Feminist Science Is Not a Contradiction – The Wire Science
- Among mainstream scientists, the term “feminist” is often seen with contempt, hostility, and an implicit belief that feminist ideals are incompatible with true science.
- In practice, feminist science offers powerful tools for examining the histories, contexts, and power structures that scientific questions are being asked.
- Bringing marginalized perspectives to the table can generate new questions and methodologies that help scientists identify and correct hidden biases.
- Throwing away the word “feminist” perpetuates the idea that scientists can be objective, but the word objectivity has long served as a shroud for political purpose.
In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, news headlines circulated mysteries. Men seemed to die from infections at twice the rate of her women. To explain this startling disparity, researchers looked at inherent biological differences between the sexes, such as protective levels of sex hormones and distinct immune responses in males and females. Some even went so far as to test the feasibility of treating infected men with estrogen injections.
As a group of researchers affiliated with Harvard pointed out earlier this year, this focus on biological sex differences has turned out to be woefully inadequate. By doing so, gender disparities are more fully explained by social factors such as mask wearing and distancing behavior (less common in men) and testing rates (higher in pregnant women and women). I have shown that health care workers, most of whom were women).
Researchers have uncovered a long-standing trend in medicine to attribute differences in health outcomes to biological rather than social factors. In fact, for reasons unrelated to immunity and hormones, men had higher mortality long before the pandemic. It was important to consider how we interact with inequality.
The 2022 paper is just one example of how feminist intervention can turn bad science on its course and advance the field from epidemiology to evolutionary biology. It was written by members of the GenderSci Lab, a multidisciplinary lab that embraces feminist science. This approach aims to identify and explore common assumptions about sex and gender that many people, including scientists, are unconsciously working with.
But most people who came across these findings probably didn’t know that feminism played a role in the research. 2022 book In the three years I have covered 2022 books, Vagina Obscura: Anatomical VoyageI have encountered a deep disconnect between how the majority of researchers view feminist science and the tools feminist scientists have to offer.
It’s not hard to see why. Among mainstream scientists, the term “feminist” has often been viewed with contempt, hostility, and an implicit belief that feminist ideals are incompatible with true science. The latter, objective authority.
In practice, feminist science offers powerful tools for examining the histories, contexts, and power structures that scientific questions are being asked. Bringing marginalized perspectives to the table can generate new questions and methodologies that help scientists identify and correct hidden biases. Think of it like a stake fixed to a growing tree. This provides a foothold to help the tree return to its original trajectory when it leans too far to one side.
“Feminist science in the field doesn’t look any different than any other science,” says Heather Shattuck-Heidorn, an evolutionary biologist and co-founder of the GenderSci Lab. people). She says, “There are hypotheses that are supported and hypotheses that are not supported, and you run the analysis, test things, operationalize the variables.”
The difference lies upstream, who takes center stage and which questions are weighted. The more scientists understand this, the better science we can make for everyone.
Unfortunately, this misconception is deep-seated. Just ask evolutionary biologist Patricia Gowerty, who was radicalized by the feminist movement of the 1960s and her 1970s and was one of the first researchers to earn the title of feminist scientist. In 2012, Gowaty challenged the long-held Bateman principle of sexual selection in a series of careful replication experiments using fruit flies.
Her findings helped show that this principle that men tend to be more promiscuous than women because of sperm-egg asymmetry is only a hypothesis, and that it is flawed. Outside of the gender studies department, however, Gowaty’s work is not widely taught. On the other hand, in hallowed halls like Oxford, Bateman’s principles are still canon.
Part of the reason is that author Lucy Cook writes in her recent book: Bitch: About the Female of the Species, that Gowaty was effectively branded as an ideologically driven feminist. “The F-word has a polarizing effect that can undermine solid science,” writes Cook. Even the scientists I interviewed for my book used these tools. For example, even the urologist who mapped the human clitoris to reveal an “iceberg organ” and the bioengineer who convinced her field that the uterus was a unique regenerative organ cringed at the idea of a phone. . Feminists in their work.
But does it really matter? As long as science is perfect, who cares what we call it?
I would argue that it is important. What we lose when feminism is minimized is an understanding of how science actually works. (and should be objective) perpetuate the outdated idea – once they enter the lab, they manage to manage the values, quirks and preconceptions that plague the rest of us humans. In fact, whether racial science is used to support eugenics policies or pro-life lawyers organizing research to prove life begins at conception , the language of objectivity has long served as a cover for political purposes.
Ironically, sticking to the model that science is objective makes science less objective, less susceptible to criticism, and easier to redirect for nefarious purposes. . Getting the scientific tree straight means first acknowledging that researchers never, in the words of the philosopher Thomas Nagel, “act on what they see out of nowhere.” Scientists, like feminists, have agendas and values, blind spots and biases, just like all of us. Each of us sees through our own limited lens.
By putting the lens back on the scientists themselves, feminist scientists are able to see these hidden biases and rectify them. The co-authors pointed to the long history of science that has used biology to explain perceived gender and racial differences, a history steeped in Western imperialism and eugenics. Awareness of this dark past has made the GenderSci Lab skeptical of purely biological explanations and has led them to investigate other hypotheses.
This isn’t the first time feminist science has corrected wrong science. For decades, scientists have described sperm as the active agent that seeks out and penetrates passive eggs. Feminist anthropologist Emily Martin points to the sexist tropes underlying this story, prompting researchers to discover elements that are similarly active within women’s bodies. Ready.
Similarly, sexual development in the womb has long been described as proceeding along one of two pathways in the segment of the so-called masculinity-encoding Y chromosome that signifies the development of the testis and penis. . Or, as one textbook from 2017 put it, its lack led to ovarian and clitoris development “by default.”In this view, the woman was like the factory settings for her iPhone. but the men had a version with bells and whistles.
Both ideas were based on the premise that the female body is more passive, simpler, and the default setting for the body. As these assumptions came to light, it became clear that female development had not been subjected to the same scrutiny as male development. , spurring the discovery of a genetic component that suppresses the male pathway and leads to ovarian development.
But biology students usually don’t learn the origins of this new knowledge. The feminist scientist’s name does not appear in most academic footnotes or citations. Instead, students learn that science is self-correcting – even if the correction in this case comes from outside the established. This means that the insights that feminist scientists bring to their field may become part of mainstream knowledge, but there is no trace of how they came about.
Clearly, science’s larger power structures need to update their understanding of how feminist science can help expand human knowledge and take credit for the ways it already has. Until then, there is one thing that scientists who deliberately address these prejudices can do. Erasing the term will only continue the cycle of dismissal and marginalization of feminist scientists and their key contributions to the field.
What about terms like feminist science that make some scientists uncomfortable? The seemingly out of nowhere model begins to fall apart when we accept that we can and indeed must balance seeing and having deep beliefs. It’s time to turn around and stop fearing the F-word. Only then can we widen our lens and begin to improve science for everyone.
Rachel E. Gross is a science journalist, Vagina Obscura: Anatomical Voyage.
This article was first published dark.