Archive for the 'Feminist Foremothers' category

Repost: Why Are There No Great Women Scientists?

More vintage TSZ. First published on 8/19/2005, Why Are There No Great Women Scientists? was written in response to a commenter who suggested, basically, that there are only so many "stars". Institutions can't be expected to manufacture them. And what are gonna do if all the stars just happen to be white dudes. "What can you do if all the great scientists are men?" is related to the question "Why are there no great women scientists?" And that question has already been thoroughly addressed.  Read on:

 

...we immediately recognize this as a problem that has been solved, in Linda Nochlin's classic essay "Why Are There No Great Women Artists?"  (All quotes here are drawn from the version of Nochlin's essay printed in the 1971 Basic Books edition of "Woman in Sexist Society: Studies in Power and Powerlessness" ed. V. Gornick & B. K. Moran.) 

As we proceed, just think "scientist" wherever you see "artist" and "science" for "art".  Let us consider the opening paragraph of Nochlin's tour de force:

"Why are there no great women artists?"  This question tolls reproachfully in the background of discussions of the so-called woman problem, causing men to shake their heads regretfully and women to grind their teeth in frustration.  Like so many other questions involved in the red-hot feminist controversy, it falsifies the nature of the issue at the same time that it insidiously supplies its own answer:  "There are no great women artists because women are incapable of greatness."  The assumptions lying behind such a question are varied in range and sophistication, running anywhere from "scientifically" proven demonstrations of the inability of human beings with wombs rather than penises to create anything significant, to relatively openminded wonderment that women, despite so many years of near-equality - and after all, a lot of men have had their disadvantages too - have still not achieved anything of major significance in the visual arts.

So then, the response:  re-discovering neglected heroines of the past; staking a claim for women's different approach to the subject at hand; and then, the next, more interesting stage.  Nochlin says this is when we begin to realize "to what extent our very consciousness of how things are in the world has been conditioned - and too often falsified - by the way the most important questions are posed."  Who is formulating these questions, she asks.  The woman problem is too uncomfortably similar in formulation for her to the Nazi phrasing "Jewish problem".   She opines: 

Obviously, for wolves...it is always best to refer to the lamb problem in the interests of public relations, as well as for the good of the lupine conscience.  Indeed, in our time of instant communication, "problems" are rapidly formulated to rationalize the bad conscience of those with power.

Oh my, she does have a way with words.  Finally, she says:

...the Great Artist is conceived of as one who has genius; genius, in turn, is thought to be an atemporal and mysterious power somehow embedded in the person of the Great Artist...It is no accident that the whole crucial question of the conditions generally productive of great art has so rarely been investigated, or that attempts to investigate such general problems have, until fairly recently, been dismissed as unscholarly, too broad, or the province of some other discipline like sociology. 

So relevant for us today, as we are just beginning to explore what conditions are necessary to the production of a diverse science and engineering workforce!  Now all this is old hat to the PoMo humanities folks who have moved way beyond and would laugh that we are even discussing this.  But I have been trying to tell my friends over on the other side of the university for a long time that science and engineering are 30 years behind in the feminist revolution.

Anyway:  so, why no great women scientists?  why do all the great scientists happen to be white males?  You are asking the wrong questions, dudes. 

And if you still can't resist obnoxiously wagging Albert Einstein under our noses (as if his life should be reduced to an example), then may I offer for your consideration Marie Curie and her two Nobel Prizes?  When you can show me some guy who spent his days out in a shed stirring two tons of pitchblende in a cauldron over an open fire to isolate a tiny little dot of radium, and was at the same time completely responsible for the care and raising of two children, one of whom grew up to be a scientist and win her own Nobel Prize, then we'll talk. 

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The Intro to Philosophy Take on Women's History

Today in intro to philosophy - the First Woman Writer Ever!
Learn with me.

