certainly be argued that other aspects of our culture are also entwined in, and projected from science. One aspect of Western culture that directly influences science is patriarchy. Women have been an oppressed group for as long as our culture has evolved, and because of this science has evolved with a very heavy androcentric bias. Sexism in science will be the central aspect of this paper.
Poststructuralism and Postmodernism
It was mentioned that this essay is being written from a poststructuralist perspective. At this time it will be beneficial to make a brief argument for poststructuralism as well as discuss the postmodern view why I believe it to be useful in some ways, however in other ways not so useful.
Both poststructuralism and postmodernism reject science’s claim that it can discover one, authoritative and absolute truth. They both advocate that many truths exist and that truths compete with each other for political power and legitimacy. McCarthy (1996: 105) points out that truth “…is produced and transmitted under the control, dominant if not exclusive, of a few grand political and economic apparatuses (university, army, writing, media)”. This relates to this paper because of the way we see the status of the scientific way of knowing in our culture constantly being reinforced and built up by the mass media, so much so that people get the idea and believe that science is the superior and natural way knowing.
Catherine Belsey (2002) points out that poststructuralists get uneasy when people claim to know and understand something about the world with absolute certainty. This is the same for postmodernists and can be applied to our discussion here, in that these perspectives are useful to critique and question science’s status and authority. Both perspectives make the claim that all truths are political and subject to change at any given time. Scientific knowledge is not absolute knowledge, it is one way of many ways to view the world.
Poststructuralism and postmodernism are very similar to one another however one aspect of postmodernism that I am troubled with is the fact that it takes relativism much too far. George Ritzer defines postmodernism as “Refusing the Modernist agenda to theorize societies as totalities interpreted from within any of the familiar grand metanarratives advanced by the classic founders of sociology” (2005: 310). Postmodernists make no attempt to explain why things are the way they are, they just want to analyze them. Postmodernism is great in that it promotes taking action to getting multiple voices and views heard, but as Ritzer (2005) points out, how are we supposed to know what is false if everything in society is relative to personal experience?
Moving on to elaborate poststructuralism, Belsey (2002) states that poststructuralism proposes that our ideas, understandings, and values are produced by the meanings we learn through symbolized interaction. Because of this language (or discourse) analysis is a very key aspect in poststructuralism. If we deconstruct and examine the language we speak we will soon see that it is in many ways extremely androcentric. Our gendered language is of course being changed but in many cases, and by many people, the male version of words are still used as the default sex (chairman, tradesman, “bachelor’s” degree, etc.). As a result of this sexist symbolized interaction, we internalize sexist ideas.
When we apply a poststructuralist analysis to science and deconstruct its discourse we find that the language of science is highly masculine. Sandra Harding (1991) brings to our attention the fact that when we take a close look at what it means to be scientific, it is in direct contrast to what it means to be a woman (specific to this culture that is). She points out that scientists are often “dispassionate”, “disinterested”, “impartial’, and “concerned with abstract principles” (Ibid.: 47). These characteristics are most commonly culturally associated with masculinity and rarely ever associated with femininity. Sexism and androcentrism resonate throughout our entire culture.
Objectivity and Positivism
Objectivity is the central theme that flows throughout Western science. Scientists claim to have the ability to view the natural world from a position that exists outside of it. Joe Kincheloe and Ladislaus Semali (1999) bring to our attention that this concept can be traced back to the philosopher Renée Descartes’ concept of cogito ergo sum, or the separation of mind and matter. Descartes believed the universe consisted two realms; one of pure thought and the other as pure physical matter. Our consciousness, he argued, exists only in the mental realm, and our bodies exist in the physical realm. This is called Cartesian dualism (Ibid.) and the idea that we can observe and manipulate the physical realm from the separated location of the mental realm evolved from that. When we view this concept on the surface and uncritically it may appear to be sound, but when we apply some critical sociology to it we soon discover that pure objectivity is not possible. In Muriel Lederman’s work, she writes that; “…we, as the uninterpreted interpreter, know the world through representationalism, through filters of our political values, language, worldview, and the like, of which we are not aware” (2004: 223). Her point here is that we are all rife with bias and that we see the world through a social reality that differs from person to person, the fact is that we are living in stratified society and we all have different social locations. Our position in society will have a tremendous impact on the way we view the natural world and the way we interpret scientific data.
