Friday, June 6, 2014

What's a zine?

This post is probably overdue - but since this blog is really an extension of my scigrrrl zine - what exactly is a zine?

Zines are homemade booklets or little magazines that often include personal and political narratives on information that is not readily available in other formats (aka what magazines and newspapers are not talking about). Zines cover a diverse range of subjects; I am pretty certain you could find a zine on absolutely everything. 
A popular subset of zines are called “grrrl zines.” Grrrl zines gained their popularity in the early 1990s with popular zines like Jigsaw and Riot Grrrl (Piepmeier 2009: 2). The rewriting of “girl” for these zines was meant to “incorporate an angry growl” (Piepmeier 2009: 5). These zines are created by women and are used to create discourse (Piepmeier 2009: 2). As Piepmeier states in Girl Zines: making Media and Doing Feminism, “Grrrl zines offer idiosyncratic, surprising, yet savvy and complex responses to the late-twentieth-century incarnations of sexism, racism, and homophobia” (4). My intent is to create a grrrl zine along those very same lines: My zine will be a response to my experiences as a woman who is also a science student, to equity in the field, and to some studies that I find to be backwards. As homage to riotgrrrl/guerrella grrrll, I decided early on to call my zine series scigrrrl.

Thursday, June 5, 2014


I have been really bad about updating my blog site since I've gotten home. The first couple of weeks of work/real world life haven't left me with much time :( BUT - there will be new original material up here soon!

Friday, May 9, 2014

Objectivity and science: Critical analysis of how cultural biases are woven into studies

Feminist science studies is a particularly important field as invisible biases from popular culture are woven into hypotheses and research without notice. Let’s unpack this taking the scientific method into account. When we practice science we draw from observation to formulate our research agendas and hypotheses. We then conduct a repeatable experiment and interpret our data. As noted by the Association of American Colleges and Universities (1999) there are several points in which our own social, political and/or personal interests can affect the data we produce;
 Social, political or personal interests can affect:
   —how scientists set priorities for scientific investigation;

   —what questions are posed about a topic;

   —what explanatory framework or theory frames a scientific study;
   —what methods are used;

   —what data are considered valid and invalid;

   —how data are interpreted;