Descartes was a really impressive dude. There were some problems with his Method. Princess Elisabeth wrote letters to him and asked him some good questions. She was kind of like Socrates in her letters, asking why and how. She was not playing a game, she was genuinely curious, kind of like she was saying you're this big intelligent man and I'm just a little princess over here trying to understand things.* Their correspondence was pretty cool. After Descartes died, Princess Elisabeth decided not to publish her letters, because, well, you see, there were some sentimental things in the letters. You know, that might have hinted at a relationship. So she kept them private. They were published long after her death. It's too bad she didn't agree to publish the letters, because they are the earliest known significant writing ever done by a woman! For realz! And if they had been published by Princess Elisabeth, people would have known a lot sooner that women were just as intelligent and capable of rational thought as men! Truth! [Because one exception was all that was needed to deconstruct an edifice of structural oppression. And obviously as soon as the letters came to light that edifice was demolished!]  Uh, you could ask a feminist philosopher or women's studies professor about it but I'm pretty sure this is the earliest writing by women that we have. [I am not an expert, some dudebro told me this, I didn’t bother to ask a women’s studies professor because a) really, and b) if a woman had written something I’d know about it.]

*Yes, he said "kind of like she was saying you're this big intelligent man and I'm just a little princess over here trying to understand things.

 

So when I got home, I went to the googles, and whaddya know, there's Hildegard von Bingen's theological writing in the 1100's. And Christine de Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies in 1405. Ann Bradstreet published a book of poetry in 1650. And then there's The Tale of Genji, by Murasaki Shikbu, "considered the world's first novel",

praised for the complex relationships between and among the characters. This is especially true regarding the portrayal of personal desire and the constraints that rank and gender in a highly hierarchical society place upon it, as well as the hidden tensions inherent in the conduct of Genji’s highly calibrated social and personal relationships. The novel is striking also for the compelling evocation of its characters’ minds, particularly of women of various ranks mulling upon their lot in life. In certain instances, these women exhibit an understanding of the workings of the psyche in terms almost modern.

It was written in the Heian Era (794-1185 CE).

But philosophy is what dudebros do. Hildegard was just writing about her visions in response to some "divine command" (not at all like Socrates's daimon).  Pisan's Book of the City of Ladies is just a pastiche done by a dancing dog while Augustine's City of God is philosophy. A bunch of poems or a gossipy book about ladeez and court life - you can't even talk about them in the same breath as Aristotle's Poetics. So I think we wimmin folk are lucky for two reasons.  Princess Elisabeth's letters made it into the philosophy category. And they got published so now everyone knows women are equally as smart as men. This is what makes the discipline of philosophy a warm and welcoming haven for women. Now that we have that straight, let us turn our attention back to Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, Kant, and Nietzsche.

You know, I want to study those dude philosophers. Understanding them is important for understanding a lot of other stuff. It's like learning algebra and trig before going on to calculus. But it burns my shorts to get my intro to philosophy with breezy "women are equal" jibber-jabber undermined in the same or next breath with condescension and implications about women's emotions blocking the progress of philosophy. And I really don't like it combined with casually wrong stories about women's history. I've got enough experience and knowledge not to be fooled or damaged by this crap, but those young kids in class with me? Well, they're just starting to learn, aren't they.

 

 

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You "Lean In" to Puke. You Organize For Change.

I have no problem with leaning in. Really I don't. If you are going to puke on someone's shoes, you had best lean in a little, lest the spatter hit your own glorious footwear.  And Zuskateers know that it's just sadly necessary to give someone a proper shoe-puking now and again, if only for the sake of our own mental health.

But if it's real, substantive change we're after, then we'd best be talking about organizing and collective action. In all cases, it is most heartily recommended that one know something of one's history. Our foremothers' struggles and triumphs are inspirational, to be sure, but they are also instructional.

Do not waste your time, energy, or cash enriching Sheryl Sandberg with her corporatized vision of a pseudo-feminism for individuals. Do not Lean In. Do read Susan Faludi's excellent critique of that whole hot mess situating it in history dating back to the Lowell "mill girls" in 1834. I must confess I did not know this:

The mill workers went on to agitate against an unjust system in all its forms. When Lowell’s state representative thwarted the women’s statewide battle for the ten-hour day, they mobilized and succeeded in having him voted out of office—nearly eighty years before women had the vote. Mill women in Lowell and, in the decades to come, their counterparts throughout New England threw themselves into the abolitionist movement (drawing connections between the cotton picked by slaves and the fabric they wove in the mills); campaigned for better health care, safer schools, decent housing, and cleaner water and streets; and joined the fight for women’s suffrage.

