Friday, June 12, 2015

Men, Women, Science, Gender Roles: "Let Me Tell You About My Trouble with Girls" and the #Distractinglysexy Pushback

For anyone who imagines that science is well, pure, non-ideological, floating above cultural battles about gender roles and other similar low-culture concerns, I recommend a peek at the fascinating discussion now developing after British biochemist Tim Hunt recently said of his female colleagues, 

Let me tell you about my trouble with girls. Three things happen when they are in the lab: You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you, and when you criticize them they cry.

As Rupali Srivastava reports yesterday for Think Progress, women scientists are now having a field day with Hunt's beyond-obtuse (and remarkably self-aggrandizing) sexist comments. A hashtag #distractinglysexy has developed at which women working in scientific fields are tweeting photos of themselves in their distractingly sexy outfits — women like Amelia Cervera (see the tweet at the head of the posting). 

And, it goes without saying, this discussion has bearing in the most direct way possible on the gender-and-power issues we've been discussing here — a discussion centered on the claim men keep making to a right to define women's lives and contributions as lesser than, because biology. Because men are built stronger and revved up on testosterone, which helps their brains to reason (?), while women have all those niggling hormones pulling them down from the realm of high, ethereal, objective reason to the earth. To chores like bearing and taking care of children, shopping for food, cooking food, cleaning their family's domicile, washing their family's laundry, tending to their sick, making a comfortable nest for their men when the men come home in the evening from swotting manfully all day in the world of reason and science and governance.

Women doing, in short, what biology suits them for, don't you know, weeping all the while, since the same blessed biology that presents women with hormones rooting them in the earthly (read: subordinate) sphere also blessedly gives women the gift of tears as they cook, scrub, change diapers, make beds, wash blood from wounds and apply new bandages, etc.

Honestly. You'd think we'd have gotten beyond this nonsense, as a human community, wouldn't you? You'd think we'd have gotten beyond the nonsense of the biology-as-destiny argument when it comes to gender and gender roles: men over here, women over there, separate chores for men, different chores for women. Men as sky and women as earth.

And yet people keep right on offering these arguments as commonsensical ones grounded in pure, non-ideological scientific "facts" that simply do not exist. Because systems of human thought and reasearch including science are systems of human thought and research that bear the imprint of human presuppositions.

And when the people doing the presupposing and reasoning have been, for a very long time, men and not women, then we end up with fatuously funny scientific "truths" like, "Let me tell you about my girls and how they always end up falling in love with me and crying when they're in my lab." Or with people like the odious Larry Summers odiously opining that women just can't cut it in scientific fields, because, well, all that weeping in the lab stuff to which biology dooms them when they should be reasoning.

Or like the silly-toxic "truths" peddled by hate mongers that hold forth on Catholic blog sites to inform the world that gay men can't possibly succeed in the field of hard science (Dr. Turing be damned), since they're too close to that earthy realm of female emotion rather than to the ethereal realm of male reason, and so they're better suited to scrubbing bedpans than to doing medical research. Yes, there are Catholics who say such things in the name of Catholic "truth," God help us, and there are Catholic journals irresponsible enough to permit these Catholics to make such statements in the name of Catholic "truth."

In the name of Catholic (and scientific) truth, people continue to be permitted to make astonishingly demeaning and absurd statements about the capabilities of women and those who are gay that are, for all the world, absolutely like what famous men like Alexander H. Stephens used to say about people of color — in the name of scientific truth, divine revelation, and commonsense:

Our new government is founded upon exactly the opposite idea; its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.

Nature, you see, fits dark-skinned people to be servants of light-skinned ones, in precisely the same way that it fits testosterone-driven men to rule hormone-bound women, and ordains women to scrub and weep, and gay men to shlep bedpans while "normal" men do medical research. Written into nature are laws of physical, philosophical, and moral truth, and wouldn't the world be a much better place if we could all simply see and obey those laws?

Say the men who reason thus, and the women who buy into the reasoning of those men . . . .

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