   —how data in one study are compared to data in other studies;
   —what conclusions are drawn from the analysis of scientific data; and
   —what recommendations are made for future studies.
                                                            (AAC&U, 1999:5)
By pointing out ways in which science can be influenced by societal agendas and ideals, feminist science scholars aim to address and deconstruct the belief that science is wholly objective.
Furthermore, the way we are taught to write science works to covers up any ideas that subjectivity exists within the field. When we write laboratory reports and manuscripts, we often include phrases like The findings suggest… and Increased ____ indicates _____. These phrases strip the context and ourselves out of our findings – effectively diminishing the idea that personal interests may be inadvertently sewn into the science we produce; they make it appear as if our findings are concrete and not just a possible explanation or interpretation that we made in our head (Hubbard 2001).“Feminists must insist that subjectivity and context cannot be stripped away, that they must be acknowledged if we want to use science as a way to understand nature and society and to use the knowledge we gain constructively” (Hubbard 2001: 158).
The theories that we create also work to influence our scientific observations and hypotheses. In other words, “Rather than experimental and observational data being the determinant of the course of science, theories determine what evidence is looked for and what evidence is taken seriously” (Wyer et al. 2001: xxi). For example, evolutionary theory shapes the questions we may ask in a study (ie. do men and women differ in their sexual selection), as well as what data we select to observe in the study and how we interpret that very data. 
We must also be critical of the language we use to produce science. Language is a tool we use to communicate our thoughts and ideas. While language is great, the terminology we have is limited. The language we use is constructed and shaped by cultural beliefs; in other words, we only have and make words for objects we need words for. As argued by Luce Irigaray, the terminology used in the sciences has been affected by dominant male voices in the field: the language used is not neutral but instead androcentric (Irigaray 1989). Scientific language codes the male as the assumed norm and embodies a “systematic gender bias” (Irigaray 1989; Wiley 2009). “From this point of view, science — the real game in town — is rhetoric, a series of efforts to persuade relevant social actors that one’s manufactured knowledge is a route to a desired form of very objective power” (Haraway 1988: 577).
To bring these ideas of how subjectivity is woven into science into context, let’s examine a few studies, which have used scientific methods to justify and “prove” what we now deem to be inaccurate sexist and racist beliefs. In the late 1800s, many “scientists” held the belief that women were not as intelligent as men – they also found that on average, the women they knew tended to reflect this belief. Paul Broca, used anthropometry, the measurement of the human body, to determine reasons for this ‘observation’ (Gould 1980).[1] Broca measured the weight of 292 male brains and 140 female brains, and found, on average that women’s brains tended to weigh less than men’s brains – as a result the smaller brain size must help explain why women are intellectually inferior beings (ibid).[2] Other scientists offered alternative explanations for his findings, like difference in stature. Broca responded to these critiques:
“We might ask if the small size of the female brain depends exclusively upon the small size of her body. Tiedemann has proposed this explanation. But we must not forget that women are, on the average, a little less intelligent than men, a difference, which we should not exaggerate but which is, nonetheless, real. We are therefore permitted to suppose that the relatively small size of the female brain depends in part upon her physical inferiority and in part upon her intellectual inferiority” (Gould 1980: 152).
As all of the data that Broca collected were objective and concrete, and his methods were flawless and scientific. Scientists of the time, like Gustave Le Bon, found it impossible to disagree with Broca’s conclusion:
“In the most intelligent races, as among the Parisians, there are a large number of women whose brains are closer in size to those of gorillas than to the most developed male brains. This inferiority is so obvious that no one can contest it for a moment; only its degree is worth discussion. All psychologists who have studied the intelligence of women, as well as poets and novelists, recognize today that they represent the most inferior forms of human evolution and that they are closer to children and savages than to an adult, civilized man. They excel in fickleness, inconstancy, absence of thought and logic, and incapacity to reason. Without doubt there exist some distinguished women, very superior to the average man, but they are as exceptional as the birth of any monstrosity, as, for example, of a gorilla with two heads; consequently, we may neglect them entirely” (Gould 1980:153).
When we reflect on Broca’s work today however, the subjectivity that was woven into his clearly scientific study is more evident: the assumptions that were made in formulating his hypotheses and research question, as well as his interpretations of the data. Today, this research is dismissed – we know that brain size is not correlated to intelligence (after all, to accept this would mean that were are inferior to elephants and other large animals); furthermore, we know that Broca’s observation of women’s inferior abilities were not biological, but instead attributed to restricted education and gender roles.

[1] Similar studies and observations were made between white men and men of color at the time. And of course, white men used science to “prove” that they were also superior to men of color to justify excluding them from positions of power in society.
[2] Today, we know that women’s brains on average do tend to be smaller than males, however we also know that women’s brains are denser than male’s brains (interestingly, no one has posited that the density of brains is correlated to intellectual superiority….).

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Illuminating an underwritten history of women in the sciences: Obstacles and achievements