Evelyn Fox Keller has made a distinction between two different kinds of objectivity (Soble, 2003). The objectivity that Western science currently knows is what she refers to as “static” objectivity. Static objectivity is the cold, unemotional and authoritative approach to the natural world that is currently being applied. Here, the amount of damage that is done to the world is (for the most part) irrelevant because under this way of thinking nature has no inherent value. This is a masculine-biased objective approach The other kind of objectivity that Keller refers to is a more empathetic and caring approach, what she calls “dynamic” objectivity (Ibid.). Under this way of thinking Keller advocates that we apply our subjective experiences to the objective world. She stresses that the goal of science should be “...not the power to manipulate, but empowerment – the kind of power that… simultaneously reflects and affirms our connection to the world” (Keller, 1985 as quoted in Soble, 2003: 77).
Closely related to objectivism is the scientific concept of logical positivism. This philosophy strives to make a stark division between science and society. The father of this way of thinking was the philosopher August Comte (1798-1857) (Expers, 1999/2000). Positivist thinkers insist that science exists outside of society and that society does not in any way influence science. On top of writing off societal values, positivist thinkers write off moral laws as well (Potter, 2004). Positivists assert that moral claims are simply subjective expressions of emotion and have no scientific validity. Elizabeth Potter explains; “…thus, "it is wrong to kill humans" does not state a moral fact, since there are no moral facts. It is merely the equivalent of saying, "I hate killing humans!" where one's feeling of hatred is not subject to reason or experience” (2004: 7(2)).
August Comte divided Western civilization into three stages. The first stage is the Theological stage. Here Western societies believed strongly in the supernatural and allowed the church to be the dominant authority. The natural world, under this view, was controlled by God and God alone. Comte also referred to this stage as the “infantile” stage. The second stage he describes is the Metaphysical, “adolescent” stage. Here we see the beginning of Reason and we get a sense of a depersonalized essence. The final “mature” stage he refers to in his work is the positivistic stage. This is where we place science in forefront of everything, this is where we are now (Expers, 1999/2000).
Historical Sexism in Science
Ruth Doell and Helen Longingo (1996) point out that since the time of Aristotle, men have attempted to use natural differences between men and women to justify their dominance over women. There are countless times in history when men have claimed that they are naturally superior to women because they are “naturally” more rational. Londa Schiebinger (1999) argues that the gendering of science began near the end of the 1700s when the scientific institutions of the time made a strong effort to exclude women from the practice. Schiebinger argues that it was here, at the end of the 18th century, that we saw society being significantly reorganized. As a result of this, science fell into the public realm. Because the public realm had long been seen as the place for men and the private realm seen as the place for women, science came to be seen as masculine.
Science has a terribly long history of attempts to prove that women are morally, intellectually, and physically inferior to men (Ibid.). One area where we can see evidence of this is in endocrinological studies, which is the study of human evolution. In Doell and Longino’s (1996) work it is brought to our intention that there is a tremendous amount of male bias in these studies. They point out that when the cultural practices of our ancestors are studied, scientists often search for hormonal and chemical explanations for the sharp division of labour. The division of labour I am referring to is the traditional role of man the hunter and woman the gatherer. Doell and Longino point that this kind of approach to this particular question contains male bias because man the hunter is often seen as the dominant role. They argue that there are other ways to approach and analyse traditional division of labour, such as shifting focus from chemical and natural theories to theories that promote environmental explanations for this division. My own view on the labour division of the sexes of early humans is that regardless of whether or not it was caused by innate or chemical factors, it was absolutely necessary for the survival in those conditions. Environmental explanations is where the focus of our study should be. Each role should be regarded as equal, and the role of man the hunter should not be seen as more important or more dominant than the role of woman the gatherer.
