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Women in Science


Women in Science or the feminists’ discussion of science is part of the whole feminist movement; done within the wall of feminists discourse. Scholarship on a feminist critique on science emerged in the 1960s and developed slowly; and got momentum in the 70s and, we may say, matured only in the 1980s.

However, till today not many feminists are active in the discussion on women and science. I may use the term ‘feminists of science’ for those who are engaged in the discussion on science from a feminist perspective.

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Women in Science

These feminists of science raise various questions concerning the androcentric nature of science and scientific research.

The Issues such as women’s access to science studies; job opportunities for women in scientific institution and laboratories, silence on the female contributions to science; androcentric biases in the selection of research areas and topics, exclusion of women in scientific activities; the negative portrayal of women in sciences, overall male biases in scientific research.

The overstressing of objective research in science and the like are raised by the feminists of science. They seem to be confident that women’s contributions in science studies could bring transformation in science and scientific research.

There are many good things science brought to women: safer and less painful childbirth and lower infant mortality rates, labor-saving conveniences for the home like washing machines, frozen foods, and no-iron fabrics, the exposure and criticism of unhelpful superstitions and prejudices, and the like.

However, feminists of science are not happy about science and the way scientific development took place indicating that the relationship between science and women are far from cordial.

They feel that modern science is androcentric with all its biases towards men neglecting women and women issues. The various levels and forms of the feminist critique of science may be discussed as follows:

1. Exclusion of Women in Science

The exclusion of women in science takes the various forms of denying women with scientific talents access to universities and other centers of scientific learning, denying them all; but menial research roles with inadequate workspace and equipment and pay, and denying them membership in prestigious scientific academies and professional organizations.

More recently this exclusion has taken subtler forms

Restrictive admissions quotas for undergraduate and graduate women students; less financial assistance for ladies students, research positions with inferior workspace and equipment and pay, and with little authority or the possibility of advancement exclusion from the foremost important scientific meetings and collaborations and knowledge networks, restricted access to prestigious scientific academies, and, of course, such newer phenomena as harassment.

These exclusions result in women in the lower and middle ranks of science for years, yet still have not managed to pierce the upper scientific strata in anything beyond token numbers.

Feminist scholars have documented practices of exclusion that effectively discourage women from participating in many scientific disciplines.

Much of this work discusses explicit forms of discrimination, such as differentials in pay and employment status, sexual harassment, and the failure of scientific communities to acknowledge important work by women scientists.

Other sources focus on more subtle barriers, such as the effects of hilly climates, gender roles, the masculine cultures of science and technology, and female under-representation on women’s interest in pursuing scientific and technical careers.

The feminist scholarship also addresses the exclusion of women’s concerns in science and technology and the ways in which this might be rectified approaches.

Right from the beginning of the movement, the feminists of science have sought means and ways to include more information about women in the science curriculum and methods to science studies more attractive to women.

They try to inject issues like women’s health, history of women in science, etc. in to the curriculum-of science studies.

Despite these obstacles, some women have developed strong interests in, and made important contributions to, scientific and technological development; as professional scientists and technologists and as amateur scientists and popularize of science.

2. Discrimination of Women in Science

According to the report of a survey done by the National Science Foundation, USA on, Women and Minorities in Science and Engineering in 1986.

Though Women participate at every level and employment sector; women still face lower salaries at all levels, lower rates of tenure and promotion, and higher rates of unemployment in all fields.

3. The Androcentric Biases in Science

Helen Longino, one of the leading feminists of science, points out that feminists, in and out of science, often condemn masculine bias in the sciences from the vantage point of commitment to a value-free science.

Androcentric bias, once identified, can then be seen as a violation of the rules, as ‘bad” science. They maintain that male bias in science has affected scientific theories and the interpretation of data.

One example is the assumption by Darwin and his successors that competition and struggle are the main forces in natural selection. This assumption seems to have reflected the bias of a male-dominated culture, which valued competition.

The language about scarcity, competition, and the survival of fittest served the interests of 19th-century capitalist societies but produced an incomplete and distorted understanding of nature.

