A REVIEW OF GILL KIRKUP AND LAURIE SMITH (EDS.) INVENTING WOMEN: SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY AND GENDER (CAMBRIDGE: POLITY, 1992); JUDY WAJCMAN FEMINISM CONFRONTS TECHNOLOGY (SYDNEY: ALLEN AND UNWIN, 1991)[POLITY, 1991]; MARINA BENJAMIN (ED.) SCIENCE AND SENSIBILITY: GENDER AND SCIENTIFIC ENQUIRY 1780-1945 (OXFORD: BLACKWELL, 1991); CAROL STABILE FEMINISM AND THE TECHNOLOGICAL FIX (MANCHESTER AND NEW YORK: MANCHESTER UNIVERSITY PRESS, 1994).
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 Schiebinger'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
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. There are other arguments, variously for a feminine science (Margaret Lowe Benston in "Women's Voices/Men's Voices: Technology as Language" 33-41); a gynocentric science (Evelyn Fox Keller in "How Gender Matters, or, Why It's So Hard For Us To Count Past Two" 42-56);
gender-free science (Gill Kirkup and Laurie Smith Keller in "A Feeling For the Organism: Fox Keller's Life of Barbara McClintock" 188-195); or a feminist science (Sandra Harding in "How the Women's Movement Benefits Science' 57-72). Most, however, are framed in opposition to either 'bad science' or 'science-as-usual,' or so Sandra Harding contends in her article. Harding also expresses an awareness of the irony that feminist opposition to what she calls science-as-usual has the same logical consequence as radical feminist anti-science--that feminism should discourage women from becoming part of the problem with the result that the women's movement would become scientifically illiterate.
If the feminist abandonment of science and a scientifically illiterate women's movement read more like realities than possibilities, it is because feminist and scientific scholarship already tend to be mutually exclusive. Feminist scholars who study science either have a discipline other than science as a background or have given up science in favour of science studies. Of course, feminists en masse did not urge women to abandon science and those women scientists who changed fields to feminist studies of science did so to encourage more women to become scientists. A notable exception to this humanities/science, insider/outsider notion of feminist science criticism is Elizabeth Wilson's contribution to the 1992 "Women's Knowledge" edition of Meanjin,(14) in which she contests that "one of the most heavily policed borders in our institutions is the border between the scientific and the non-scientific" (77) and is highly critical of "anti-science sentiment(ality) circulating in feminist theory" (ibid.). There is not unqualified support in Inventing Women for the ecofeminist anti-science argument which derives from a view that an association between women and nature is not oppressive. When the focus is on women's biology, the editorial consensus is that
feminists in general have preferred instead to deconstruct the Woman/Nature relation, arguing that women's bodies have few, if any, biological differences from men that are significant enough to merit the sexual divisions in society or the claims of a special relationship to the rest of the natural world. (Gill Kirkup 74)
The claim of women fighting for admission to the world of science that "we are not different" (Evelyn Fox Keller 43) therefore suggests that, at some stage, their struggle was allied to that of feminism. If, in 1979, there were few scientific spokeswomen for the feminist cause, there would presumably be fewer after the 1980s when feminist theory, particularly with regard to gender identity and gender politics, diversified and women's studies courses became more widespread. In comparison, women inside science remained relatively 'untheorised.' Although there was some appreciation amongst feminist scientists during the late 70s and early 80s of both science and gender as socially constructed (ibid. 46), they may have missed the gradual shift in emphasis that occurred whereby "the feminist theory that would have gender as the cultural transformation of male and female infants into adult men and women," became a tenet. Similarly, such feminist scientists' preoccupation with the natural or physical world, and their relative lack of exposure to feminist theory, may have obscured for them the difference between 'bad science' and 'science-as-usual' if the difference is not a mismeasure of the extent to which science is misused and abused, but a rejection of empiricism. Harding is so unsupportive of "feminist empiricists" who are critical of 'bad science' and not 'science-as-usual' that she is prepared to divorce their struggle from feminism. Without explanation or evidence and in the space of one article she represents women as having "waged heroic campaigns to enter and remain in the sciences" (58) and as having gained "the precarious positions they have achieved, not through "functioning as women" but through their insistence "that they were 'just one of the boys'"(63). Harding does not distinguish between women scientists who may not be literate in feminist theory and those who do not want to be.
Whereas Harding is opposed to the substitution of scientific discussion for moral and political discussion as the basis of rational discourse and the 'penetration' of culture by scientific rationality (The Science Question in Feminism 12), her criticism of feminist empiricism can be interpreted as criticism of women scientists and her opposition to the misuse and abuse of science as opposition to science. In Inventing Women, Harding appears to resort to a relativism she has previously abjured "in the face of the deep alliances between science and sexist, racist, classist, and imperialist social projects" (The Science Question in Feminism 28), by conceding to a need for scientific literacy. At the same time, in a move away from relativism, she has eliminated from Inventing Women critical discussion of feminist standpoint theory in terms of feminist postmodernism, a discussion which is presented in The Science Question in Feminism. Any relativism that originates from the simultaneous need to critique science and to ameliorate the relationship between science and feminism tends to be overruled by inclusion of and support for views which are more definite in their opposition to science. This is as true of the collection as a whole as it is of Harding's contribution. The overall effect is that Inventing Women lacks consistency and conviction.
