Has Feminism Changed Science?

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Do women do science differently? And how about feminists--male or female? The answer to this fraught question, carefully set out in this provocative book, will startle and enlighten every faction in the "science wars."

Has Feminism Changed Science? is at once a history of women in science and a frank assessment of the role of gender in shaping scientific knowledge. Science is both a profession and a body of knowledge, and Londa Schiebinger looks at how women have fared and performed in both instances. She first considers the lives of women scientists, past and present: How many are there? What sciences do they choose--or have chosen for them? Is the professional culture of science gendered? And is there something uniquely feminine about the science women do? Schiebinger debunks the myth that women scientists--because they are women--are somehow more holistic and integrative and create more cooperative scientific communities. At the same time, she details the considerable practical difficulties that beset women in science, where domestic partnerships, children, and other demanding concerns can put women's (and increasingly men's) careers at risk.

But what about the content of science, the heart of Schiebinger's subject? Have feminist perspectives brought any positive changes to scientific knowledge? Schiebinger provides a subtle and nuanced gender analysis of the physical sciences, medicine, archaeology, evolutionary biology, primatology, and developmental biology. She also shows that feminist scientists have developed new theories, asked new questions, and opened new fields in many of these areas.

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Titles that pose rhetorical questions are generally attached to books that answer them affirmatively; Has Feminism Changed Science? is no exception. In the professional culture of science, Londa Schiebinger argues, the feminist perspective has profoundly affected both the types of questions being asked and the substance of new theories proposed as answers. Schiebinger, who has explored this territory in previous books (including Nature's Body), focuses on deconstructing the types of science women have been drawn to for careers and the obstacles they've faced inside and outside the laboratory. Balancing the roles of wife, mother, or domestic partner with the demands of a rigorous professional discipline can be career threatening; finding acceptance within the traditionally male culture of science and changing it to reflect new paradigms challenges even the most gifted researchers and teachers. Schiebinger breathes new life into a much-discussed subject, buttressing her arguments with a wealth of statistical analysis that makes her conclusions difficult to refute. Ultimately, she writes, the role of gender in scientific thinking has been forever altered by feminism, just as the role of women in the sciences has. From fetal development and drug testing to the way that archeologists look at primitive tools, the elimination of masculine bias has profoundly reshaped just how science views the world. --Patrizia DiLucchio

About the Author:

Londa Schiebinger is John L. Hinds Professor of History of Science and Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Clayman Institute for Gender Research, Stanford University.

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