Instead, they urge the use of such concepts as plenitude and cooperation. Later was it recognized that cooperation and symbiosis are often crucial in evolutionary survival.

More blatant examples of gender bias are evident in studies on the biological basis of sex differences; such as claims that there is a neurological difference between the sexes in the brain later ululation. And that this accounts for the purportedly innate superiority of males in mathematics and spatial visualization.

Emily Martin

According to Emily Martin, the male bias in science has seen in the way science textbooks explain human reproductive organs. Female reproductive physiology depicts negatively whereas male reproductive physiology explains in a purlieu. The term menstruation viewed as a failure – as the debris of the uterine lining. The result of necrosis, or dead tissue.

Praising the strength of male reproductive physiology, medical textbooks acclaim, instead of taking it as wasteful, the great number of sperms – several hundred million sperms – that the normal human male can manufacture per day.

Medical textbooks

Androcentric reading has seen when these medical textbooks compare male and female reproductive physiologies. ‘Whereas the female sheds only a sing gamete each month, the somniferous tubes produce hundreds of millions of sperms each day.’

Emily Martin laments that while these authors marvel at the greatness of male reproductive physiology, none of these texts expresses such intense enthusiasm for any female processes.

Helen Longino

Helen Longino holds that a feminist perspective can contribute to objectivity in science by facilitating the critique of auxiliary hypotheses and by suggesting alternative ones.

For example, it has often been said that ‘man the hunter’ was the key to the evolution of the earliest humans from primates and hominids.

Male hunting would have encouraged tool use, upright posture, and mental capacities. But did not women use similar capacities as gatherers and nurturers?

Longino maintains that in our culture science reflects gender-related preferences in the choice of problems, models, and concepts, which affect the content as well as the practice of science.

Another source of radical critiques is the psychoanalytic theory claiming that a growing girl achieves self rood by identifying with her mother; while a growing boy does so by separating from his mother.

This leads men to value separation, independence, objectivity, and power, the attitudes typical of contemporary science while dependence characterized womanhood.

4. Western Dualism and Male-Science Superiority

The feminists consider the pervasive Western dualism as one of the reasons for women inferior status in science.

Some of these dualisms are mind and body, reason and emotion, objectivity and subjectivity, domination and submission, impersonal and personal, power and love. In each case, the first term has identified in Western culture as male, the second as female.


The problem comes when these first terms have taken to characterize science: mind, reason, objectivity, domination, impersonality, power. Science is stereotypically male, and nature is referred to in female images.

5. Lack of Recognition of Women’s Contribution in Science

The feminists criticize science as tending to leave women largely invisible in its knowledge and research. It alleged that medical researchers have often failed to include females in animal studies in basic research as well as in clinical research unless the research centered on controlling the production of children.

Evelyn Fox Keller

One of the well-known feminists of science points out that the predominance of men in science has led to a bias in the choice and definition of problems with which scientists have concerned themselves.

Few example, contraception has not given enough scientific attention, for testing and experimenting only male rats used as female rats have a four-day cycle that complicates the experimenter.

This has led to drugs not adequately tested for women patients before being marketed and lack of information about the etiology of some diseases in women.

Again, research on conditions specific to females has received low priority. And research on diseases that affect both sexes has been primarily concerned with the predisposing factors for the disease in males; while very little research has been concerned with high rink groups of females.

Sue Rosser

Sue Rosser argues that though women were always part of science. Many times the works of women have scientists have been credited to others, brushed aside and misunderstood, or classified as non-science.

Few examples may be given where the works of women scientists have been curtailed in history. Though Catherine Green was the real inventor of the cotton gin; Eli Whitney credited with the invention of the cotton gin as he applied for the patent and was granted it.

Rosalind Franklin

Rosalind Franklin made contributions to the understanding of the molecular structures of DNA etc. She did not recognize properly but brushed aside and undervalued.

