Feminist Approaches to Gender and Science Issues


Women have not enjoyed their freedoms in society due to barriers put in place by men, especially in the scientific world. Feminist theorists consider ways in which physical differences between men and women are used to show that women are to be allocated inferior and degrading activities in the field of science (Yearley 2005 p. 19). Moreover, women are subjected to stereotypes, which portray them as weak individuals who cannot come up with scientific inventions. Women are often excluded from public activities and are relegated to the private domain of the home while men are appreciated in the world of science and education. In society, women are ascribed feminine qualities and identities through the process of socialization, which show that the works of science belong to men.

Women grow up knowing that their existence in society depends on the decisions made by men, even in scientific discoveries. Therefore, women live in a state of false consciousness. Feminists observe that the subjection of women to the power of men in the science originated from the rise of private property, the family, and the state. Engels proved that women’s subjection began with the rise of private property. In other words, the emergence of private property subordinated women to men because the law required men to declare their property, including women (Williams 2000, p. 57).

Using Marx and Engel class analysis, feminist scholars view women subjection in science as a product of overall exploitation and injustices that are found in the capitalistic societies. In the modern society, women have equal rights as those of men. The rights of women are well documented in the constitutions of various countries. However, it is noted in this article that certain historical developments have presented new opportunities to women in the world of science. These historical developments will be discussed in detail. Furthermore, the paper will discuss some of the achievements of feminist organizations in the world of science. Before discussing the achievements of women and historical developments, it is crucial that the grievances of women in the field of science be discussed.

Grievances of Women in the Field of Science

Some women view oppression in the field of science as inevitable in all male dominated societies. Since political and economic power is concentrated in the hands of men, women have little chances of excelling in the field of science. Radical feminists observe that there is a substantial social differentiation between sexes. Functionalist feminists agree that it is impossible to change gender roles in society without revising the social structure since the current social structure support the activities of men in science. In this regard, the main aim of functionalist scholars is to revise the social structure in order to reflect interests of women in sciences. The main concern of the radical feminists is to incorporate women into scientific discoveries (David 2005, p. 32). For functionalists, if change in the social structure is enhanced, social disorder would be inevitable, even in education and science. Therefore, gender equality in the field of science is approached cautiously.

Conflict theorists on their part observe that no social structure is safe if it is maintained by oppressing a majority of its citizens in one area. For such feminists, women are to be allowed to participate in science without discrimination. In this case, women are to be allowed to come up with scientific discoveries, participate research, and present their scientific discoveries during international conferences without discrimination. In society, women are not allowed to engage in scientific activities that are perceived to belong to men. From the pre-industrial period, men were powerful because of their physical strength and freedom from childbearing duties. Feminists observe that these factors allowed men to dominate women in the world of science. Major inventions are claimed to have been generated by women, but men took over. In this regard, the aim of women is to ensure that physical differences are not used to assign responsibilities to individuals in society (Oudshoorn 2004p. 11).

Cultural beliefs in society support a social structure that puts men in dominant positions in the field of science. From early childhood, children are socialized to accept traditional gender roles as natural and just. Women are against this perception because scientific capability is not dictated by gender. In many societies, some scientific courses are reserved for boys while girls are advised to take inferior courses related to arts. The prestigious scientific courses are believed to be pursued by men while women pursue the less prestigious ones. Feminists demand that the society ought to appreciate the fact that women have the same capabilities as those of men and therefore they need to be allowed to pursue scientific courses in college.

Using Marx class analysis, feminists observe that men are like the bourgeoisie while women are the proletariat because they depend on men for scientific inventions. Men control most of society’s science, research, and power. Women are compared to the proletariat because they are like the workers who work under the directives of the bourgeoisie in the field of science. Women are exploited and their culture is always devalued while that of men is valued. Most of the women’s scientific research is devalued (Schiebinger 1999, p. 11). Feminist scholars have challenged the stereotyping of women and argued for a gender-balanced study of society in which women experiences and contributions in science are visible just like those of men.

Historical Developments

All women agree that subordination of women to men in the field of science is a result of socio-economic factors, but not biological factors. Women are present in most scientific conferences, but their presence is not appreciated. Where they are not present, it is not because of incapability or lack of interest, but because there have been deliberate efforts to exclude them. Where women are present, they perform less prestigious roles such as research assistants, nurses, and support staff in scientific discoveries. However, historical developments have presented enormous opportunities to women in the field of scientific research. Developments in the law have helped women to reassert their position in the field of science.

In England, the law prohibited unmarried women from owning property and entering into the contract with other members of society. The law allowed married women to inherit properties from their husbands. Similarly, only married women could be allowed to participate in scientific discoveries because their findings could be published under their husband’s names. However, things have changed due to historical developments. The modern law identifies the legal status of women, both married and unmarried. A woman in the modern society can conduct research freely and the law protects her rights. In 1960, the US came up with a number of laws aimed at improving the economic status of women. For instance, the Equal Pay Act of 1963 was passed to empower women economically (Pitts 2002, p. 26). This had a great impact to the works of women in science because they had enough capital to fund their private research in the field of science.