Disciplines such as psychology, biology, and immunology have historically went to great lengths to attempt to biologically prove that women are inferior to men (McCarthy, 1996). Accompanying these attempts have also been a relentless exclusion of women from the practice of science ( as well as several other institutional fields such as social policy, government, law etc. (Ibid.)). This fact sits in stark contrast to the very values that science has claimed to hold. Robert Merton made a very idealistic claim that science is to be conducted according to four norms, they are; 1) disinterestedness, where the scientist is supposedly working outside of his or her personal values and is not biased by his or her funding supporters, 2) communalism, where the work a scientist creates is to be the work of the entire scientific community, 3) organized scepticism, where the scientific community is allowed to freely question and criticize any other scientist’s work, and most relevant to the discussion at hand, 4) universalism, where it is not supposed to matter who conducts the scientific research so long as the discoveries are made and science continues to be productive (1973 as cited in Hackett, 2001). Sandra Harding (1991) states that these claims of universalism that scientists make have traditionally been meant only to apply to the dominant class, the dominant race, and the dominant gender She writes it well when she states that “…the sheer documentation of discrimination against women in the social structure of science draws attention to the mystifying effects of sciences claim to universalism” (Ibid: 32). Science, through an uncritical eye, is seen as a project that is humanly progressive, however feminist scholars have done an excellent job in discrediting it s as being completely progressive (McCarthy, 1996).
Another thing that E. Doyle. McCarthy (1996) points out to us in her work is that, although we are seeing recent progressive change, women have also been long excluded from participating in scientific experiments as a the role of the subject. Until not all that long ago, all experiments were conducted on men and their finings were generalized to women. Not only does this contradict the claim of universalism, it also does not make very much biological sense. It is one thing (a horrible thing) to hold the androcentric view that men represent the species, it is quite another to assume that men and women’s biological systems operate identically the same. In the work of Evelyn Fox Keller (1996), it is brought to our attention that scientific experiments on animals have also traditionally been very sexist. In the case of lab rats, scientists have traditionally selected only male rats and have assumed that they represent the species.
Taking into consideration the way in which scientific research has historically been conducted mostly on male humans and animals, one feels compelled to question the validity of such scientific data. Scientists have since learned that the results of scientific experiments on men will often differ from the results of scientific experiments on women. At this time I would like state that I am not the least bit against the idea of science, as it has unquestionably produced some amazing innovations for our society. I only oppose it in the way it is currently structured and advocate a newer, more woman-friendly, feminist science, which will be discussed later on in this paper.
Liberal vs. Radical Feminist Approaches to Science
Feminists of all sorts agree that science has been, and still is, a primarily male-dominated institution however the place where feminists disagree amongst each other is in which route to take to change it. At this time we will explore two particular forms of feminism; liberal and radical.
Liberal feminism holds the philosophy that the way the system is structured is fine, however it excludes women and needs to be reformed to allow women to participate. The aim of liberal feminism is for women to achieve equality with men by fitting women into these existing social structures without creating structural changes. Patricia Elliot and Nancy Mandell (2001) bring up the fact that this feminist approach does not bring to our consciousness the problem of systemic structural inequality and does not help all women. They also warn us that liberal feminism does not address inequalities with class and race and will not admit that these forms of oppression are tied together institutionally. Feminist writer bell hooks brings to our attention the fact that powerful men are often open to liberal feminism because it allows women’s participation in science without creating any fundamental changes to the system, she writes; “…ruling groups of men are willing to endorse equal rights only if it is clear that the women who enter right spheres of power will work to uphold and maintain the status quo.” (2000: 89).
Radical feminism, on the hand, aims to get past surface inequalities and uncover the root causes of androcentrism and the exclusion of women in science. Racial feminists have called for the “systematic analysis of underlying epistemic and metaphysical assumptions that all too often "mirror and support" conventions of practice structured by androcentric and sexist norms” (Nelson & Wylie: 2004: vii). Elliot and Mandell point out that radical feminists believe that the oppression of women is the most prevalent form of oppression because; 1) women’s oppression is widespread and international, 2) it is the hardest form of oppression to eradicate, and 3) it causes suffering and silence to 50% of the population (2001: 31).