The groundbreaking of Ellen Swallow in water, air and food purity, sanitation, and industrial waste disposal classified as home economics seemingly because of the work done by a woman. The feminists of science call for the rediscovery of the names and contributions of the lost women of science in history.

Janet Kourany

Janet Kourany strongly suggests that the philosophy of science should investigate women’s contributions to science. The work of ordinary women scientists as well as that of the extraordinary ones should be both investigated.

If this is done, the philosophy of science will help both; men and women to appreciate women’s unique contributions to science. And will thereby help us to attain a conception of science that significantly relates to women as well as men.

If the task of the philosophy of science is to characterize the logic of science. Then, one useful thing philosophers of science can do is to characterize the logic of Orr’s science as well as men’s.

6. Negative Portrayal of Women in Science

The third charge feminists have leveled against science is that science has portrayed women in negative terms. A favorite theme has been women’s intellectual capacity.

For example, in the seventeenth century, women’s brains were said to be too ‘cold’ and ‘soft’ to sustain rigorous thought. The late eighteenth century, the female cranial cavity considered too small to hold a powerful brain.

In the late nineteenth century, the exercise of women’s brains thought to shrivel their ovaries in our own century. It assumed that women controlled more by the left brain. They are emotional, inferior in mathematical skills.

A number of feminists of science have critiqued the studies on brain lateralization, hormones, and brain anatomy; that attempt to link differences in males. And female brains with behavioral traits such as visual-spatial ability, verbal ability, and aggression.

They said that there are flaws in the whole process of investigation; and moreover, social factors should also be taken into consideration when one studies the functioning of the human brain.

7. A Gender-Free Science

Keller and Longino

According to Keller and Longino, the early feminists sought a gender-free science by urging greater access for women in science; education, and research and by rediscovering the stories of women whose outstanding scientific accomplishments had been forgotten or repressed.

But, today feminists of science go further and have used the concept of gender to analyze the content and practice of science.

They started seeking an alternative philosophy of embodied and socially, temporally, and spatially situated knowledge, stressing pluralism, community, and reflexivity.

Harding and Hintikka (Women in Science)

Harding and Hintikka also express the necessity to root for sexist distortions. And perversions in epistemology, metaphysics, methodology, and the philosophy of science.

Scientific knowledge, founded on masculine experience as understood by men; And only partial human experience only partially understood and distorted.

Evelyn Fox Keller

Evelyn Fox Keller has also criticized the androcentric bias in contemporary biology and social science; proposed to produce a ‘liberated science’.

Which is not a new science? But a liberated one that takes into consideration the contribution of women, the need of women, and the potential of women.

Lisa Stenmark (Women in Science)

According to Lisa Stenmark, participants in science and religion are mostly white, male, privileged. Thus they carry the same biases as the pool of scientists whose work they analyze.

She is also very critical of feminists who overly focus on categories such as ‘whit. The male privilege’ since it ignores the fact that women such as herself are part of the same social location. However, the real problem is not a social location but a commitment to the presuppositions of modernism.

Stenmark urges scholars in science and religion to listen to the voices from the margins. And to turn to postmodernist views of knowledge as the relationship of head, hand, and heart; to honor the importance of diversity in the community, and to adhere to participatory values.

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Conclusion (Women in Science)

All of these authors seek a gender-free science within the prevailing norms of scientific objectivity. The Male biases rejected not simply because they are patriarchal; but because they are ‘bad science’. And they can be corrected by a greater commitment to objectivity and openness to evidence.

Some feminists, rejecting objectivity itself as a male ideology, go much further in advocating a new ‘feminist science’; which emphasizes subjectivity in scientific research.

If there can be no value neutrality in science, then one can only seek a differently gendered science; accepting the inevitability of relativism. Sandra Harding calls this ‘feminist postmodernism,’ describing it as skeptical about the possibility of value neutrality, rationality, and objectivity.

She concludes, “It has been and should be moral and political beliefs; that direct the development of both the intellectual and social structures of science.

The problematic concepts, theories, methodologies, interpretations of experiments; and uses have been and should be selected with moral and political goals in mind, not merely cognitive ones.”