Ignoring science is not a feminist statement

In the midst of the discussion that homebirth is not a feminist statement, an interview I did several weeks ago with Teen Skepchick was published. The discussion was wide ranging, but one of the issues we kept coming back to is the need for women to have a strong grounding in basic science and math.

Teen Skepchick is an awesome website run by Rebecca Watson:

… Rebecca is leading a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org and TeenSkepchick.org, co-hosting the weekly podcast The Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, hosting her public radio show Curiosity …

The world of skeptics is dominated by men, which is not surprising considering that the world of science was until recently dominated by men. Now, though, women are doctors, chemists and rocket scientists. I love that Teen Skepchick is encouraging the next generation of women to study science, think logically and beware of pseudoscientific claims.

To me, one of the most depressing aspects of health pseudoscience (so called “alternative” health) is that it is dominated by women. Women are far more likely to believe in and use quack “treatments” like homeopathy. They believe in and spearhead nonsense “movements” like anti-vaccination. And, of course, quack practitioners like homebirth midwives (certified professional midwives or CPMs) are exclusively women.

Why might that be? I suspect that it has a lot to do with the fact that many women have no knowledge of basic science and math.

When we were children, my generation was told that science and math were “too hard” for women, and girls were steered away from physics and engineering toward professions like teaching and nursing. Women like me owe a deep debt to feminist pioneers who, often at great personal cost, paved the way for acceptance of women into every subject of study and every possible career.

That’s why it’s especially depressing to me to find that while women are free to learn science and math, many still avoid it as “too hard.” Without a strong foundation of science and math, it is perhaps inevitable that many women are drawn to pseudoscience. What’s truly amazing, though, it that they want to pretend that ignoring science is some sort of feminist statement.

I suspect that comes from a fundamental misunderstanding about feminism. True, feminism is about choice; women can make whatever choices they deem best for themselves, regardless of society’s view of what is “proper” for women. But that doesn’t mean that every choice made by a woman is a feminist choice. It is not a feminist choice to wear a burqa; it is not a feminist choice to remove your daughter’s clitoris with a dirty razor blade; and it is not a feminist choice to declare that you are subservient to your husband.

Similarly, it is not a feminist choice to ignore science.

You have to give the feminist anti-rationalists credit for making lemonade out of lemons, though. Rather than confessing to ignorance of science, the feminist anti-rationalists declare that science is male and that women have “different ways of knowing” (i.e. intuition). That’s a pretty neat trick: cloaking the sexist belief that science and math are too difficult for women under the intellectual burqa of feminine intuition.

Although women have a right to have a homebirth, a homebirth is not a feminist statement. It is absurd to suggest, in this age when more than half of obstetricians are female, that obstetrics is patriarchal. It is absurd to claim that in this age when women can be nuclear physicists that science is male and women have “different ways of knowing.” And now that young women are finally allowed to study as much science and math as they wish, it is downright bizarre to insist that science and math aren’t necessary to understand the function of the human body.

Homebirth is not a feminist statement, not merely for the obvious reason that every choice made by a woman is not inherently a feminist choice. It is also not a feminist statement because homebirth advocacy is based primarily on ignorance of science, statistics and basic medical facts. Ignoring science is never a feminist choice.

  • MHildman

    Credit to Suzanne Walsh.

    Factually speaking, men are better at math because they have superior, innate visual spatial skills. Science has proven this repeatedly and it is now all but accepted as fact. There will always be the radical ideologues disregarding facts and science and clinging to the hope that boys and girls are exactly the same. This is why you will sometimes see a study saying there is no math gap.

    Onward.

    For 40+ years now, boys have outperformed girls on SAT math tests. The gap has remained steady at ~33 points every single year.
    http://www.aei.org/publication/2

    Studies have shown that boys as young as 5 months old have already developed superior visual spatial skills virtually eliminating any possibility that the differences are societal and not biological.
    http://www.sciencedaily.com/rele

    This fact has been proven so many times (see links below) that scientists now debate how much, rather than whether, biology contributes to sex differences in cognition
    http://www.livescience.com/20011

    Additional Studies
    http://www2.nau.edu/~bio372-c/cl
    http://www.science20.com/news_ar
    http://news-releases.uiowa.edu/2
    http://www.pnas.org/content/111/
    http://web.stanford.edu/~niederl

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  • Charles Zogby

    In the past that might have been true, but not anymore. Feminism used to be a useful movement, decades ago, and it achieved some important things. Nowadays, they only have one or two valid points remaining, and those points could easily just be absorbed into the label of “social liberalism” or “common sense”; they don’t have enough valid points to justify an entire continuing movement. The rest of the things they say are pseudoscience, conspiracy theories, narrow-mindedness, and unnecessary vitriol.

    • Guestll

      Thank you for dropping by and mansplaining feminism, Charles.

      • Charles Zogby

        lol. Exactly my point. “Mansplaining” is an extremely sexist term, created by people who claim to be against sexism. But it’s not sexist if it’s about men, right?

  • Roze of the Valley

    So awesome there are a lot of great feminists out there who understand science but it makes me sad all the pseudo science creeping in. Make no mistake these creep in from mainstream male ideas.

  • Krishna_B

    As a 90’s kid I remember my teachers involved with math, chemistry, and physics being exclusively male. The only female science teachers we had were Biologists, I guess because people see it as more ‘natural’ or whatever. My male math teachers believed the notion that females are inherently bad at maths and sciences, using nonscientific explanations such as women being more ‘right brained’ and ‘intuitive’. I excelled in maths, loving it, up until encountering this attitude. My grades went from As to Cs and Ds when it came to all STEM material (except Biology), and I embraced it because I felt that it made me more of a woman. I thought myself cool somehow because of my ignorance.

    I began studying psychology in University (a liberal feminist one, mind you) and became interested in maths again when I had to take statistics courses with this female professor. I had to take one science and chose Biology because I excelled at it. I decided to switch into Biology despite the major requiring me to take a few Chemistry, Physics, and Calculus courses. I found a love of Chemistry I never knew I had. Now I’m a double major in Biology in Chemistry, loving it.

    • theNormalDistribution

      I have noticed that there are (at least at the university I attended) way more women in biology and chemistry then there are in physics, computer science, math, or engineering, and have often wondered why that is.

      • Krishna_B

        I’m not quite sure. As I stated above, I attended a school that has a history of educating women so a lot of the science positions (including maths and physics) are filled by women.

        I felt that Biology is seen as more acceptable for women because it may be seen as less ‘hard’ due to fewer math requirements. Biology can lead to caring (traditionally female) careers. A lot of people I studied Biology with were planning on going into nursing or teaching. Biology also has a tie with nature. Plants, flowers, gardening, is all seen as pretty girly maybe? And there is this women are natural and men are logical theme that might influence the trend.

        Chemistry I’m not quite sure of, but maybe it’s something to do with following recipes? I always felt Chemistry was like complex baking, and I only started baking for fun when I began doing chemistry. The career might also feel more welcoming due to there being a lot of women in it already.

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