NATURE'S BODY by Londa Schiebinger

NATURE'S BODY

Gender in the Making of Modern Science
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 Much has been written about discrimination against women in science, including assertions that brain size and temperament precluded their ability to study and succeed. Schiebinger (History/Penn State; The Mind Has No Sex?, 1989) adds considerably more: She concentrates on 17th- and 18th-century European developments in taxonomy and physical anthropology to show how the European male became the prototype of the human race; how women were reduced to a subset noted only for sexual differences; and how people of color were placed at inferior levels of the great chain of being, on a par with apes. By celebrating sexuality in plants, Erasmus, Darwin, and Linneaus did much to set the stage for thinking of females in terms of sexuality alone--leading Linneaus to choose the term ``mammals'' to distinguish the order of warmblooded, hairy animals--but also to underscore women's role as nurturing caretakers. More shocking was the scholars' concern with female genitalia and sexual characteristics. The ideal breast was the pointed hemisphere of the European female, and Circassian women set the standard for beauty- -hence the name ``Caucasian'' for the white race. Pendulous breasts were inferior--and African; so were enlarged labia. It appears that collectors and dissectors had a field day measuring vaginal angles and clitoral lengths, and attributing massive labia to various African females, including the ``Hottentot Venus'' brought to Europe for study. For most readers, it's bad enough to know that Aristotle and other ancient and medieval scholars were dupes to fable and traveler's tales. To learn that the dawn of modern science was equally clouded by politics, prejudice--and prurience- -won't surprise feminist scholars but is disheartening. Schiebinger concludes with fresh insights on who should do science, as well as with further dismal accounts of tales of 20th- century bias. The very fact that she and others have enriched the record by their scholarly exposÇs, however, offers hope for the future.

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1993
ISBN: 0-8070-8900-1
Page count: 304pp
Publisher: Beacon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993