In 1964, The Civil Rights Act was passed in the US, which demanded that a company respects the views of women. This implied that the organization had to fund both women and men in the field of scientific research. In 1967, A Presidential Executive Order was approved, which illegalized all state contractors that neglected the views of women in scientific research. In the UK, Equity Law was developed to allow a woman to sue her husband over misconduct. Through this law, women could publish their scientific discoveries individually. Similarly, a law was developed in the US in 1839, which allowed women to own property without necessarily holding marriage certificates. This gave women leverage in the field of scientific research because they could set up their own research companies. In the nineteenth century, Britain and the US passed laws that allowed women to work in companies and other organizations operating outside their towns. This was a milestone because women could engage in private research without necessarily informing their husbands

Historical developments have presented a number of opportunities to women. In the twentieth century, the colonial government in the US passed a law allowing women to take scientific courses that were previously reserved for men. This was a breakthrough because women were able to work as lawyers, doctors, preachers, and technicians. Before the nineteenth century, women were not allowed to undertake medical courses. In 1890, an approximated five percent of women practiced medicine in the US (Sullivan 1989, p. 37). In 1980, the percentage of female doctors increased to seventeen percent. In Germany, the percentage of female doctors was nineteen percent in 1980. The percentage of doctors was highest in Israel, with a percentage of thirty-two. In 1930, the percentage of women in the legal profession was two percent. The percentage increased to twenty-two percent in 1989.

The trend shows that governments have been enacting laws aimed at boosting the scientific ability of women. Countries have come up with affirmative action policies aimed at safeguarding the interests of women in science. For instance, it is illegal for a company to recruit individuals based on gender. This prevents companies from hiring only men in chemical laboratories. In fact, each company need to have a substantial number of women in all sections and departments. In the managerial board, women ought to be given enough positions for a company to be registered as a public company. Moreover, the government cannot award its tenders to a company that does not recruit enough women. Before the First World War, women could not be recruited into the military and other security forces. The military belonged to men because women were considered weak and helpless. However, this has so far changed due to historical developments that have taken place in the military (Paci 2001, p. 21).

Another historical development that favored women was the creation of international organizations. For instance, the first women convention in the US declared that women were equal to men even in matters related to science. The convention proved that the inequalities existing in society are creations of men since people are equal, especially in the field of science. Therefore, the international organizations have been advocating that laws be applied uniformly in society in order to promote women in the undertaking scientific research. After the American Civil War, women believed that constitutional amendments would give them suffrage rights. However, the constitution granted blacks their suffrage rights, but left women to suffer in the hands of men. Even though women did not benefit directly in matters related to science and education, it was a milestone because the society had appreciated the existence of minorities in society (Lederman & Bartsch 2001 p. 169).

Achievements of Feminists

It can be concluded that women have achieved a lot in the field of science due to their unrelenting struggles. In education, women have pursued courses of their choice without interference from government. The education system does not favor any group. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women had no rights to pursue scientific courses reserved for men. For instance, the study of medicine, law, and engineering was reserved for men. A woman was supposed to pursue courses that were less superior such as secretary. For instance, a woman was expected to take a course in the field of education, but not medicine. In the modern world, we have female professors and doctors specializing in various fields.

In the labor market, women are also doing well. Employers recruit workers based on their skills and abilities. Gender is not part of the recruitment requirements. In fact, an employer found discriminating workers based on gender are to be arrested and prosecuted. This has seen the rise of women in society to take up leadership positions in organizations. In each country, the government ought to balance its civil service by ensuring that women take up a sizeable percentage of government positions. Some of the cultural practices that interfered with the achievement of women are no more. For instance, those found engaging in injustices are severely punished by the law. Rape is one of the felonies that are punishable by life imprisonment (Lyonette 2010, p. 27).

List of References

David, M 2005, Science in Society, Palgrave, Basingstoke.

Lederman, M & Bartsch, I 2001, The Gender and Science Reader, Routledge, London.

Lyonette, C 2010, Gender Inequalities in the 21st Century, University of Chicago, Press, Chicago.

Oudshoorn, N 2004, “Astronauts in the Sperm World: The Renegotiation of Masculine Identities in Discourses on Male Contraceptives”, Men and Masculinities, Vol. 6, no. 4, 349- 367.

Paci, P 2001, Unequal Pay for Women and Men, Oxford University Press, London.

Pitts, L 2002, “The attack of stealth pitches: Advertisements by people we would never suspect”, Chicago Tribune, Vol. 19, no. 1, pp 26-57.

Schiebinger, L 1999, Has Feminism Changed Science, Harvard University Press Harvard.

Sullivan, A 1989, “Buying and Nothingness”, The New Republic, Vol. 3, no. 1, pp 37-41

Williams, J 2000, Unbending Gender: Why Family and Work Conflict and What to Do about It, Oxford University Press, New York.

Yearley, S 2005, Making Sense of Science: Understanding the Social Study of Science, Sage, London.

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