Gender And The Biological Sciences Essay

1159 words - 5 pages

Gender and the Biological Sciences
Kathleen Okruhlik
–Philosophy of science professor and Dean of Arts at Western.
–This paper was published in 1994.
–Offers a sophisticated feminist critique of the philosophy of science.
Feminist critiques of biology are politically important
Because biologically determinist arguments are often cited to ‘explain’ women’s oppression.
E.g., genes, hormones, and evolution ‘explain’ why it is ‘natural’ for women to function
in a socially subordinate role, why men are smarter and more aggressive than women, why
women are designed to be homebodies, and why men rape.
Thus, promoting a more equalitarian and just society is useless or counterproductive.
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–Still controversial, but its very existence as a rival shows the questionable assumptions of the
old model.
This case shows that:
–Some data will not be collected or considered because of an androcentric preconception.
–Theory laddeness of observation
Some cases studies: (2) gender and evolution
Male struggle, male competition, and male inventiveness are usually portrayed as the bases for
human evolution.

–E.g., Darwin
A quote from Darwin:
“[Men have had] to defend their females, as well as their young, from enemies of all kinds, and
to hunt for their joint subsistence. But to avoid enemies or to attack them with success, to
capture wild animals, and to fashion weapons, requires the aid of the higher mental faculties,
namely observation, reason, invention, or imagination. These various faculties will thus have
been continually put to the test and selected during manhood.”
The influence of Darwin’s androcentric bias affects other disciplines which rely on evolutionary
biology, like anthropology.
–If man-the-hunter is chiefly responsible for human evolution, then any evidence is interpreted
as relevant to the behavior of males.
–But recent data show that as much as 80% of the food in hunter-gatherers societies came from
gathering, and thus women.
An alternative perspective (Longino & Doell, 1983) states that the development of tools is
mostly the product of women activities, like defense and food preparation, with an increased
focus on non-stone tools, like sticks, baskets, etc.
–Women are thus mainly responsible for traits like greater intelligence and flexibility.
–Again, this view might not be right, but its very existence as a rival shows the questionable
assumptions of the old model.
This case shows that:
–Androcentric bias plays a role in the interpretation given to the data available.
–Underdetermination of theory
Any set of data is compatible with more than one theory. In principle, an infinity
of theories is compatible with the same evidence.
Some cases studies: (3) gender and intelligence
19th-century: women are biologically determined to be less intelligent than men.
–Bigger brain = more intelligent (elephant)
–Brain mass/body mass (favour female)
–Lower ratio of facial bones/cranial bones (birds)
–Frontal lobes center of intellect (parietal lobes thought to be bigger in females, while frontal
lobes bigger in males)
–Parietal lobes and intellect (really smaller in females)
The one thing never surrendered was that men are smarter than women.
This case shows that:
–Some hypothesis resists falsification despite any amount of evidence to the contrary....

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