THE MIND HAS NO SEX? Women in the Origins of Modern Science by Londa Schiebinger

THE MIND HAS NO SEX? Women in the Origins of Modern Science

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In this comprehensive work, Schiebinger precisely analyzes the history of European women's struggle to contribute to the scientific tradition in the face of widespread sexual discrimination. Beginning with Francois Poullain's 1673 declaration that ""the mind has no sex,"" Schiebinger charts the hills and valleys of opportunity that scientifically oriented women experienced in Europe from the 15th century onward. That there were occasional hills is, she contends, an accident of the social climate of the times. In the salons of 17th-century Paris, aristocratic women outranked scientific theorists and could command their respectful tutelage in exchange for entr‚e into powerful court circles. In Germany, the practice of science arose out of the artisan class, which routinely utilized women as unofficial helpmates and successors to their mate relatives, particularly in the areas of astronomy and entomology. The formalization of education saw the end of even this conditional participation. Excluded from Europe's universities, the few women who dared participate in scientific discourse were derided for their ignorance. This perceived intellectual weakness in turn revived the classic assumption that women's brains were simply too ""moist"" and ""soft"" for the ""masculine"" discipline of science. As science improved and medicine became more profitable, even the time-honored female profession of midwifery was denied women by refusing them licenses, while at the same time medical texts skewed illustrations of women's anatomy to emphasize the reproductive organs and reduce the size of the skull. Schiebinger's methodical tracing of the way in which negative or fearful assumptions regarding the nature of the female mind have fed sexual discrimination--and how that discrimination has in turn helped justify the original negative assumptions--is both well researched and convincing. Her profiles of women scientists who resisted prejudice, plus her fascinating descriptions of past and present rationalizations for sexual injustice, make this a solid contribution to the history of science.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 067457625X
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press