Another rationale as to why a concession to the need for scientific literacy is called for, when "during the 1970s and '80s feminist debates about gender placed most emphasis on its social construction, arguing against any necessary connection with biology at all" (Gill Kirkup 74), is given by Lynda Birke, a biologist, to justify the inclusion in the book of a section on the data of human biology:
There are undoubtedly powerful social divisions in our society; and feminists must insist that these are not caused by the biological attributes (sex, or colour of one's skin, for example) with which they are sometimes associated. But at the same time, feminists must also insist that we experience those divisions as embodied persona. Refusing to see our biology as primary and controlling is essential: human behaviour and social organisation are not caused by biology or by the social/cultural environment, and we are puppets of neither. But we do have bodies.(15)
The concession was to a need for scientific literacy, not to a need for scientific accuracy. The biologically informative articles in the section "Our Bodies, Our Minds, Our Selves' (Inventing Women 73-161) are critical of medical solutions to problems where women's lives have been "medicalised" but avoid "debates about the accuracy of biological evidence and theory" (Gill Kirkup 74). Scientific accuracy is the domain of the biological determinists-who will neither concede the debate not abandon the search for new definitive data. Social determinists are usually obliged to consider the data from biology in the interests of relevance, not accuracy. Lynda Birke has simply found a new relevance in this obligation-the materiality of women's bodies. Scientific discourse in biology may be the basis of medical practice but here, as elsewhere in Inventing Women, the arguments ate political not biological. The poverty of a science of gender is demonstrated along with the powerful influence of gender on the theory and practice of sciences as different as anthropology, medicine and engineering. Biological determinism is considered bad politics, not bad biology.
However, an unfortunate reality of what Kirkup calls the "social determinist" position is that it must, with new claims to sexual difference and inequality constantly appearing in both the scientific and the popular literature, counter and continue to counter the biological determinist position. In the Weekend Australian of 7-8 May 1994, an Australian neurophysiologist was reported to claim that "male scientists in Australia will not take a public pro-biology stand because they are afraid of a hostile response." Two full pages of commentary, not all of it favourable, were devoted to a review of The New Sexual Revolution by American author Robert Pool in which he presents "20 years of research into the connection between sex differences and the structure of the brain as an argument against sexual equality."(16)
The women's movement is now abandoning its call for more women in science, arguing that numbers alone will not make a difference and that what is really needed is more women in positions from which they can alter the direction of science (Harding, Inventing Women 63). There would seem to be significant problems with this argument, though, when details from the lives of successful women scientists, presented in the 'Producing Science and Technology" section (162-231) show quite convincingly that these women continue to experience professional barriers and even incur new ones. These are stories of restrictions on admissions to prestigious male-dominated scientific societies, and of dire consequences for those who dare to doubt the conventional wisdom of the dominant group (Joan Mason, "Hertha Ayrton: A Scientist of Spirit" 168-177; Gill Kirkup and Laurie Smith Keller, "A Feeling for the Organism: Fox Keller's Life of Barbara McClintock 188-195). Social and cultural analyses of the types of barriers that exist between women and science and technology provide valuable insights into how male dominance is negotiated on a broader scale. Cynthia Cockburn ("Technology, Production and Power" 196-211) argues that the exclusion of women from industry-based technical skills is "the indirect outcome of a class struggle to control the means of production" (Gill Kirkup 165); Radha Chakravarthy ("Science, Technology and Development: The Impact on the Status of Women" 224-231) that "the process of socio-economic change" resulting from development projects "affects men and women differently and promotes a gender gap rather than gender equality" (227).
At one stage, Harding undermines her own argument that more women in more powerful positions could effect change when she pessimistically asserts that "almost all scientific research is technology driven" and "political issues are posed as requiring merely technological solutions" (70). Admittedly, she is not putting forward solutions but simply the way she perceives the present situation. However, her assertions are quite at odds with the contentions of other contributors that even technology is not technology driven. Cockburn argues this in relation to industrial technology, as does Judy Wajcman in relation to domestic technology ("Domestic Technology: Labour-Saving or Enslaving" 238-254) in the section on "Consuming Science and Technology" (232-302). Elsewhere Harding has maintained that science councils, not scientists, produce the policies which create the "social structure and purposes of contemporary science" (58).
In a dramatic change of mind, Alison Kelly, who was involved in the Girls into Science and Technology (GIST) project in Manchester from 1979 to 1984, and has been involved in feminist issues in science education in Britain since the early 1970s, now promotes a similar idea--that it is science which should change. She no longer believes that "designing 'girl-friendly' approaches to science," is "the most successful way to ensure that women have equal opportunities to impose their ideas on existing science frameworks" (Lizz Whitelegg, "Girls in Science Education: Of Rice and Fruit Trees" Inventing Women 183), and would prefer that, rather than attributing girls' lack of confidence and achievement in science to sexual stereotyping during their early socialisation, attempts be made to make science a less masculine endeavour and to change the attitude of educators who dissuade girls from science (ibid.). Nevertheless, the British government wants to target women for science because they are "the country's biggest single most undervalued and therefore underused human resource,"(17) not to introduce feminist change.
Judy Wajcman's article in Inventing Women is a slightly modified reproduction of a chapter from her book Feminism Confronts Technology, published, too, by Polity Press in 1991. The first chapter of Feminism Confronts Technology is an overview of feminist critiques of science and technology which covers much of the same ground as "The Nature of Science and Technology" section of Inventing Women. The main difference is that Wajcman explicitly differentiates technology from science, as something more than applied science; as, more obviously than science, something that, as well as being a form of knowledge "includes practices and institutions" because "technology is primarily about the creation of artifacts" (Feminism Confonts Technology 13). With the microelectronic information superhighway supposedly under construction, with the influence of genetic engineering in molecular biology and the possibility of human genetic engineering through 'gene therapy' and with human reproductive technologies already a reality, debate (both scholarly and popular) has mostly been concerned with the impact of technology on society. Joining other sociologists who have begun to critique this "technological determinism," Wajcman looks to the "social factors that shape technological changes" (ibid.) in addition to highlighting, as feminists have tended to, the differential effects of technological change on women and men.