Now that is far more interesting than that Leaning In bla. If those women, in the 1800s, through collective action, could get a dudebro out of office without even having the vote, imagine what we could accomplish today with the vote. If only we organized. And worked together. And stopped thinking of success as something that individuals obtain, for their own self-interests.

 

Hat tip to @KMBTweets for the link to the Faludi article. Follow @KMBTweets on twitter. You will not be sorry!

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Telling the story of Woman, over and over

Sep 18 2012 Published by under Feminist Foremothers, Naming Experience, Role Models

[View the story "Telling the Story of Woman, Over and Over" on Storify]

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International Women's Day: Slideshow at the Guest Blogge!

Mar 09 2011 Published by under Announcements, Feminist Foremothers

Visit the Guest Blogge to see an inspiring slideshow of women scientists from the Smithsonian's Women in Science set, posted by Guest Blogger Penny.  Thanks, Penny!

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The Parable of the Wise and the Foolish Engineers

It came to pass that the engineers gathered at their most sacred place, near the river Charles, to seek learning from the wise ones.  And it happened that one of these said to another, “We are women in a man’s world, and we should stick together, and help each other out. We should build together, on the Rock of Amita.”  But the second said to the first, “No, for I am like unto the men myself, and will go in their guise, and learn their ways, and build my house upon their beachfront paradise, next to the all night Hooters and down the street from the Sports Emporium.  For it is more pleasing to be allowed to walk eight blocks to the beachfront between 4 and 6 a.m. and to work part-time at Hooters for minimum wage in the hopes that someday I will be invited to give a talk at Janelia Farm.  The winds blow shrill at the Rock of Amita; harpies take wing in the skies overhead; my legs are clean-shaven.”  And she cast the first away from her, and did take the guise of men, and strove to learn their ways, and built her house eight blocks back from the beachfront paradise.

Then the rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on the house; and the house of the first one did not fall, for it was founded on the Rock of Amita. The rain came down, the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat on the house of the second one; and it fell—and great was its fall.  For the men would not help her rebuild, and blamed her for building so poorly, and mocked her for her sadness at her loss, and told her that science doesn’t stop at 5 on Fridays, and she was cast out.

And she wandered, even as far as the Tobacco Road, and entered into the Duke’s house, and was given a seat at the far end of the table, and permitted the crumbs of the feasting.  But it came to pass that she found a wise teacher, and a holy book, and began anew to build, this time surely, upon the Rock of Amita, which can be found in many places.  And the wise teacher asked her one day, “How will it come to pass that the young build upon the rock rather than the sand?”  And she thought well to herself, and said, “Teach early, else it may be only by building upon the sand that one will ever come to build upon the rock. Many will be lost to the storms; some will repair and rebuild, even to the end of their days.  These I look upon with pity and understanding, for I once lived where they now dwell. Teach early, lest the young mistake the house 8 blocks back from the beachfront, next door to Hooters, as paradise, and clamor to build there, and are swept away in the storms.”

"Paradise," said the wise teacher, "is the opiate of the Engineers.

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Thony and Penny Are Bringin' It On The Guest Blogge!

Zuskateers, there is a heap o' good reading over at the Guest Blogge right now!  Thony and Penny are turning out a series of posts so wonderful I want to cry.  How could you not love the story of Florence Violet Mackenzie, Australia's first woman electrical engineer?  Complete with a great black and white photo.  Or Thony's answer to that old argument, "who invented the calculus, Newton or Leibniz?" - Thony sez, you're asking the wrong question.  There's more, much more. Go forth, read, be entertained and enlightened.

