Values, Practices, and Metaphysical Assumptions in the Biological Sciences

Authored by: Sara Weaver , Carla Fehr

The Routledge Companion to Feminist Philosophy

Print publication date:  May  2017
Online publication date:  May  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138795921
eBook ISBN: 9781315758152
Adobe ISBN:

10.4324/9781315758152-26

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Abstract

The biological sciences provide ample opportunity and motivation for feminist interventions. Today, some claims such as Dr. Clark’s nineteenth-century warning that education placed women at risk of “hysteria, and other derangements of the nervous system” seem ludicrous (Clark 2006 [1874]: 18). However, harmful biological accounts of sex/gender continue to be produced and reproduced in scientific and public spheres. Only forty years ago, E. O. Wilson argued that, for humans and non-humans alike, “It pays for males to be aggressive, hasty, fickle and undiscriminating,” but that “it is more profitable for females to be coy, to hold back until they can identify males with the best genes” (1978: 125). This sort of biological claim is still echoed in a range of contexts. Twenty-first century evolutionary psychology developed similar harmful accounts of human sex differences. For instance, Randy Thornhill and Craig Palmer (2001) suggest that human sexual assault is a facultative evolutionary reproductive strategy, and a primary way to prevent it is to educate men about their evolutionary drives. Harmful theories about inherent sex differences also continue to make their way to the center of public attention. In 2005, Harvard President Lawrence Summers argued that “issues of intrinsic aptitude” provide an important explanation of the dearth of women in high-powered science careers ( Harvard Crimson 2005). Regarding the serious problem of sexual harassment in the Canadian military, the Canadian Chief of Defense General Tom Lawson explained in 2015 that, “it’s because we’re biologically wired in a certain way and there will be those who believe it is a reasonable thing to press themselves and their desires on others” (CBC News 2015).

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