She subjects the car, the vacuum cleaner, the house and, of course, the remote control device to the same sort of scrutiny and analysis as topics such as the technology of production and reproductive technology. Although she examines the impact of technological change on sexual divisions, her conclusion is that technology itself is gendered the extent that it can be viewed as a masculine culture. Not content with her finding that "the pace and direction of technological development reflect existing gender relations as much as they affect the sexual division of labour" (52), she prefers to argue that the correspondence between masculinity and technology, "between men and machines is neither essential nor immutable, and thereto the potential exists for its transformation" (159). Her stance is certainly not simply pro-technology. Wajcman, like most feminists since Shulamith Firestone, is critical of reproductive technology and regrets the "masculinisation of an area that was previously a women's sphere" (78), a process feminists have witnessed with its development since the 1970s, despite their opposition. She is, however, also critical of a tendency in feminist analysis not to acknowledge the power of technology to improve women's lives, an acknowledgment which she thinks should come with the "realisation that technology itself is a social construct" (Preface x).
Although Wajcman argues against the conflation of technology with science, some of her optimism towards technology carries over to science. If Wajcman's critique of science evokes less of a division between science and feminism than Sandra Harding's appears to, it is because Wajcman is more critical of feminist anti-science views based on women's values. Her opposition is to a technology aligned only with masculinity and a science aligned with either masculinity or femininity. She criticises feminist standpoint theorists as essentialist although they expressly dissociate themselves from [this] radical feminist essentialism" (10). To Wajcman, the logic behind feminist standpoint epistemology--that:
men's dominant position in social life results in partial and perverse understandings, whereas women's subjugated position provides the possibility of more complete and less perverse understanding (Harding, The Science Question in Feminism 26),
is essentialist-because it seeks to "ground a distinctive feminist science in universal features of women's experience" (10). Mindful of but undeterred by the feminist issue that dichotomies such as culture/nature, mind/body, reason/emotion, objectivity/subjectivity can in themselves be seen as characteristic of scientific thought and Western philosophy, Wajcman persists and uses them to explore how they can, if viewed as dualistic gender metaphors, "reveal the underlying social meanings in purportedly value-neutral scientific thought" (6), and also negate the possibility of a gender-neutral science.
To show that it makes no sense to base science on feminine intuition, subjectivity, holism and harmony, she focuses on the nature/culture dichotomy as historically specific in order to challenge the universality of the "social behaviours and meaning associated with masculinity and femininity in Western culture"(10); the idea of "nature' as a changing cultural category in order to refute the claim "that a holistic approach in harmony with nature is gender-specific"(10); and rationality and intuition as "historically specific social products which can be redefined by social practice" (12). Wajcman finds no place for
"return to an emphasis on natural or psychological gender differences" (9) in critiques of objectivity. She issues two useful reminders--that 'masculinity' and 'femininity' are changing cultural categories and that science is a social practice as well as a form of knowledge.
Wajcman is able to outline more clearly than Inventing Women what the 'science question in feminism' is. She quotes from Sandra Harding's The Science Question in Feminism that it is an enquiry into 'how a science apparently so deeply involved in distinctively masculine projects can possibly be used for emancipatory ends" (29). Unfortunately, the oppositional tension between science and feminism in Inventing Women is such that the enquiry is closed and the question being asked becomes "how can a science apparently so deeply involved in distinctively masculine projects possibly be used for emancipatory ends?" Both Inventing Women and Feminism Confronts Technology are directed to women's studies audiences to educate them about science and technology. They could well be used for the same purpose with women educated in science and technology as well, to introduce them to analyses of science, gender and empiricism. The assumption that women educated in science and technology are beyond the reach of women's studies is part of the problem.
Apart from a few excursions into the area of feminist crime fiction, issues which arise in feminist critiques of science are mostly dealt with in feminist science fiction. Lynne Alice ventures outside of the science fiction genre in an article, "Hot Property: Mutants, Metaphors and Radiation" which was published in a recent Hecate(18) and is about a woman with cervical cancer who explores the biology, pathology and politics of the disease. Alice's article raises questions about scientific literacy because her distortion of genre boundaries also distorts the boundary between the scientific and the non-scientific. She somewhat perversely refers to an account(19) of a discredited, highly unethical study in Auckland, in which cervical cancer was detected and allowed to progress under observation without treatment, for data on the biology of the cancer. Her source is scientifically unorthodox rather than inaccurate. Alice creates a blend of three discourses-personal diary records, science fact and science fiction-to critique the diagnosis and treatment of cervical cancer, its medical model and its construction both medically and socially. She acknowledges that the disease is associated with human papillomavirus (HPV) and is a heterosexually transmitted disease by having her patient/protagonist read in a medical pamphlet in the oncology ward that multiple sexual 'partners' may predispose a woman to the disease. She confirms in an endnote that male partners with HPV are the source of infection, only to dispel a theory from a non-scientific 1980 paper about menstrual cramps that "histone" or "protamine" in sperm contribute to cervical cancer. In other words, her character with cervical cancer was totally uninformed about the disease until she was diagnosed with it, presumably at quite an advanced stage.
This is a story about a close encounter with science. Alice's patient is alienated from science. Science also appears to be an alien area for Alice. So, the story results in quite an alien bend of science and politics which may be quite intentional. Alice does not want to associate the disease with a virus or with a group of people but with "specific behaviours between infected individuals."(20) Whereas she does not want a "plague" mentality to develop about cervical cancer, she does want information about prevention and treatments to be more accessible. I would argue that the reason the viral origin of this cancer is not more commonly known is that the threat posed to women by HPV has been overshadowed by that from HIV. Condom protection works against both viruses, but it has been preferable to associate a fatal disease with homosexuality than a (potentially) fatal disease with heterosexuality. On the other hand, it would be unpleasant for Alice's patient if her sexual orientation were compromised by a heterosexual virus with a long latency time. So she is quite fight that viruses do not discriminate. It would be simpler to have cancer of the knee, as Alice suggests. Still, the involvement of a (hetero)sexually transmitted virus in this cancer is surely as important as its genital location in how the disease is construed, both medically and socially.
