WOMEN IN THE CURRICULUM
Discipline Analysis Essays: Biology
The fundamental issue in current debates in biology is over the validity, limits, and gender bias of scientific objectivity. Work in history, philosophy, critical science studies, and content analysis of biology provide evidence for the influence of gender (ascribed and ideological) in the development of science. Who should and could be a creator of science at a given place and time, what counts as legitimate science, what questions are chosen for appropriate scientific study, how investigations are constructed, and what conclusions are drawn. These are all shown to be affected by cultural beliefs about gender and race. While other fields make truth claims based on "objective" arguments and "universal" standards and values, science traditionally makes a special claim for evaluating the objectivity of truth claims through scientific methods.
Historian Londa Schiebinger's works trace the ways that beliefs about male superiority intertwined in the seventeenth century with the construction of modern science. Evelyn Fox Keller, Ludmilla Jordanova, Elizabeth Potter, and others have argued that the history of Western science reflects a powerful concern to justify and maintain white male superiority simply as part of how things are "naturally." Rational, competent thought is considered male, and emotional, irrational motivation is considered "naturally" female. Whether writing prescriptions for the chaste experimental (male) scientist who cannot and should not depend on female witnesses of scientific experiments (see Potter on Robert Boyle) or the (male) scientist who must strip (female) Nature naked to expose her mysteries (see Keller and Jordanova on Francis Bacon), the founders of modern science created from their culture a gendered association between male/scientist and female/nature-or-object.
Thus we find that gender bias permeates all levels of biology. Describing certain hormones as "male" and others as "female" continues to frame many of the theoretical explanations for male-associated and female-associated behaviors. This dichotomous-gender-biased naming persists despite the long-known facts that these hormones are found in both males and females, that the levels change throughout the life cycle and with circumstances such that a male may have a higher level of "female" hormone than a female, that the hormones are interconverted in both male and female bodies, and that the hormones have dramatic effects (in animals) on anatomy and physiology that have nothing to do with sexual characteristics. Furthermore, claims about universal (human) male behaviors and universal female behaviors are unfounded, except for sperm production, egg production, and gestation and lactation (and, of course, not all male and female humans fit those specifications either).