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The Power of One Vote - Ratifying the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution

What day do you celebrate the 90th anniversary of the 19th amendment in the U.S.?  One day, I think, is hardly enough. Ratification of the 19th amendment was a long and arduous process that was accomplished through dogged organizing of the suffragists, who became the League of Women Voters.  On August 18, 1920, Tennessee became the 36th state to ratify the amendment, making it part of the U.S. constitution.  On August 26, 1920, the Secretary of State signed the proclamation enacting the amendment.  (This is why August 26 is known as Women's Equality Day.  Wear white that day to honor the suffragists!)  Women could now vote in every state in the union.  (As Boing Boing hilariously noted, the 90th anniversary of ratifying the 19th amendment in Mississippi will be in 2074.  Mississippians may or may not choose to wear white on the 26th, as they see fit.)

A National Archives page tells the story of the ratification vote in Tennessee - a decision that almost went the other way, a decision that hinged on one vote, one vote swayed by a mother's plea.

Tennessee's Senate had already approved it, but after several votes in the House, the issue was deadlocked, 48 to 48. As the debate continued, [Representative] Burn opened a letter from his mother.

“Don't forget to be a good boy and help Mrs. Catt put the ‘rat’ in ratification,” mother Burn wrote. Harry had been counted among the opponents, but when the next vote was taken, Harry voted in favor of the amendment, and ratification was approved.

To help me keep perspective, I often like to remind myself that women have had the right to vote in the U.S. just a few years longer than my mother has been alive. The battle to win the right to vote began long before she was born, however.  Continue Reading »

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Everything Old Is New Again: ZOMFG!!! Ads Influence Our Media!

By now, perhaps, you are aware of the uproar about the ScienceBlogs corner of the bloggysphere. PepsiCo has bought started a blog here, called Food Frontiers. Many are unhappy, bloggers and commenters alike. Read PalMD's take, and commenters there, for one perspective.

One of the potential disadvantages [of a blog network] is advertising and sponsorship. Here at Sb, we've been very fortunate in that our content is completely independent. We control anything in the center column. The top and right however belong to Sb, and they use this space to keep the place running. There have been several times when the advertising has been less-than-appropriate, and SEED has responded by altering it, but in this economy, it pays to be flexible. Ad content can serve as blog fodder. There's nothing preventing those of us who blog here from critiquing the ad content as vigorously as we wish to...PepsiCo's PR flacks basically own a the center column content on one of our blogs. This is not only a fundamental conflict of interest, it's also deceptive. If PepsiCo is providing the content, it should, in my opinion, be clearly labelled as advertising.

The only way to be free of any corporate influence over content is to be 100% ad-free, as Ms Magazine so candidly revealed to us at the beginning of the 1990's in Gloria Steinem's famous editorial, "Sex, Lies, & Advertising", with this stunner of an opener:

Continue Reading »

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ZOMBIE WOMEN UNITE!!!!!!!!

BREAK THE CHAINS!!!
UNLEASH THE FURY OF ZOMBIE WOMEN AS A MIGHTY FORCE FOR REVOLUTION!!!!!

sbzombies_zuska.png Zombie women of the world, I ask you: why are we content to shamble aimlessly along behind our brethren, following them willy-nilly, eating the leftover brains, and cleaning up after they senselessly destroy some village? Would it kill them to take a turn minding the zombikins for a change? No, it would not. Because they are undead.
There I was just last week, shambling along after Nigel on Shakedown Street. Like he knew where he was going! "Would it fucking KILL you to stop and ask for directions?" I asked him for the eleventy-fucktillionth time. "I'm pretty sure we are shambling away from the Mutter Museum, not towards it." I am sure you know what happened next. He just zombisplained me about zombie men's superior shambling gait and kept on in the same direction.
Eventually we shambled into Rittenhouse Square, which is lovely, but definitely NOT the Mutter Museum. About the time Nigel was ready to embark upon the tenth shambling circuit of the park, hoping a sign for the Mutter Museum would appear, it occurred to me that I could just sit down on one of those darling benches in the park. I won't lie to you: I'd taken notice of all the humans in the park and, feeling a bit famished, I wasn't fancying another meal of leftover brains. I begged Nigel to stop the shambling and go with me but he just muttered "We're making good tiiiiiiiiiiiiiime....."

Continue Reading »

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