Brett Williams's Reviews > The Science Question in Feminism

The Science Question in Feminism by Sandra G. Harding
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did not like it

That postmodern fever makes people say the funniest things!

First, realize Harding is a “feminist theorist,” not a feminist. Feminist theory is to feminism, as the Taliban is to democracy. Harding maintains feminist theory is “critical thought” equivalent to that applied by remarkably successful science, while demanding science conform to political, social and gender-based passions of feminist theory. A remarkable paradox, but similarly heard from archrivals to her radical Right, the Creationists, who also demand science abandon its description of nature, becoming something to make us feel better. To Harding science is “racist, sexist, classist, culturally coercive, serving primarily regressive social tendencies,” as Creationism claims Darwin is responsible for every “ism” – Socialism, Communism, Stalinism. She insists “dogmas of empiricism…inhospitable to gender theory” be removed. Apparently, experimentation is sexist. While masculinity in science is evil, feminism in science is not. “The best scientific activity and thinking about science are modeled on men’s misogynistic” and “natural relations to women,” writes Harding – which are, she says, “rape and torture.” Sexist meanings in science are then used to attract young men into the field. (This is when it starts to be hilariously funny.) Scientific objectivity, claims Harding, stems from its guilty conscience for this, its ecological / military disasters and “making labor physically and mentally mutilating.” While any lack of overt misogynistic expression is not due to an absence of it, it is rather subverted, says Harding, seen only by the eyes of Harding’s penetrating analysis. Where the word “penetrating” is also defined as sexist.

Harding has a well-developed strategy and she’s a good deal more readable than, say, Lacan. She uses repetition to convince, frequently without the slightest effort to support, other than quotes of other unsubstantiated allegations from friendly postmodernists. She has a nasty habit of making claims no one rejects, while asserting they do, then drones on for pages attacking these fanciful rejections. Harding employs a Rush Limbaugh tactic, feigning ignorance of metaphorical differences, lumping validity with absurdity to prosecute validity through association that puts opponents on their heals. She chronically misrepresents scientists, putting words in their mouths, then claiming how wrong they are (yet another Creationist tool). Harding indicts explanations of science and its method, extending this indictment to science itself. But if such explanations are inadequate and flawed, does that make science inadequate and flawed? (Just because you can’t predict tornadoes, doesn’t mean the earth isn’t round.)

Harding attributes all dichotomies – mind vs. body, reason vs. emotion, subjectivity vs. objectivity, abstract vs. particular – as gender-loaded, masculine vs. feminine. She patronizes by labeling science “sacred,” “religious,” “magical,” “mysterious.” While those of us practicing in the sciences may see it as nearly sacred, we do not see it religiously, nor magically, and outcomes of science, as a human endeavor are certainly not unassailable. As for a sense of mystery, Harding reveals she never practiced science, and what better way to understand it? Applying feminist theory to science to understand how scientists do or should explore nature is like art critics trying to explain how artists create art. Critics attempt to deconstruct the artistic process to grasp it, while for artists this process is transcendental, beyond confinement. So too for science, at least in so much as the moment of connection and understanding of nature remains a mystery in how the brain works. While guided by a rigorous method and policed by its open forum, the heart of scientific practice is found through personal discovery, not a triptik. Dismissals of Harding by scientists convey what scientists know about other forms of inquiry (or inquisition): non-scientists don’t grasp science because they read the public “how to” book by Harding, her peers the postmodernists and rival Creationists.

Harding finds industrialization of labor “to make unique…characteristics irrelevant, standardizing labor routines so individual workers possess no special knowledge of their laboring process.” Never mind efficiency. Then she asks, “why does [this] division of labor in science preserve racial, gender and class status?” First, she confuses intellectual requirements of science with routine manual labor. Difficulties within science finding those nimble enough on the borders of understanding to be innovators is lost on Harding. Some are simply better at it, mentally wired to earn their place at Cal Tech or Princeton’s IAS. Those of us less talented may lament our shortcomings but we do not deserve status as equals for a social cause. While Science didn’t invent the various “isms” she grieves, to her point, such a meritocracy inherits them from society as an imprint, as talent tends to come from those not discriminated against. Though this does not mean as a practice of discrimination, which is Harding’s charge.

We find the mathematics of Newton and Einstein have layered upon their equations gender-laden bigotry. F=ma, E=mc(squared), gender-biased all. Much longer formulas that “take a computer an hour to read,” writes Harding, cannot be descriptions of natural phenomena because no one understands them. But such models are verified to be accurate representations of nature in the lab or field everyday in everything from automobiles and aircraft to antennas and artificial hearts. Simply because they’re not understood by Harding is not to say they’re not understood.

Harding writes that “…favored intellectual structures and practices of science [are] cultural artifacts… sacred commandments”. But if this were so, those cell phones, TVs, ships, satellites, and vaccines wouldn’t work as science designs and predicts they will. One wonders if Harding has access to the fruits of science in her daily drive, entertainment, and healthcare? Does she imagine those devices and cures worked as intended by a matter of pure chance, millions of times round the world each day? If they are indeed gender-biased, perhaps it’s best not to fiddle, they’re doing quite well as it is.