So it basically comes down to this; the liberal feminists want women to become introduced into the hierarchical social structure and be like men, and the radical feminists want to reduce society’s hierarchical structure and want men to change. As a radical feminist I am highly critical of the liberal perspective because on the one hand, science has done amazing things for us, but on the other it has done some horrendously terrible things for us. E. Doyle McCarthy (1996) points out that Western science is rife with abuse and fraud and also points out that anti-nuclear activists, environmentalists, and animal rights activists have done an excellent job of bringing the negative side of science to our attention. As for the perspective of liberal feminists, they feel that they must take part in oppressive power-relations if they are to achieve equal social status with men. On the topic of liberal feminism bell hooks (a radical/anti-racist feminist) also writes; “…the implication being that if they wanted social equality with men, they would have need to participate equally in exercising domination and control over other” (2000: 85). A much better route to take would be restructure science and put an end to things such as nuclear physics and live animal experimentation as opposed to having women begin to participate in them.
Masculine-Biased Selection and Interpretation
It has been mentioned that liberal feminists want to become like men and radical feminists aim to take a much deeper look at the institution of science and deconstruct it. One way in which the radical feminists have pointed out that science is sexist is in both problem and theory selection. At this time we are going to take a look at Evelyn Fox Keller’s analysis on molecular biology. Keller tells us that; “individuals drawn by a particular ideology will tend to select themes consistent with that ideology” (1996: 37). By this she means that if we are indoctrinated into one way of thinking, we will only see the world in that way. Western scientists are indoctrinated into an extremely hierarchical and authoritative society and thus most often subscribe to very hierarchical and authoritative thinking. In her work, she examines two theories of DNA construction; 1) the master molecule theory, and 2) the steady state theory (Ibid.: 38).
The master molecule theory is a hierarchical-based theory. The basic idea is that DNA encodes and actively transmits orders and instructions for the new cell being developed. Under this theory DNA is the authority and the cells are submissive (Ibid: 38). The steady state theory, however, is differs greatly and is an egalitarian model. This theory sees DNA as a species that perpetuates itself, and in this theory cells work together to form the properties of a life form. Under the steady state there is no master control or central authority and the control of DNA resides entirely within the collective interrelations of the entire cell (Ibid.: 39). Most molecular biologists have lost interest and scrapped the steady state theory in favour our the master molecule theory. Keller (1996) tells us that here we can see the influence of the larger patriarchal and authoritative culture at work.
On top of theory and problem selection, we also see masculine bias in the interpretation of scientific findings as well. To elaborate on this it will be beneficial to draw on the work of Emily Martin, in particular her analysis on the human reproductive system. Martin (1996) tells us that in biology the interpretation of the egg and the sperm stem from culturally-created beliefs of men and women. She writes that like society’s view of women and men, many biology textbooks portray women’s reproductive system as less effective than men’s reproductive systems. Martin points out that the monthly female cycle is viewed as a “productive enterprise” (1996: 104) and that when the cycle goes through without a pregnancy it is often depicted as a failure. Often times science texts see menstruation as the female body producing “products of no use...waste, scrap...” (Ibid: 104). Taken directly from a text, scientist Vernon B. Mountcastle writes; “…whereas the female sheds (Martin’s emphasis) only a single gamete each month, the seminiferous tubules produce hundreds of millions of sperm each day” (1980 as cited in Marin, 1996: 104). Sperm, the product of men’s reproductive systems are depicted with great enthusiasm whereas ovulation, the product of women’s reproductive systems are depicted with little enthusiasm (Martin, 1996). Martin points out that many medical textbooks over-emphasize the fact that all of women’s eggs are already in their bodies at their time of birth and are not created like men’s sperm (Ibid).
The above is a very sexist interpretation of human reproduction and in her work, Martin (1996) goes on to further analyse this by bringing to our attention that there are other ways to view the two systems. She states that rather than make women’s systems look inferior to men’s, they could just as easily make women’s systems appear superior to men’s. Martin states that medical texts could praise women’s reproductive systems for releasing their ova one at a time and only as they are needed as opposed to men who produce (and waste) two trillion sperm throughout their lifetime (Ibid.). It is also very interesting how the ova is viewed as feminine and the sperm is viewed as masculine. She points this out by stating that the egg is viewed as passive and submissive, while the sperm is viewed as being aggressive and taking part in a journey (Ibid.).
Masculine Bias in the Physical Sciences?
