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.