In the latter half of the 20th century, feminists have begun to critique, analyze and ultimately restructure the role of women within the world of science. Feminists are now asking: is science inherently sexist?
Although gender hierarchy within the field has led to a substantial lack of recognition, many contributions made by women have been extremely invaluable and highly influential. Feminist historians are attempting to bring such women and their achievements to light.
Looking back, women scientists have had a number of struggles – from acceptance as members in their field to their objectification as specimens of study. To begin, few women had the opportunity to attend universities to receive formal education and yet those who had that privilege were still often excluded. One such example was Rosalind Franklin, a PhD graduate known for creating clear and visible DNA x-rays. Her contribution was immense and helped advance many other studies. Nevertheless, her work remained under-respected and inadequately acknowledged by her male science peers.
In terms of women as scientific specimens, many sexist hypotheses were borne out of theories that were based on differentiations between gender intellect and physicality. While women were more prone to mental or physical illnesses that triggered irrational, emotionally-based behavior, these same studies deemed men stronger and more intelligent. Some of the famous contributors to such theories include Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Jean-Martin Charcot and T.H. Huxley. It has been argued that such theories kept women in the role of house-wives and domestic laborers rather than participants of cultural institutions.
It could safely be said that most feminists would agree that science is fundamentally sexist to at least some degree, whether it is seen an inherent quality of science or something that has been fostered as a result of being a male-dominated practice. What feminists don’t agree on, however, is how women should advance in the direction of science: do we adhere to traditional practices and infuse a feminist influence or do we attempt to develop an entirely new science altogether?