Harding portrays science as one monolithic machine where even “socializers of infants” are part of the horror, pandering to the fiction that males have nascent masculine traits selected for by invisible powers as they commence science camp in primary and secondary education to feed our universities. All of it under control of a secret elite minority of “director-managers,” she writes, luring unsuspecting graduates with promises of heroism, only to be enslaved by what she calls the “scientific belief” factory running the world. The sheer capital to conduct such control makes this terrain only of the rich and powerful, she says. “…patent and copyright laws help ensure that knowledge will be produced to benefit only those who have the capital to distribute results for profit or the power to organize and maintain polices of social control.” So is this why Harding and her universities copyright her books? But Apple, Google, YouTube, invented in a garage, benefited by patent protection from giants long before they were able to make their efforts worthwhile.

Harding makes any utilitarian enterprise with a hierarchy interested in efficiency appear nefarious. Challenging her corporate-control theme are discoveries of quasars, black holes and work in string theory, which don’t exactly show up on the retail shelf for profit. These endeavors are money down the research-corporate hole. Harding’s corporate-science connection is not denied, as many scientists lament product-associated research, or requests for grant money from a political-corporate Congress, but it’s not quite universal nor inherently evil.

Harding’s strategy is transparent, but she then laments in lugubrious terms that reactions to her hypotheses are dismissive rather than garnered with respect. This confers her both an air of Bertrand Russell’s “superior virtue of the oppressed,” and preempting critiques she claims to be so in favor of. While an often effective argument tactic, Harding fails to advance her hypotheses, seeking only pity for not being understood.

For Harding’s program to be successful, males in science must be converted or expunged. When Harding finally gets around to her holy cause, that not science alone, but all of society must be transformed, it all has a familiar ring to it, a national socialist program if ever there was one. Her plan fits with splendid exactness Hayek’s observations concerning early steps to socialist tyranny in his “Road To Serfdom.” Rally the troops emotionally; provide stirring but vague phrases like her “more just and caring culture” allowing for a wide latitude of solutions; create an enemy upon which to focus the rebellion; recast old paradigms in a new light we always sensed but could never articulate. Someday, someone must carry out by force the final solution for this movement, however ugly, if its program is to succeed. Harding’s attempt to hold an even strain falters here as she cannot resist venting her ultimate agenda when she writes it will be, “a painful world-shattering confrontation.” As postmoderns are now famous for doing, Harding’s pursuit is not truth, accuracy, nor even justice, but vengeance in intellectually sounding terminology against the West as capitalistic oppressor now that Marxism failed to assist, long apparent before 1989.

Particularly amusing are her socialized gender claims when she writes, “unfortunate resolutions” after a prehistoric “unitary world of meaning” overcame the absence of sexual/gender differences. Today, we’re so obsessed with gender difference, says Harding, “it’s impossible to imagine a world where people didn’t notice sex and gender difference, or that only females give birth to infants.” Just how many generations of sexual reproduction does Harding imagine it took for humans to figure this out? Zero dependence on biology affirms invisible boogeymen oppressing women in Harding’s agenda. Short of becoming a hermaphroditic species, seeking to de-gender society is like baying at the moon. One may as well protest the victimization of humans held down by gravity. Which Harding does, as Newton’s laws (merely descriptions of nature) constitute, she writes, “a rape manual.”

While Harding’s entire project comes under the heading of gender, the reader is left sensing this is a ruse, an attempt to form alliances, “Join in girls! It’s those nasty men again!” Harding is after more than valid gender equity in science. To which she responds, “Should feminism set such a low goal as mere equality with men?” She seeks more than a transformation of science from reason-based to feminist-based (whatever that is she can’t say). What she wants is a mighty social pogrom – a cleansing for psychological causes one can only speculate. Such abuses and the fact Harding is taken seriously by universities competing for her across the country, make clear why America ranks second from last in the industrialized world in math and science education, and with blinding precision reveals how scientific ignorance can produce the most dangerous of perceptions already a matter of history. The National Socialist party of Germany created “true” science “without Jewish influence” so they wrote, allowing for apparently quite rational exterminations. “Proletariat science” in agriculture, superior to “Western bourgeois science” left 40 million starved to death with Mao’s Great Leap Forward. Anything goes when reason – the basis of science - is abandoned. Female participation in science is greatly welcomed by men in the field, but transforming science and society by feminist theorists is preparation for a host of unsavory sins for which Harding can relish her share of the credit. And to think that in every Western university today are hoards of just such postmodern intellectuals as Sandra Harding.
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Reading Progress

Started Reading
December 1, 2007 – Finished Reading
September 12, 2015 – Shelved

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message 1: by Roggan (new)

Roggan This is by far the most brilliant review I've ever read. With such an ability to eloquently construe and identify given fallacies regarding feminist theory. I do hope your criticism get recognized, for the betterment of society. I doubt many will ever read this review, but I hope many adapt your critical standpoint towards feminist theory. It's truly frightening to see the recent unfolding occurrences at universities all over the western world. When all of a sudden free speech is no longer desirable and feelings are more important than variety of opinion. I'm only ventilating my apprehension for the future, but I do want to compliment you for your brilliant review.

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