I am still of that opinion, but less so since quite a lot of publicity was given to the case of a woman who was awarded over $400,000 in damages from her general practitioner and a pathology service, after her positive Pap smear was misdiagnosed.(21) There was little or no discussion in the media of the sexual transmissibility of cervical cancer and, perhaps because the misdiagnosis involved human error, media discussion as to how the screening procedure for HPV might be improved was also limited. There was certainly no mention of how more scientifically sophisticated methods of detection of the virus may paradoxically blur the distinction between a diseased and normal state, because HPV may be present without causing any apparent disease. This has been a subject of scientific and medical controversy for at least five years but this debate and other potential debates concerning the prevalence and acquisition of HPV have not received the public scrutiny they deserve, perhaps because they would be too 'hot.'
The publication of Alice's article is a move in the right direction. Her story produces rather than reproduces a limited scientific literacy. This raises the question as to whether Alice, through her focus on a personalised need for scientific literacy which becomes an exploration of the limits of scientific meanings with limited working levels of scientific accuracy and literacy, devalues the more generalised need. Limitations on the reproduction of scientific accuracy may owe as much to a low social tolerance for scientifically detailed information, accurate or otherwise, as to a public lack of scientifically accurate information, although these two are not unrelated. For the individual, as for writers like Alice, the discrimination is not quite between fiction and fact--for scientific and medical fictions exist as the preferred options of these respective establishments--in addition to those in the public perception. Such fictions are usually counted on to become transparent with time.
The relatively short time framework of this era of HIV/AIDS has seen the social action of sufferers and their supporters transform a political neglect of the disease into a governmental willingness to commit substantial funds to Western science specifically to fight it. In the absence of a cure and in the intense media spotlight, we have been able to witness within a highly scientifically informed community of patients some who prefer treatment options which have no basis in science. Within the scientific community reputations are being fought for as a diversity of approaches manifest a multitude of theories, some of which have incurred more scientific dissent than others, but none more than the theory that the virus does not cause the disease. The publicity surrounding Rhonda O'Shea's damages case may have heightened public awareness of cervical cancer at the expense of its viral origin. Rhonda O'Shea has since died. Her very public death has shown how easily the limits of scientific literacy are reached in the media. Apparently, too, women and the women's movement are not as scientifically literate about HPV and cervical cancer as homosexual men are about HIV/AIDS. Perhaps feminists know too well that illnesses can be socially constructed and what I am interpreting as lack is a steely measure of resistance to medical models of disease. It is also possible that this resistance has produced a lack which we need to fight against.
Feminist emphasis on the social effects of the pathologising by physicians of women's biology should not lead us to deny that pathology can have intrinsic (intracellular) biological causation or to forget that extrinsic (extracellular) factors, social or environmental or both, can affect that causation. Neither should we forget that illness can have powerful social effects, when it is not caused iatroenically (by physicians), when it has intrinsic and/or extrinsic biological causation. However, the notion that illness may be a social determinant, from which a biological component cannot be dispelled, is problematic--because it undermines the clarity of the biological/social division which social constructionist theory seeks to maintain. Another problem, which relates as much to the scientific/non-scientific division as it does to the biological/social division, is that illness can have social causation. This converse notion is almost exclusively confined to psychoanalytic thought; while medical models of mental illness are almost exclusively concerned with biological causation. The fact that psychiatrists institutionally police a clear social/biological division in this regard, when such a division is also important in feminist ideology, is not indicative of common political ground and should, at least, prompt some thought as to how social and biological influences might intersect. It might also bring under scrutiny feminism's current preoccupation with psychoanalysis, which exists at the expense of any other continuing engagements with psychiatry and reinforces the boundary between the scientific and the non-scientific, a boundary which is also well defended within psychiatry.
Too much emphasis on the opposition between science and feminism as bases from which to analyse gender differences can trap feminist thought in a new dichotomy. We now have the science/feminism dichotomy to contend with. Although, as culture, technology undeniably has an even greater gender bias than science does, Judy Wajcman frees herself from this dichotomy whereas Gill Kirkup and Laurie Smith Keller, as editors of Inventing Women, have reproduced it, an outcome to which their tendency to present gender analyses of science and technologies across cultures rather than time may be related. The world and its relation to the contemporary feminist movement is the arena of Inventing Women. Four world maps of infant/maternal mortality, contraception, women's illness and health and spending on research and development are included. This encyclopaedic scope may be another reason why the book gives rise to almost as many contradictions, in terms of gender, as it seeks to resolve. The argument presented from the viewpoint of human biology is that sexual difference does not give rise to gender difference; the only argument against the military establishment is that they have failed to integrate gender differences by excluding women from the armed forces (Julie Wheelwright, "'A Brother in Arms, a Sister in Peace': Contemporary Issues of Gender and Military Technology" 213-223); and, of course, women dominate the science fiction, utopian world of Rokeya Sakhawat Hossain's "Sultana's Dream" (294-302), first published in 1905.
As a historian of science, Marina Benjamin has edited a book published at about the same time as the two I have been discussing, Science and Sensibility: Gender and Scientific Enquiry 1780-1945, which examines the intersection of gender analyses within science and feminism. With a regard for cultural analysis and a disregard for the positivist ideology of science, she, along with six other historians (three of whom are men) and Lynda Birke introduce gender analysis to the history of science specifically as a means of affording a better understanding of science as a cultural heritage, with particular emphasis on what biology has meant to women. This shift away from the 'medicalisation of women's bodies' paradigm reveals that relationships that have existed between feminists and science are by no means all negative, that some, indeed, are quite quirky--at times apologist, but also more combatorial and at the same time less oppositional than we might imagine.