In the work of Sarah-Marie Belcastro and Jean Marie Moran (2003) they acknowledge the androcentric bias in natural sciences such as biology, however they propose that this may not be the case in the physical sciences. Belcastro and Moran have reviewed feminist literature that critiques science quite extensively and they write that they see that a lot of the feminist critiques of the natural sciences have been generalized over to the natural sciences. This is an interesting approach that certainly deserves some exploring.
In their work, Belcastro and Moran (2003) acknowledge three aspects of science where we see masculine bias; 1) problem selection, 2) the experimental process (where women have largely been excluded as research subjects, and 3) the formulation of theories where hierarchical theories take precedent over egalitarian theories. All three of these concepts have been explored in this paper so far, however Belcastro and Moran (2003) point out that when it comes the disciplines such as physics and chemistry it becomes much harder to see how the theories are gendered; reason being that research is not conducted on living things, but inanimate objects. When it comes to problem selection in the physical sciences, they have this to say; “…”the male experience" of physics and chemistry seems identical to "the female experience" of these fields, that the subjects of research in the physical sciences are not alive….and thus problem choice in physics and chemistry cannot be influenced by topical relations or applications to gender or reproduction.” (Ibid.: 20(14)). Because the objects of study are not male or female, Belcastro and Moran are arguing that it is much harder to see how there could be a masculine bias present. They also argue that basic and pure theoretical physical science is not necessarily swayed by outside forces like the natural sciences are. Having stated that, they do acknowledge that when theoretical physics and chemistry are placed into practice and applied, they are both heavily influenced by outside funding just as the natural sciences are. This is undeniable.
Pure physics and chemistry may be free from gender, however it is extremely important to acknowledge that the language used in both chemistry and physics textbooks is not free from gender (Ibid.). Belcastro and Moran write;
“…consider the study of the structure of polymers, or of binary star pairs. It's difficult to see how these investigations could be gendered. However, some of the language used in the physical sciences is gendered. In some sense, any description of a phenomenon is inadequate because the connotations added by word choice can influence our conceptions of the phenomenon” (Ibid: 20:14)
Here we come back to a poststructuralist analysis where discourse analysis becomes very important. Gendered language is all over textbooks in both the natural and physical sciences. Belcastro and Moran are pointing out that a non-gendered phenomenon in nature can be interpreted in different way depending on how the phenomenon is worded.
Belcastro and Moran bring points for us to consider that most feminist critiques do not. In feminist studies of science, the natural sciences are targeted much more than are the physical sciences, and all-to-often the feminist critical work is generalized over to the physical sciences. I personally believe that this is a valid point to consider, however it can not be denied that what is done in the name of both physical sciences is strongly gendered. Why is it, I propose that our society places high importance on studying nuclear physics? The actual physical material has no gender, but it can not be denied that the non-gendered research is often used to degrade the natural environment as well as to promote an ultra-violent military industrial complex. Evelyn Fox Keller argues that this obsession with nuclear physics is highly influenced by the larger, male dominated patriarchal culture (Soble, 2003) and it is very hard to make an argument that this is not true.
We now have countless amounts of extremely informative feminist critiques of science. The question now, however, arises as to what to do about it. What exactly would a feminist look like and entail? Along with the negative things it is has produced, masculine science has certainly played a large part in making our lives better with it’s authoritative and uncompassionate principles. Having stated that, masculine science has caused enormous devastation and cruelty in our society. I believe that this cruelty and devastation could be significantly reduced if a much more empathetic and caring approach was conducted at the level of experimenting and at the level of problem selection as well.
Sandra Harding asks; “…after centuries of primarily dominant groups defining what gets to count as scientific problems, do we need an equally long history of subordinate groups making the majority of such decisions?” (1991: 41) She follows by asking; “If not, how is our distorted picture of the world to be corrected?” (Ibid.: 41). This provokes interesting discussion because; 1) our entire world-view is shaped by our culture, 2) our culture is largely shaped by the institution of science, and 3) the institution of science has historically been controlled and practiced my men exclusively. It is obvious that we need action and change now, and the idea of having to wait another 200 years is quite a troubling thought. What we need is to somehow allow not only women, but critical and feminist women to have more influence over the direction science takes and the knowledge claims it produces and imposes on the rest of society. How we could accomplish this is unknown considering as how conservative the institution of science tends to be. Changing the status quo of science seems near-impossible.
