Gendered Philosophy of Science: Science is Male, Nature is Female

Gendered Philosophy of Science: Science is Male, Nature is Female

Mary Kirk (Metropolitan State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-59904-786-7.ch003
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Abstract

This chapter explores the ways in which the dualistic notion of gender is at the core of many fundamental ideas in the philosophy of science. The ways in which we have learned to perceive, think about, teach/learn, and conduct research in science and IT are deeply informed by a dualistic, gendered framework: science is associated with maleness, and nature with femaleness. This primary split supports a philosophy of science that envisions “good science” as purely rational and objective (male), devoid of emotion and subjectivity (female). These core values of a dominator society contribute to a climate that is not likely to be hospitable to those who are gender-socialized as women. In the end, I call for a new perspective on our philosophy of science and technology that embodies partnership values and ask: How might we proceed to reexamine our assumptions about science and technology to make the shift from a dominator to a partnership perspective? These ideas are explored in the following sections: (1) science is male; nature is female; (2) the myth of objectivity; (3) there’s no crying in science; and (4) envisioning a partnership philosophy of science (democratizing science and technology, redefining what makes good science, and examples of partnership science and IT).
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Objectives

This chapter aims to help you understand the following:

  • How the historical philosophy of science, especially gendering science as male and nature as female, has influenced both how we think about science and who participates in science and technology today.

  • How the “myth of objectivity” influences how we think about science, the knowledge we produce, and who participates in science and technology.

  • How an emphasis on science and technology as purely “rational” (gendered male) domains devoid of “emotion” (gendered female) influences both how we create scientific and technical knowledge and who participates in its creation.

  • How a new philosophy of science informed by the values of a partnership society might reshape scientific and technical knowledge and facilitate greater and more diverse participation in its creation.

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Science Is Male, Nature Is Female

One could identify any number of points in previous centuries of patriarchal thought that explicitly and implicitly excluded women from the knowledge tradition. However, in relation to science and technology, one historic moment takes on a particular significance due to its emphasis on dualistic, “either/or” thinking, of which gender is one primary manifestation. Francis Bacon (1561-1626) is often referred to as the father of modern science, as “the originator of the concept of the modern research institute, a philosopher of industrial science . . . and as the founder of the inductive method” (Merchant, 2001, p. 68). Bacon’s thinking helped reify the definition of science as male, and nature as female.

Many feminist science studies scholars have discussed the ways in which this particular dualism has influenced both the perception of science in society and our images of who participates in the world of science and technology (Bleier, 1991; Merchant, 1980; Schiebinger, 1993; Wajcman, 1995). In her now classic book The Death of Nature: Women, Ecology and the Scientific Revolution, Carolyn Merchant (1980) recounts the history of the Scientific Revolution and outlines ideas that have contributed to shaping science into a domain that privileges social definitions of “maleness”: the notion of science gaining increasing domination over nature, the rise of mechanistic thinking, and power as the “mechanism.” Historically, one of the most influential ways in which this split has been communicated is through artistic and literary imagery. As an example of this process in action, Merchant (1980) describes the way in which visual images fostered the view of science dominating nature:

Complete Chapter List

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Table of Contents
Foreword
Riane Eisler
Preface
Mary Kirk
Acknowledgment
Mary Kirk
Chapter 1
Mary Kirk
One barrier to more people understanding the work of feminist scholars is a fallacious view of “feminism” that has transformed an entire area of... Sample PDF
Demyth-ifying Feminism: Reclaiming the “F” Word
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Chapter 2
Mary Kirk
Dualisms are a hallmark of dominator societies, and dualistic thinking is a deeplyembedded attitude that shapes our values and beliefs. The... Sample PDF
Dualisms and Stereotypes: Tools of Domination
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Chapter 3
Mary Kirk
This chapter explores the ways in which the dualistic notion of gender is at the core of many fundamental ideas in the philosophy of science. The... Sample PDF
Gendered Philosophy of Science: Science is Male, Nature is Female
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Chapter 4
Mary Kirk
Communication is generally understood as a two-part process consisting of messages that convey content and the interpretation of that content by the... Sample PDF
Mass Media as Social Institution: The Wired Example
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Chapter 5
Mary Kirk
Language as a social institution is the primary symbol system through which we teach/learn about our dominator culture. The assumptions, values... Sample PDF
Language as Social Institution: The Male-Centered IT Culture
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Chapter 6
Mary Kirk
Education is another of the primary social institutions from which we learn the values, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors of a dominator culture. A... Sample PDF
Education as Social Institution: Understanding Her-Story
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Chapter 7
Mary Kirk
The global IT business as a social institution reflects the same dominator values as other social institutions in the U.S. Since IT is a large and... Sample PDF
Business as Social Institution: Global Issues in IT
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Chapter 8
Mary Kirk
In Chapter IV, I discussed how language operates as a social institution to teach us the values, attitudes, and beliefs of our society. Our... Sample PDF
Partnership Language and Media: Creating a New IT Culture
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Chapter 9
Mary Kirk
Ultimately, creating lasting and long-term change in the participation of women as developers, users, and beneficiaries of technology necessitates... Sample PDF
Partnership Science and Technology Education
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Chapter 10
Mary Kirk
In Chapter VII, I asked how our knowledge about the dramatically unequal distribution of global income combined with the estimates on global... Sample PDF
Partnership Global IT Business
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Chapter 11
Mary Kirk
This book has offered one feminist’s perspective on how a deeper understanding of our dominator social system might clarify why women are... Sample PDF
A Concluding Pledge: With Technology and Justice for All
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