The other day a woman on our message boards wrote to me to say that as a scientist, she didn’t always feel comfortable or welcome on our message boards exactly because she is a scientist, and (I assume) happy & proud to be one. She was aware of my strongly-held opinions about scientists, especially when it came to gender.
What’s always interesting about having someone confront you about your prejudices is having to recognize them for what they are. On the one hand, I really love science, and scientists; the fearless work many have done in terms of environmental science, or medical research, and into all sorts of other cool things that I may or may not care about. But I’m suspicious of science when it comes to gender, and I had to figure out why.
First, I’ve probably read way too much Fausto-Sterling than a lay person should.
Second, I read The Structure of Scientific Revolutions at a time in my life when I was – well, a humanities major, & a political one.
But all half-kidding aside, this is why I take issue with science, and with scientists who study gender: the field of science is pretty notorious for gender discrimination. That fact has been pointed out by scientists, many of whom wrote in response to Lawrence Summers’ vague theorizing about why women aren’t in as esteemed positions in research and higher mathematics. So you’ve got an industry – & especially the feminists within that industry – clearly pointing out that the FIELD of science is pretty damn discriminatory.
However, I’m told that scientists’ goals are objective, which I believe. I believe many aim to be objective (as do many journalists, judges, etc.). First, that doesn’t mean they ARE objective. It just means that’s their goal. It’s a good goal. But when you’ve got actual scientists pointing out discrimination against women in hiring, on the one hand, and scientific studies about the differences between male and female brains, on the other, you kind of have a problem. Unless you’re going to argue that the people doing the research on the male and female brains have nothing whatsoever to do with the people who are doing the hiring and firing and grant-giving, and I have a hard time believing that.
Aside from that, of course, are all the other reasons: how we once saw race as a legitimate way to compare brains. How we used to think smarter people had larger brains. How it’s pretty obvious that people want to use the findings of science to justify ass-backwards gender roles.
But mostly what I want to know, now, is how we can trust an entire field of study which regularly discriminates against women not to bring those kinds of prejudices into the evaluation of male and female brains.
I’d really like an answer, if anyone has one.
(A slightly different take, over at Feministing, but I think both were inspired by the recent reports that straight men & lesbians have similar symmetries of brain, as do gay men & straight women, which is, as usual, being totally blown out of proportion by the media coverage of it.)