Searching for Scientific Womanpower: Technocratic Feminism and the Politics of National Security, 1940-1980

Searching for Scientific Womanpower: Technocratic Feminism and the Politics of National Security, 1940-1980

Searching for Scientific Womanpower: Technocratic Feminism and the Politics of National Security, 1940-1980

Searching for Scientific Womanpower: Technocratic Feminism and the Politics of National Security, 1940-1980

Excerpt

In the January 2005 “Summersgate” debacle, Harvard University president Lawrence Summers set off a storm of protest when he linked women’s underrepresentation in science and engineering to “issues of intrinsic aptitude.” Summers’s remarks made headlines around the globe and galvanized supporters of gender equity nationwide. Mobilized by the controversy, more than 5,000 female scientists, educators, and students signed a petition imploring Congress to encourage women’s participation in scientific fields. Highlighting the persistence of discriminatory practices and cultural attitudes, they called for an array of corrective measures, such as the creation of new fellowships and scholarships, expanded mentoring opportunities to assist young women, and stringent enforcement of Title IX. But the overarching thrust of their argument had less to do with promoting gender equity than it did with strengthening national security. By failing to cultivate half of its scientific talent, the petition warned, “our nation runs the risk not only of losing its technological prowess, but its national security as well.”

The designation of women’s scientific participation as a national security measure reflects a long tradition of feminist activism that is rooted in the Second World War and early Cold War era, when anxiety about America’s supply of scientific talent ran high and when open support for women’s rights aroused suspicion. The mobilization and militarization of American science that took place during this period created unprecedented demand for “scientific manpower.” As federal research and development expenditures rose, so did concern with the availability of this increasingly heralded national resource. Academic journals and popular publications covered the prospect of a scientific shortage at length and with varying degrees of sensationalism. Meanwhile, “manpower” experts feverishly compiled statistics on college enrollments, graduation rates, employment trends, and labor force patterns. Ad hoc committees, government agencies, philanthropic organizations, and professional societies convened conferences to address and lament the direness of the situation. It was in this context that reformers advocated “scientific womanpower” as the most obvious and efficient solution to national security woes.

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.