In this regard, Harriet Martineau (1802-1876) had a complex relationship with science and the medical specialists who could not solve her gynaecological problem--a benign ovarian cyst. A strong-minded equal rights advocate and radical bourgeois reformer with a reputation for a formidable intellect, Martineau claimed a cure through mesmerism which she defended in terms of scientific materialism. She was not a spiritualist. The paradigm that science has always sought to establish sex and therefore gender difference is also turned around in Science and Sensibility with the revelation that science was aligned with a certain gender indifference during the late Victorian period--until Charles Darwin gave sexual divergence an integral role in the evolutionary process in his theory of sexual selection elaborated in 1872.(22) Martineau's case was in the public and medical gaze in the 1840s and again in the 1870s. In the 1840s when her mesmeric cure took place, it was difficult for the emerging gynaecological profession to 'one-dimensionalise' her because, if anything, she shared the political ideology of many of the medical reformers. The medical case against her mesmeric cure was only established at autopsy. Her tumour had continued to grow. It was thought her apparent cure had coincided with a change in direction of its growth which had relieved her painful symptoms. Although her mesmeric cure was an illusion, Martineau no longer required pain management which had previously left her in a state of debilitation possibly worse than that of her condition. Thereafter, biology filled the space left by Martineau's political resistance. It makes a nice story. However, despite her reduction to biology, indeed to pathology, Martineau was probably ahead on points--she had willed her body to medical research. As it happened, for years before her death, gynaecologists had already started to locate 'the soul of woman,' her femininity, in her ovaries as part of a move towards gender distinctness. Martineau's struggle was with her medical condition and its treatment, not with the social effects of biological reductionism.
Roger Cooter, whose "Dichotomy and Denial: Mesmerism, Medicine and Harriet Martineau" (Science and Sensibility 144-173) I have been giving an account of, does not believe that Martineau perceived, in her own life, that "the social and ideological had come to be concealed in the biological" (ibid., 165). His view, that the value of her story is related to the dialectical construction of gender in medicine, ascribes a dual role to the function in that construction of dichotomies such as professional/lay, heterodox/orthodox, rational/irrational, fact/value, material/spiritual and even male/female.
According to Cooter, while these dichotomies had to be negotiated socially and ideologically but "held little water in and of themselves" (ibid.), the problem was that Martineau and her contemporaries came to conceptualise reality in these oppositional terms which had the effect of legitimating female oppression. In his essay, Martineau's experience with mesmerism "can be seen historically both to conspire with and resist" (ibid., 145) accounts which would locate oppression only in medicine's role in the construction of gender relations.
I have commented mainly on Cooter's essay because of the influence that illness had on Martineau's life. Each of the essays in Science and Sensibility is a case study, a format which, according to Benjamin, demonstrates as spurious "the assumption commonly made by historians that a given term has a fixed meaning through time or a universal meaning across cultures" (Benjamin, "Introduction" 9). With each essay examining the influence of various specific intersections of gender, science and feminism in the lives of women, women associated with science (for example, women writers on science and women involved in science-supportive industry) and women scientists, Benjamin's aim is to show that the term 'woman' is as contingent as the term 'science.' The collection poses a relativism between science and feminism as much as it does an empirical relativism. Wajcman uses a form of empirical relativism to escape from the science/feminism dichotomy. Her account of the feminism/technology confrontation excludes any analysis of military technology. Inventing Women prefers outright rejection of empiricism, fails to deny the dichotomy between science and feminism and castigates the military for its failure to accept women into the armed forces. Science and Sensibility simply examines the influence of pacifism in the life and work of British scientist, Dorothy Hodgkin in the 1930s. The magnitude of these discrepancies suggests that more work is needed on the relatedness of science and feminism and less denial that such relatedness exists.
A more recent publication--Carol Stabile's Feminism and the Technological Fix--which, like Judy Wajcman's Feminism Confonts Technology, critically reappraises the implications of technology for feminism from a Marxist viewpoint, focuses on two disparate responses in feminist thought, technophobia and technomania, which derive respectively from ecofeminist and postmodernist influences. Stabile's cultural studies approach places more in perspective the value-based ecofeminist criticism of empiricism with a tendency towards outright rejection of it; the extreme empirical relativism of postmodernism which may implode empiricism and social criticism as well; and the Marxist-based feminist standpoint theory which seeks to synthesise feminist criticism of empiricism into a "science of
science" (Gill Kirkup, Inventing Women "The Nature of Science and Technology" 9).
Postmodernist views are not entirely absent from the critiques of science presented in Inventing Women. They just tend to be not identified as such. For example, relativism so imbues Evelyn Fox Keller's "How Gender Matters, Or, Why It's So Hard For Us To Count Past Two" (42-56) as to suggest "there are as many different kinds of science as there are people" (Gill Kirkup 9). Sandra Harding fails to mention the potential for conflict between the partial vision of feminist standpoint theory, based on Marxism and divisions of race, gender and class, and the more fragmented, individually-based vision of postmodernism. Nevertheless, the title Inventing Women plays on the idea of a reality invented rather than discovered. It is left to Gill Kirkup in her introduction to the section on "The Nature of Science and Technology" to assure the readers that Keller's relativism is empirically and not epistemologically based--that:
science and feminism have similar agendas in that they are both concerned to remedy distortions and move closer towards a more accurate description of how things are. (10)
On the same page, Kirkup reveals that "the argument that knowledge is the result of invention, the imposition of form on the world rather than the result of discovery" is a feminist postmodernist one. This we are told is a feminist theory debate for the future, for the 1990s.
Stabile makes it as much a debate about the future and the way it is envisaged. Her exploration of the division in the ways feminists have reacted to an increasingly technologised world, and her opposition to both technophobia and technomania, allow her to formulate a more cogent analysis of feminism and the military, "Semper Fidelis: Daughters in their Fathers' Military" (99-133) (mostly in relation to the Persian Gulf War and its media representation) than has been forthcoming when feminists have taken sides for and against technology. Her opposition to "the global and local social injustices" (129) of militarism, framed as an analysis of femininity and violence, is facilitated by culturally and historically specific and economic argument. She is critical of the universalising consequences of biological, "pacificistic logic" and of 'false consciousness' claims against the equal employment opportunity argument.