One thing that must change about Western science is its claim that it exists outside of society and is free from societies influences. E. Doyle. McCarthy describes feminist science as a “…”successor” science in that its aim was to reconstruct Enlightenment science’s project of liberating humanity, while challenging Enlightenments claim to establish a “pure” Reason free from the encumbrances of material life and social location” (1996: 101). The sooner that it becomes popular opinion that science is swayed and in fact is culture, the sooner we will be able to transform it. It could not be put better than the way it was put by Rosalind Franklin in a letter to her father; “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated. Science, for me, gives a partial explanation for life. In so far as it goes, it is based on fact, experience (my emphasis) and experiment” (1940 as cited in Maddox, 2003: 407). I believe a new feminist science must be installed that rejects the idea of (as Keller’s words in Soble, 2003: 77) “static” and masculine objectivity and embraces “dynamic” and feminine objectivity.
Essentialism and its Problems
One strategy that some feminists use when confronting masculine science is essentialism. The essentialist argument has a number of aspects; one of them being the idea that women have a stronger connection to nature than men do. David Hess puts it like this; “essentialism is the argument that women or indigenous groups – especially women members of indigenous groups – are closer to nature and therefore have an especially privileged viewpoint in the critique of Western science” (1997: 120). Ecofeminist and staunch critic of Western culture Vandana Shiva is a strong advocate for essentialism. She is of the position that women have an “epistemic privilege” above men (Goebel: 2002: 298), Shiva states that; “The recovery of the feminine principle is thus simultaneously an ecological and a feminist political project that legitimizes the ways of knowing and being that create wealth by enhancing life and diversity…” (1989 as cited in Goebel, 2002: 298). Shiva believes (rightfully so) that there is a strong connection between Western patriarchy and the scientific destruction of the natural environment and that two are directly connected.
Another aspect of essentialism is the idea that because women have an innate ability for child-bearing, they also have a more innate and stronger ability to empathize than men do (Hess, 1997). Essentialist feminists who critique Western science claim that, because they are naturally more empathetic than men, they will naturally possess the ability to conduct a more empathetic form of science. In his work, Hess points out that this approach may prove to be useful in some instances in that this way of thinking can empower women, however this approach can also come back against women in a very negative way. I believe that essentialism leaves feminists open to a slippery-slope argument from their critics. If women possess a natural ability to be more empathetic and caring than men, then why can men not claim to be naturally more rational than women? I find that the essentialist argument tends to take us in a regressive direction heading not forward but backwards towards the direction of Aristotle’s claim that men are rational and abstract, and women are irrational and caring. Like Londa Schiebinger (1999) tells us, the gendered characteristics of masculinity are not natural, but produced by socio-historic factors. With different historical events and situations they definitely have the potential to change (Ibid.).
Science is culture and our culture is socially and historically created. These institutions of Western science have evolved right alongside other major institutions in our society, and we can see direct parallels in the way these institutions have directly and intentionally excluded marginalized people. Among many, women are a largely excluded group in Western Science. Because of their exclusion, science as an institution has evolved with only men controlling, practicing, and selecting the problems of it. When critically analysed, we see that Western science contains a lot of the values that are culturally associated with masculinity. Science is very authoritative, abstract, hierarchical, disinterested (or so it claims to be), and largely inconsiderate of the damage it has and continues to do to the natural environment. As a direct result of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’s, we are undeniably seeing large changes take place in science in that the participation of women as both researchers and subjects has increased.
From a liberal feminist perspective, an increase in participation of women is an ideal change however from a radical feminist perspective it is not satisfactory. Science needs to be changed in a much deeper, much more profound way. Science needs to be conducted with an approach that is caring, empathetic, egalitarian and environmentally conscious, not authoritative, dominating, and indifferent to the environmental damage in continues to cause. The language of science is highly gendered and needs to be deconstructed, analysed, and changed with a close poststructuralist analysis. We do not live in an egalitarian society where people live as equals, and to change this it will be imperative to create a new form of feminist science. The reason for this is because science, as an institution, sits directly in the center of our modern Western world, and it both creates and reflects our culture. Despite its amazing accomplishments, science as it is currently conducted still breeds a military-obsessed hierarchical society and thus needs to be changed immediately.
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