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Gender in Science


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Discussing the masculinized narratives of physics training and feminist critiques of archaeology

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Gender in Science

  1. 1. Gender in Science Ethan Hein
  2. 2. Sharon Traweek - Pilgrim's Progress
  3. 3. Undergraduates • Learn from textbooks whose interpretation of physics is not to be challenged, or even seen as interpretation • Solve a repertoire of known problems Graduate students • Start to imagine themselves as members of the physics community • Learn the style of "doing” physics via stories of success and failure Postdocs • Learn self-assertion and competitive bravado • Begin to learn and communicate about physics orally Only 25% remain in the field after 15 years of training
  4. 4. Physicists see themselves as an elite meritocracy in which everyone has a fair start Informal dress code, non-fancy offices, "first naming," social eccentricity and childlike egoism "are cultivated displays of commitment to rationality, objectivity, and science"
  5. 5. Roland Barthes: "The origin of work is not in the first influence, it is in the first posture: one copies a role, then by metonomy, an art; I begin by reproducing the person I want to be."
  6. 6. Quantum Physics by Eyvind H. Wichmann: a widely used undergrad textbook Presents its topics as unfolding logically and chronologically, with each discovery building on the previous one Its history of physics is "a short hagiography and a list of miracles"
  7. 7. Gaining sole responsibility for a risky project requires self- assertion, bravado, disdaining the work of others, and willingness to expose mediocre work Desired self-presentation: competitive, haughty, and superficially nonconformist Discrepancy between official values (cooperation, deferring to authority) and hidden values (competition, transgression) creates a "double bind"
  8. 8. High school physics textbook: particle physics is "the spearhead of our penetration into the unknown" The shaft extending behind it: chemistry and engineering, then biology, then (maybe) the social sciences and humanities
  9. 9. The physicist's story is a picaresque: a journey that begins with loss of innocence, depicts growth of strength and pain of betrayal, hails the achievement of success, valorizes discoveries, looks back in "erotic nostalgia," and eulogizes the heroic dead Picaresque is a "male" genre; women supposedly do not gain strength and wisdom through "the rambunctious loss of their innocence"
  10. 10. "The scientist is persistent, dominant, and aggressive, ultimately penetrating the corpus of secrets mysteriously concealed by a passive, albeit elusive nature. The female exists in these stories only as an object for a man to love, unveil, and know."
  11. 11. Social and emotional worlds: arbitrary, unknowable, uninteresting, requiring skills not thought to be based on reason, e.g. persuasion; therefore emissaries to "the world of the merely human" are disbarred from practicing science Women and minorities are at a disadvantage because they can't ignore social experience
  12. 12. Alison Wylie The Engendering of Archaeology Alison Wylie - The Engendering of Archaeology
  13. 13. A critical mass of women entering archaeology led to emergence of feminist critiques Female archaeologists are not necessarily overtly political; they are simply more inclined to be skeptical of norms and assumptions around gender underlying archaeological interpretation and research agenda
  14. 14. Content critiques (as opposed to equity critiques): choices of research problems and determination of significant sites, periods or cultural complexes that neglect women and gender even when they are a crucial part of the story Archaeology does not necessarily ignore women and gender altogether, but conceptualizes them in normatively middle-class, white, North American terms
  15. 15. Feminist challenges to romantic ideas about "Man the Hunter" - ethnohistoric evidence shows women as highly mobile, and that their foraging activities provide most of a hunter-gatherer community's dietary intake
  16. 16. Joan Gero • Men dominate Paleo-Indian research and focus almost exclusively on hunting • Women focus on edge-wear analysis of stone tools; are cited less than male colleagues even when they do mainstream research (except when they coauthor with men) • Research on stone tools show that Paleo-Indians foraged plants to complement diet of Pleistocene mammals
  17. 17. Pat Watson and Mary Kennedy: • Who domesticated plants? Pre-feminist theses: plants domesticated themselves, or male shamans cultivated them • Ethno- and paleobotanical evidence show key plants appearing very early in environments that were not optimal for them, indicating human intervention • Women in foraging societies do most plant exploitation and processing and hold primary expertise about plant and animal resources • Shamans aren't always men
  18. 18. Christine Hastorf: • Gendered organization of domestic units in highland Andes was significantly altered by incorporation into the Inka state • Therefore gender relations and household organization cannot be treated as a stable substrate that predates and persists as a given
  19. 19. Is archaeology politics by other means? Critics of feminist research bemoan nihilistic "hyperrelativism” - if there is no "view from nowhere,” how can we have facts at all? Feminist researchers: diverse standpoints can enhance empirical accuracy, explanatory breadth, and rigorously critical perspective by evaluating claims or assumptions that might go unquestioned by a homogeneous community