While Stabile challenges the discursive role of the technophobic/technomanic binary division, her political criticism of feminist postmodernist theory in relation to technology derives as much from an informed materialism as from dialectics. In her final chapter, "Calculating on a Frictionless Plane" (134-160), her concern is to critique a trend in feminist theory-
that dismisses an understanding of the complicated workings of structurally orchestrated, material oppressions in favor of endless and endlessly revolving, metaphoric oppressions. (137)
Her focus on the woman/nature binarism, and the technomania contrivance within postmodernism inspired to dismantle its terms, together with an argument and a vision as synthetic and structural as those in her analysis of feminism and the military, reintroduce
tempered empiricism (137, 156) at the boundary constituted by the biological/social division. The boundary is revealed to be somewhat indistinct. As a result, her argument affords insights which a relevant to science as well as technology, and which may hold relevance for scientists who share neither her socialist nor feminist views.
These insights relate to feminist postmodernist criticism (that of Donna Harway in particular), which Stabile reads as being at odds with Marxist (and Darwinist) claims to knowledge. According to Haraway's 'Situated Knowledges,' "the split and contradictory self is the one who can interrogate positionings and be accountable, the one who can construct and join rational conversations and fantastic imaginings that change history."(23) Other feminist critics of postmodernism might applaud such "situatedness" as a celebration of the partiality of any claim to a world perspective, but still view with concern the suspicions it raises "about the very notion of [a] putative unitary consciousness of the species [Homo sapiens]."(24) Stabile is more concerned that such 'specific positioning' which, she argues, includes race, erotic orientation and gender, and not class (150), is idealist and consists in the reduction of the social to discourse (137). In Haraway's invention of a 'cyborg,' whose materiality is shifted but whose human agency is not compromised by the conferral of an agency, entity and a history on nature (with whom the 'cyborg' gains an ability to interact) (141); and feminist 'cyborg' 'stories' designed to "reverse and displace the hierarchical dualisms of naturalized identities" (Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women 175), Stabile perceives no potential for historical change. For her, 'cyborgs' and discursive constructions around them involve a 'dematerialisation of the social" (137) and a departure from socialist-feminist politics (150). Stabile's understanding is that 'cyborgs' would not invent new worlds and new futures, social change would stultify and history would become the enactment of survival (155).
On the basis of her recognition that evolution is not enacted in human history and that evolutionary change is not the same as social change, Stabile may have a better understanding of evolution than many, including scientists. The concept of engineering in contemporary molecular biology does not have the evolutionary implication that living organisms represent a perfect product of engineering. In a lecture entitled "Evolution and Tinkering"(25) delivered at Berkeley in 1977, Francois Jacob, who shared a Nobel prize in 1965 for work on gene regulation, cautioned his audience that evolution may proceed through a process more like tinkering than engineering. Few such cautionary notes have been issued since. Jacob's message that living organisms "represent a patchwork of odd sets pieced together where and when opportunities arose" implies that "the living world as we know it is just one among many possibilities; that its actual structure results from the history of the earth" (1166). His reminder to his audience that the biological possibilities which evolutionary change has introduced are far greater in number and richer in innovation than the possibilities scientists invent, at once confines the impact of biological interventions to evolutionary processes and biological invention to evolutionary change.
For Jacob, the opportunism of natural selection "reflects the very nature of a historical process full of contingency" not simply "an indifference to structure and function" (1166). In the absence of such a historical perspective, this indifferent opportunism which operates as a constraint, can be viewed more animatedly as active selection based on active competition. While we do not enact this aspect of evolution, we are products of it; and the requirement for reproduction, the other aspect of natural selection, is also a constraint (which many of us actively engage in overcoming). Brain development in mammals exemplifies Jacob's concept of evolutionary tinkering better than the transformation of a leg into a wing (ibid.) because the sort of evolutionary change involved was not as complete. The human brain has retained, anatomically, evolutionarily old structures right next to evolutionarily new ones and Jacob likens it to a jet engine strapped on to an old horse cart. His choice of metaphors of driverlessness for the human brain implies that we were more related to the horse than the cart, although I am unsure as to whether this was his intention. However, it balances, quite nicely, the metaphor of a machine he uses to describe the relative]y uncoordinated addition of "new intellectual functions to old emotional and visceral ones" (ibid.) which may well constitute our 'cyborg artifactualism.' My extended metaphor implies, more than his, that a unitary consciousness does not exist for our species. Jacob confines his comments on the potential for conflict which this incomplete alliance of forms might produce to a more Freudian kind of analysis.
Stabile's cautionary critique of Haraway's feminist postmodernism reiterates Jacob's cautionary critique of modern science. Like postmodernists, scientists invent possible and partial worlds at the expense of a unified world view. In stark contrast to Hawking's vision of life on another planet as no different from here, Jacob predicts that such life would be "a different play performed by different actors," because, even if the material and the environment were not all that different, 'the sequence of historical opportunities there could not be the same as here" (1166). However, Hawking's depiction of other 'Life' which derives from matter (or anti-matter) does not vary from Jacob's depiction, which derives from living systems, because Hawking has chosen to ignore the biological implications of historical contingency. The difference derives from a calculated anti-biologism on Hawking's part rather than a calculated biologism in Jacob's thought and arises because Hawking is considering the effect of time on the laws of physics; the concept of time; and the direction of time. The difference is discursive. Attempts to unify gravity and quantum mechanics had to introduce the idea of "imaginary" time "which is indistinguishable from directions in space."(26) Hawking 'imagines' life on another planet as no different from life here because the laws of physics, unaffected by the symmetries I have previously quoted, would, by his calculation, also be unaffected by "reversing the motion of all particles." Hawking acknowledges that time is not real and life is not ordinary in relation to this particular discussion in which his aim is to show that "the laws of science do not distinguish between the past and the future."(27) Such an aim is antithetical to Jacob's discussion of 'evolutionary theory. Science has yet to distinguish life from matter; people make the distinction by moral and philosophical criteria, as do different cultures.
