Claiming pseudoscience is feminist is an insult to the memory of Ada Lovelace, Marie Curie and Virginia Apgar

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The New York Times Op-Ed Who’s Afraid of Gwyneth Paltrow and Goop? by Elisa Albert and Jennifer Block is offensive for a variety of reasons.

It’s offensive because it is another example of a prestigious news outlet publishing alternative “facts.” It’s offensive because it sugar coats the rabid consumerism promoted by a profit driven corporation. And its claim that pseudoscience is feminist is particularly offensive to women because it is an insult to the memory of famous women scientists who struggled against the misogynistic belief that science and math are “too hard” for women and they are reduced to relying on intuition.

Women are just as smart as men, as mathematically gifted as men, and as capable of SCIENTIFIC reasoning as men.

This passage in particular devalues the women scientists and mathematicians who struggled against the suffocating misogyny of beliefs about women’s intelligence or lack thereof:

Throughout history, women in particular have been mocked, reviled, and murdered for maintaining knowledge and practices that frightened, confused and confounded “the authorities.” (Namely the church, and later, medicine.) Criticism of Goop is founded, at least in part, upon deeply ingrained reserves of fear, loathing, and ignorance about things we cannot see, touch, authenticate, prove, own or quantify. It is emblematic of a cultural insistence that we quash intuitive measures and “other” ways of knowing — the sort handed down via oral tradition, which, for most women throughout history, was the only way of knowing…

Seriously?

That’s an insult to the memory of Ada Lovelace whose mathematical feats laid the groundwork for the computer industry. Lovelace is known for her work on Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine, publishing the first algorithm for use with the machine. She is rightly remembered as one of first computer programmers.

Lovelace encountered prejudice NOT because she resorted to feminine ways of thinking but because she dared master mathematics, a discipline that had been considered masculine.

It’s an insult to the memory of Marie Curie, the first woman to win a Nobel prize, the first person to win two Nobel prizes and the first person to win Nobel prizes in two different fields. She developed the theory of radioactivity, techniques to isolate radioactive isotopes and discovered two radioactive elements.

Curie encountered prejudice NOT because she resorted to feminine ways of thinking but because she dared master physics, a discipline that had been considered masculine.

It is an insult to the memory of Virginia Apgar. She developed the ubiquitously used Apgar score and is considered a pioneer in anesthesiology, teratology and neonatology.

Apgar encountered prejudice NOT because she resorted to feminine ways of thinking but because she dared master medicine, a discipline that had been considered masculine.

It is an insult to the memory of Rosalind Franklin whose pioneering efforts in deciphering the structure of DNA were hidden by men who couldn’t bear the thought that women were as capable of performing ground research as men.

Franklin encountered prejudice — and was nearly erased from the history books — NOT because she resorted to feminine ways of thinking but because she dared master X-ray crystallography, a discipline that had been considered masculine.

It is an insult to the memory of Frances Oldham Kelsey, one of the first women at the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) who subsequently was awarded the Presidential Award for Distinguished Service for refusing to back down from her insistence that thalidomide caused birth defects despite tremendous pressure from drug companies.

Kelsey encountered prejudice NOT because she resorted to feminine ways of thinking but because she dared to used science to refuse the importuning of the pharmaceutical industry, a profession that had been considered masculine.

But most of all, pretending that pseudoscience is feminist is insulting — and harmful — to the rising generation of women. We have enough trouble recruiting women into science, engineering and technology without other women insisting that all three are the purview of men and women should stick to “other ways of knowing.”

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.

They insisted — in the face of tremendous male resistance — that women are just as smart as men, as mathematically gifted as men, and as capable of conducting scientific research and making scientific discoveries as men. It is deeply insulting to their memories when women like Albert and Block portray science as male and pseudoscience as feminist.

