Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Scientist: Women and Science Today

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Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Scientist: Women and Science Today

The types of questions that have been asked in the titles of articles on the subject of science in women's studies literature, a subject that has become known as "The Science Question in Feminism"(1) articulate the existence of a division between science and feminism. Science has not succumbed to the gender debates and critiques of objectivity that have been taking place in and transforming the humanities for two or three decades now. Social critics of science, including feminist critics, do not have to be advocates of social revolution(2) to argue that the reason for this is that the agenda of science is profoundly affected by the dominant social relations of society. It was the political left of the late 1960s and early 1970s, though, which saw that the needs of science and capitalism had become so allied that science had become directly concerned with domination. Feminists have further claimed in the last decade that the agenda of science is infused with racism, sexism and androcentrism.

Little consideration is given to the cultural gap which divides science and the humanities and leaves most scientists more likely to be influenced by utilitarianism than postmodernism. Londa Sehiebinger's question "The Mind Has No Sex?" in the title of her book on women in the origins of modern science(3) suggests that, for women, participation in science is associated with a certain denial of gender. Is this a scientific work hazard that women are learning to deal with? Feminists know the political costs of tinkering with reality and are learning how to avoid being placed on the edge of time,(4) under a bell jar,(5) in the ruins of Isis(6) and, given the climate of some feminist debate on science, how to avoid science as an unsuitable job for a woman.(7) One of the most "unsuitable" jobs for a woman would have to be Newton's chair of Mathematics held by Stephen W. Hawking according to whom:

The laws of science that govern the behaviour of matter under all normal situations are unchanged under the combination of the two operations C and P on their own. [C means changing particles for antiparticles, P means taking the mirror image, so left and right are interchanged.] In other words, life would be just the same for the inhabitants of another planet who were both mirror images of us and who were made of antimatter, rather than matter.(8)

Yet the lives of men and women, boys and girls are different.

In the British Medical Journal of 5 March 1994, Caroline White, a freelance journalist, reviewing a government report on science ("The Rising Tide, a Report on Women in Science, Engineering and Technology") quoted from it that: "In 1992 more than 23,000 boys but under 7000 girls took physics A level."(9) The report found that there are not enough women scientists in Britain. The same finding was reported by feminist physicist turned physicist feminist, Alison Kelly, in Britain in 1974.(10) Kathy Overfield, one of the editors of the Brighton Women and Science Group's Alice Through the Microscope,(11) diagnosed the problem as being that the scientific ethic is the male ethic when, in 1979, the organising collective for a women's summer school could not find any feminist scientists or technologists to participate. Why did the women in science question change to being the science question in feminism? Do feminists have any answers to the questions that dominate women's studies literature on science, which can perhaps be summarised as two questions -- Is science anti-feminist? and Is feminism anti-science?

Inventing Women: Science, Technology and Gender, which was intended by the editors to be a women's studies text that would introduce students to feminist debates about science, consists of commissioned articles as well as previously published work dating back to 1985. As such, it is comprehensive in its cover of feminist critiques of science, and the radical feminist anti-science views associated with Mary Daly's Gyn/Ecology(12) and Susan Griffin's Women and Nature,(13) are included in relation to ecofeminism. …