One of Stabile's socialist-materialist criticisms of Haraway's postmodernism is that the latter's emphasis on the politics of representation is achieved in the absence of ideological and historical constraints; and survival displaces choice as the social operant of change in Haraway's considerations of the future. Stabile argues that this distortion "undermines Haraway's concept of partnerships, as well as her claims to situated knowledges" (144). Part of Stabile's argument is that shifts in materiality between human, nature and machine (if you like), such as Haraway has imagined, are discernible and have social and cultural causes rather than effects. This is an argument she has prepared in a previous chapter, "Shooting the Mother: Fetal Photography and the Politics of Disappearance " (68-98). There, she describes how the use of visual technologies over the past thirty years has produced a "historically unprecedented division," a shift in materiality, between woman and foetus. This she identifies as a cultural and social trend brought about by political forces. A corollary to Stabile's argument in "Shooting the Mother" is that if, individually or collectively, we do distinguish ourselves from other living systems and matter, then the choices we make are social and political. This corollary, extended by her critique of Haraway's postmodernism in "Calculating on a Frictionless Plane," becomes that if we are to move beyond survival, we may have so to distinguish ourselves or be like Haraway's 'cyborg,' with "no choice but to move through a harrowed and harrowing artifactualism to elsewhere."(28)
Ideological constraints are absent from the scientific discourse in which Hawking 'imagines' his "elsewhere" and Jacob includes only the biological implications of historical constraints in extrapolating his "elsewhere" From evolutionary theory. Stabile's critique of Haraway's "elsewhere" would apply to theirs. Hawking's and Jacob's viewpoints, representative of modern physics and modern biology are not explicitly at odds with a postmodernist view of consciousness. Hawking, in A Brief History of Time, discusses the physical concept of time as an obstacle to an ultimate theory of the universe and Jacob's interpretation of evolutionary theory in "Evolution and Tinkering' does not discount the postmodernist challenge to the idea of a species-specific unitary consciousness. Yet:
Haraway repeatedly invokes the cyborg subject position as one in which previously patrolled and policed boundaries and borders have been. broken down by the 'inexorable' march of science and technology. (Stabile, "Shooting the Mother" 93)
Stabile finds no cause for celebration in Haraway's argument "for pleasure in the confusion of boundaries and for responsibility in their construction" (Simians, Cyborgs and Women 150) because:
Capitalism, in short, depends upon the invisibility of boundaries and hierarchies, the silencing of voices from the border wan, and the debilitating fragmentation of any opposition. ("Calculating on a Frictionless Plane" 153)
One of Stabile's most telling critiques of Haraway is that she fails to engage with material reality, and capitalism in particular, as other than a totality (147). Here Stabile conflates materialism and socialist-materialism.
Viewed as a totality, Haraway's depoliticised subversion of the material order which materially, biologically and socially positions her 'cyborg' could not be called biologistic, but results in a form of biologism that commonly arises from confusion at the boundary of the biological/social division--the equation of social and evolutionary change which gives rise to a form of biological determinism more subtle than that associated with the 'doctrine;' of DNA,(29) that genes or a genetic 'programme' 'control' biology. In biological discourse, the more overt form of biological determinism is most often disguised as metaphor.(30) This can leave the more subtle form disguised within an illusion of freedom from social determinants or, as Stabile has shown in relation to Haraway's political discourse, it may remain in disguise outside of that illusion. Jacob's interpretation of evolutionary theory and his exercise in futurology are neither informed by biologism nor productive of it and he makes a clear biological/social division. He argues that, in biology, historical contingencies produce shifts in materiality. Hawking's exercise with anti-biologism and the laws of physics can, if its non-linear aspect is not represented, appear to reduce the social to biology, because he fails to make a clear biological/social distinction. Yet his non-linear argument shows that shifts in materiality at the particle level may occur independently of linear constructions of time. Both of these arguments, although neither of them is particularly counter-hegemonic, work to support Stabile's critique of Haraway's postmodernism and the arguments made are not the same as Stabile's-that shifts in materiality do not produce historical change in a social sense. Perhaps Stabile should be more wary of using a physical-social analogy from chaos theory, as she does, to differentiate her argument from Haraway's in terms of nonlinearity and linearity and also in terms of a materialism that is socialist or otherwise. Hawking's discussion of the effect of time on the laws of physics illustrates that physical discourse on non-linearity is a capable source of social analogy that would be considered linear in terms of socialist-feminism and this would undermine her argument.
Jacob's and Hawking's discussions may only work to support Stabile's argument because both are so rigorously materialist. Only if science is viewed as an ideology can scientists be seen to employ moral and philosophical criteria in its practice; whereas, in practice, scientists employ moral and philosophical criteria to distinguish between the scientific and the non-scientific. Hawking's discussion distinguishes neither matter from biological systems nor biological systems from social systems. It contains no biological/social division. In maintaining this material-biological-social continuum, he also maintains a disbelief in a universal consciousness. Jacob's distinction between the biological and the social is morally and philosophically informed as is Hawking's continuum. Jacob maintained his leftist politics throughout his influential career as a scientist. These scientists do not derive their values from the natural or physical world but employ moral and philosophical criteria to view that world. This materialism can only be called 'scientific' by ignoring an aspect of it which is moral and philosophical, and not specific to a 'culture' of science. Such materialism is not coincident with socialist-materialism, as it is devoid of economic and class analysis. Stabile's criticism of Haraway's postmodernism in these terms means that Haraway's materialism resembles Hawking's and Jacob's 'scientific' materialism. Hawking's and Jacob's materialism differ most at a human-social interface.