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  • demodocus

    They might have had a point if they talked about feminine ways of thinking as a greater tendency to cooperation over competition or something like that, but “women are more likely to rely on instinct alone” has long been part of the justifications of men to keep women subordinent. (sp?) Possessing an identity as a woman does not grant you a special connection to the gods.

  • mabelcruet

    No health care professional should be relying on ‘other ways of knowing’. This concept completely undermines your professional training-what is the point of going to medical/nursing/midwifery school if you are just going to ignore everything you’ve learned and decide instead to go on instinct? It’s also hugely disrespectful to your patients. The way we learn the art of medicine (and nursing) is by experience-every interaction with a patient adds to your experience and makes you continually develop your skills, this experiential learning is what makes us professional. If you’d rather treat your patients according to ‘other ways of knowing’, what you’re actually saying is that you didn’t need all that training and studying, and you didn’t learn anything from working with patients because you went with your gut instead of science

    • Cristina B

      “What is the point of going to medical/nursing/midwifery school if you are just going to ignore everything you’ve learned and decide instead to go on instinct?”

      “If you’d rather treat your patients according to ‘other ways of knowing’, what you’re actually saying is that you didn’t need all that training and studying, and you didn’t learn anything from working with patients because you went with your gut instead of science.”

      Every CPM ever.

  • Sarah

    Putting the contents of a herb cupboard in your clunge is the same thing as discovering polonium.

    • PeggySue

      Totally wishing I could “like” this a million times.

  • fiftyfifty1

    When I was a newly minted doctor, I attended a “Women in Medicine” meeting hosted by another female physician. We listened to a lecture on professional opportunities and ate a potluck luncheon. I met a 101 yo retired female physician (she brought bourbon meatballs) who told me all about what it was like to be a doctor in the early part of the 1900’s. She was the only female in her entire medical school class. She was an excellent student, finishing at the top of her class, but her male classmates refused to practice with her, and the local hospitals refused her admitting privileges. So she set up private practice providing OB and pediatric care for woman and children at the Home for Unwed Mothers. Barely made a living because these patients could barely pay, and “regular” patients didn’t want a female doctor. She never married or had a family “because back in that day a woman had to choose, and I chose medicine.” She practiced long enough to see the female revolution in medicine, and eventually got some practice partners. She was pleased to meet me, a representative of the first class to be over 50% female at our mutual alma mater. Fuck this “other ways of knowing” for women.

    • Sarah

      It sounds like a fascinating experience. You were very fortunate to make her acquaintance.

    • mabelcruet

      When I was a student, we were encouraged to join the Medical Women’s Federation. It lobbies about issues that may affect women more than men (part time working, job sharing, parental leave) and also pushes networking, but also ran conferences, affiliating with other women’s organisations around the world. It seems odd that in a profession where almost 70% of us are female, we still need a voice like this, but even in supposedly developed countries like UK, there is a significant difference between men and women when it comes to senior positions, particularly academic roles, even when they are equally or better qualified to male candidates. Just in the last year, there was a big row in the British Medical Association with female committee members complaining about misogynistic and sexist comments from other committee members. We may legally and technically have equality, but there are still pockets where it’s the 1950s. And if we start talking about ‘other ways of knowing’ as acceptable standards of practice, it’ll stay the 1950s. When I was a medical student, a female colleague of mine was told there was no point in her applying for a surgical speciality because everyone knew women couldn’t visualise in 3D-that was 1990. If we start justifying treatments with ‘I just KNOW, it’s my feminine instincts, my femininity allows me to connect with other ways of knowing, my connection to mother earth allows me to devine this’ we would be laughed out of the hospital.

      • AnnaPDE

        Be laughed out of the hospital and then start an “alternative” business, with woo that poses as women’s medicine. And then complain about how the evil patriarchy isn’t open to “knowledges” and diversity.

    • KeeperOfTheBooks

      She sounds like an absolutely fascinating person. I don’t suppose she’s ever written a biography–too busy practicing medicine, I expect–but if she did, I would totally buy it and read it!