Gender Feminism and the Sciences
Equity feminism is a moral doctrine about equal treatment that makes no commitments regarding open empirical issues in psychology or biology. Gender feminism is an empirical doctrine committed to three claims about human nature. The first is that the differences between men and women have nothing to do with biology but are socially constructed in their entirety. The second is that humans possess a single social motive-power-and that social life can be understood only in terms of how it is exercised. The third is that human interactions arise not from the motives of people dealing with each other as individuals but from the motives of groups dealing with other groups-in this case, the male gender dominating the female gender. –Steven Pinker on page 341 of The Blank Slate
In my book club the next book we are slated (heh) for is the one I mentioned above. I was told, both by my husband and a friend, that there was a chapter on gender that I needed to read and give my opinion on. Evidently gender feminists in the 70s were very vocal in their disagreement with scientists over scientists’ many findings of differences between the sexes. I have not read the book yet nor even the gender chapter. But I have found myself getting familiar with some new feminist terminology. I hadn’t heard of “gender feminists” and “equity feminists” before. But after a quick look at what gender feminists believe, I am fairly certain that gender feminists are not the sort I agree with.
Scientists find what they do, and that is okay. The truth is the truth. Regardless of what science finds, it does not let us off the hook for needing to be better to women as a whole. Even if the study of our male and female bodies finds differences between them, it doesn’t mean that privilege, patriarchy, sexism and gender roles disappear. In fact, anything more that we can find out about humanity the better. I am not afraid of hearing that my female body is different that a male body. Of course it is. But does that make me lesser? No. And does it mean that every stereotype about women is true? NO.
I read an excellent post a few weeks ago written about masculinity and feminism. The author mentions that his wife recently read Delusions of Gender, a feminist critique of what science “proves” about gender. We are also slated to read this book in our book club. I wonder if some sparks will fly! I don’t believe that science and feminism need be mutually exclusive, but I think that we tend to feel the need to pick sides when it comes to our beliefs. I am fighting the idea that I should feel embattled and choose my side. I am committed to staying open, always open to new information.
Ultimately I feel torn between two communities that I identify with. This is a hard lesson for me to learn, that two schools of thought I love and respect are at odds with one another. I would hope that many others in the feminist community would feel friendly and open to scientists’ work. And I hope that the scientific community would feel friendly and open to feminists’ work.
But I know that there is tension there, not the least of which is likely because there are so many men that go into the sciences and they are a privileged group of people that are valued in our society above women. This simply has to have an effect on the interpretations given if it is a majority of men that interpret data found in the sciences. But again, this does not let feminists off the hook. As I am willing to examine my own privilege, I am automatically beholden to admit when I am wrong, or that feminism can be wrong. I don’t agree with gender feminists that there are not any differences between the sexes based on biology.
I think maybe the problem is that there are legitimate biological differences between men and women, but there is also a gender construct laid over it that we use as “evidence” that men and women are SO different. A sticky situation indeed. What say ye, fellow feminists?