The historical incongruities between evolutionary theory and the laws of physics in these materialist analyses of the human-social-time conjunction may mean that biological analysis has a specific contribution to make at this interface--because biological structures, while subject to the laws of physics, have their own historical resonances. In this regard, there has already been an exponential increase in paradigms within biology to the effect that biological models might better describe the problematic concept of consciousness than physical models such as the computer. Within the Framework of biological analysis, the correlate of Stabile's physical-social analogy may be that, if consciousness is biological and physical, differentiation may be physical and biological. Stabile's cautions to feminist theorists, postmodernist and otherwise, in relation to the politics of representation apply directly to scientists, given the intricacy of the relationship between socialist-feminism and 'scientific' materialism.
First, that we must recognise the futures "that we are selling on consignment from capitalism" (158). Second, that "the premise of inherent colonising tendencies within all representational practices" has ruptured the "two senses of representation--within state formation and law, on the one hand, and in subject-predication, on the other."(31) This has ramifications for all intellectuals, in effect, revealing a tendency for them to "represent themselves as transparent" (ibid.). Stabile quotes Pierre Bourdieu: "it is through the illusion of freedom from social determinants (which is the specific determination of intellectuals) that social determinations are freed to exercise their full power."(32) Scientists under that illusion, who claim to survive in and practise science through their productivity and competitiveness alone, may not be challenged by postmodernist and cultural studies analysis, used as they are to possible, partial worlds shaped at the expense of a unified world view.
Virtually no challenge is issued to such scientists by an Australian Government discussion paper prepared by the Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Advisory Group and released in September 1994. Although the report recommends that work start on the necessary institutional changes to make science a less masculine endeavour, the plan is to alter male dominant behavioural patterns described as gender harassment. Although attempts to make science "girl-friendly" have not been successful in Britain, the report recommends that science be made "woman-friendly." Since the environment is invoked as the key to social change, the continued invisibility of the boundary between the biological/social division is ensured. While the report does acknowledge that science, not women should change, it does not suggest that change in the proposed direction might involve epistemological issues. Terms such as gender, woman and science are used without any contingency whatsoever and women are treated as a homogeneous group.' It is feminist scientists and theorists who are challenged by this report which purports to accommodate their views but de-politicises most of the critiques of science that feminist theorists have been discussing.
1. Sandra G. Harding, "The Science Question in Feminism (Cornell: Cornell University Press, 1996).
2. Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1962). Kuhn also described science as affected by the society in which it is conducted.
3. Londa Schiebinger, The Mind Has No Sex? Women in the Origins of Modern Science (Harvard: Harvard University Press, 1989).
4. Marge Piercy, Woman on the Edge of Time  (Women's Press, 1979).
5. Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar (London: Faber and Faber, 1966).
6. Marion Zimmer Bradley, The Ruins of Isis (Donning, Norfolk: The Donning Company Publishers Inc, 1978).
7. P. D. James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman (Great Britain: Faber, 1972).
8. Stephen W. Hawking, A Brief History of Time (Bantam, 1988): 152.
9. Caroline White. "British Women Targeted For Science," British Medical Journal, 308, (5 March 1994): 617.
10. Alison Kelly, "Science For Men Only?" New Scientist, (29 August 1974): 538-540.
11. Lynda Birke, Wendy Faulkner, Sandy Best, Deirdre Jansen-Smith, Kathy Overfield (eds.), Alice Through the Microscope (London: Virago, 1980).
12. Mary Daly, Gyn/Ecology: The Metaethics of Radical Feminism (Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1978).
13. Susan Griffin, Women and Nature: The Roaring Inside Her (London: Women's Press, 1984).
14. Elizabeth Wilson, "Is 'Science' Feminism's Dark Continent?" Meanjin, 51.1 (1992): 77-88.
15. Lynda Birke, "Transforming Biology,' in H. Crowley and S. Himmelweit (eds.), Knowing Women: Feminism and Knowledge (Cambridge: Polity Press/The Open University, 1992): 77 (Book 1 in the series of which Inventing Women is Book 3) (quoted in Inventing Women 74).
16. Hodder and Stoughton, 1994.
17. Caroline White, ibid.
18. Lynne Alice, "Hot Property: Mutants, Metaphors and Radiation," Hecate, XIX, ii (1993): 39-59.
19. Sandra Coney, The Unfortunate Experiment (Auckland: Penguin, 1988).
20. ibid., 49.
21. Weekend Australian, May 7-8, 1994, among other sources.
22. Ornella Moscucci, "Hermaphroditism and Sex Difference: The Construction of Gender in Victorian England," in Sciences and Sensibility 174-199.
23. Donna Haraway, Simians, Cyborgs and Women (New York: Routledge. 1991) 193.
24. Mary E. Hawkesworth, "Knowers, knowing, known: feminist theory and claims to truth," Sign, 14.3 (1989) 536. Quoted by Gill Kirkup (Inventing Women
25. Francois Jacob, "Evolution and Tinkering,' Science, 196 (1977): 1161-1166.
26. Hawking, 151.
27. Hawking, 152.
28. Donna Haraway, "The Actors are Cyborg, Nature is Coyote and the Geography is Elsewhere: Postscript to 'Cyborgs at Large'," in Technoculture Constance Penley and Andrew Ross (eds.) (Minneapolis: University of Minneapolis Press, 1991) 25.
29. R. C. Lewontin, The Doctrine of DNA: Biology As Ideology (Penguin, 1991).
30. H.F. Nijhout. "Metaphors and the Role of Genes in Development." Bioessays. 12, (1990): 441-46.
31. Gayatri Spivak, "Can the Subaltern Speak?" Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (eds.) Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg (Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1988): 275.
32. Pierre Bourdieu, In Other Words: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990): 15.
33. Women in Science and Engineering: A Discussion Paper prepared by the Women in Science, Engineering and Technology Advisory Group for the Australian Government. September 1994.
34. Henry Etzkowitz, Carol Kemelgor, Michael Neuschatz. Brian Uzzi, Joseph Alonzo, "The Paradox of Critical Mass for Women in Science," Science, 266 (1994): 51-54. These mostly sociologist authors report to this influential journal on the 'phenomenon' that women faculty members in science departments "divided into distinct subgroups that could be at odds with each other" (51).…