              Women have been practicing science longer than science as we know it has even existed. While evidence of women in science dates back to 4000 BCE (through carvings of female physicians), the first documented woman in science – Merit Ptah – is from 2700 BCE Ancient Egypt (Giese 2009). Merit Ptah was also the first documented physician (either male or female) (ibid). En Hedu’anna was another early documented women in science from 2350 BCE Babylon; Hedu’anna was a priestess who helped organize the very first calendar based on lunar cycles (Bibalex 2007). In these early days of science, the inclusion of these women was not a rarity, rather it was common; for example, in Ancient Egypt, many women attended coeducational medical schools and all-female chemistry schools (Giese 2009). 
            In 600 BCE, the number of women (and men) in science increased drastically, in part due to the rise of Greek science (ibid). Women were seen as men’s equals in many early Ancient Greek communities. For example, Theano, the wife of Pythagoras, was a prominent philosopher (and early scientist) independent of her husband - in addition to creating many works of her own, she also led Pythagoras’ school (ibid). Plato also believed that women were able to contribute to the field, and mentored women as well as men (ibid).
Somewhere between the time of Plato and Aristotle, women began being excluded from not only practicing science, but from studying science. This shift toward exclusion began when new perspectives on women began to be more predominant. Aristotle, unlike his mentor - Plato, strongly believed that women were intellectually inferior to men and incapable of rational thought, thus science (WST, xxii).[JG1]  With Aristotle’s, and other powerful men’s, influence, women began to be viewed as ‘unfit’ for the sciences and excluded from higher education. Despite this, several Ancient Greek women still managed to both study and practice science.
Agnodice, a woman from late 4th century BCE Athens, dressed as a man in order to bypass laws preventing women from studying medicine (Giese 2009; Bibalex 2007). Agnodice, who revealed her gender identity to her patients, was the most popular physician in Athens. Male physicians, who were losing their clients to her, protested that she no longer be allowed to practice due as her status as a woman (Bibalex 2007; Giese 2009). However, their plan backfired and the law was changed to allow females to become physicians and treat female patients (the law however, still prohibited women from treating male patients) (Giese 2009). While the law improved, it still prohibited women from treating male patients (note: other areas of Europe, like Italy, women were allowed to treat both sexes) (Bibalex 2007, Giese 2009).
While most women were restricted from the higher education, like Agnodice, some -with fathers or husbands in the field were allowed to participate in scientific practices. One example is Hypatia of Alexandria (370-415), who studied mathematics, astronomy, and astrology beneath her father (Giese 2009; Zielinski 2010). Her studies enabled her to later become a professor and an early inventor (she invented to plane astrolabe, a water distilling apparatus, and a hydrometer) (Giese 2009). Hypatia’s story shows that the major obstacle of women during this time was not their intellect, but instead, limited access to higher education.
            In the Middle Ages, women were able to gain access to higher educational by joining a convent (WST xxii; Giese 2009). [JG2]  One of these women was Hildegard of Bingen, who lived from 1098 to 1179 (Bibalex 2007; Giese 2009). Sister Hildegard of Bingen, whose works are still largely intact, was a multi-dimensional researcher who contributed to medicine, botany, zoology, geology, theology, the arts, and many other fields (ibid). Many other nuns made significant contributions during this time as well (WST intro). [JG3] 
Women who did not enter a convent, like Jocoba Felicie, resorted to the repeated the pattern of disguising their gender in order to gain access to higher education. Jacoba Felicie’s disguised education allowed her to develop the skills and knowledge needed to practice medicine. Felicie used her skills to finding cures for patients that other physicians could not, and was regarded as one of the best physicians in Paris (Bibalex 2007). When Felicie’s gender was revealed, her profound skills led to outrage, as many thought it was preposterous that a woman could be better at practicing medicine than a man – this outrage led to Felicie being banned from ever practicing medicine again (ibid). . I cannot help but wonder how many scientific advancements went undiscovered due to the exclusion of such women.
Women in Italy during the Middle Ages, unlike other areas, were allowed entrance to medical school, and thus were able to practice medical science (Bellucci 2005). Tortula, who lived in Italy during the 11th century, was one of these women. Trotula of Solerno (also known as Tortula) was the first gynecologist and obstetrician (Bellucci 2005; Bibalex 2007; Giese 2009). Throughout her career, she worked to publish a series of medical texts on women’s health called Trolula Major – the text included information on how to dull labor pains using opioids, how to complete an caesarian section operation, and menstruation (Bellucii 2005). Trotula of Solerno also was the first to believe men, and not just women, could have defective reproductive organs that would cause them to be infertile (believe it or not, this was a radical idea of the time!) (ibid). By the mid-1500, when the exclusion of women from higher education spread to Italy however, and Trotula’s story was erased and credited to a man (her gender identity has only recently been uncovered, and is still debated by some) (ibid). The way that women’s (like Trotula’s) histories and contributions are re-written has contributed to the current idea that women only began practicing science in the early 1900s.
During the Renaissance period, the number of women in science decreased significantly (Giese 2007). While there were many women physicians, most of them lost their right to practice medicine solely because another woman trained them. Furthermore, any woman who claimed to be knowledgeable (in not only medicine, but in science in general) was dismissed or executed for suspicion of practicing witchcraft (ibid). As noted by Giese (2009): “the number of people (nearly all of whom were female) executed for witchcraft between 1400 and 1700 have ranged from 100,000 to 9,000,000.” Men’s newfound ability to excuse a woman of witchcraft, not only scared women from pursuing science and eliminated most of who were in science, but also allowed men to stand at the forefront of science.
Although there was a sharp decline in women in science during the Renaissance, in the 17th and 18th century, women reentered the field (under much more restricted guidelines of course). Lectures and science texts began to cater to women interested in the sciences, however only in particular branches of science, like botany, that were deemed more feminine (Giese 2009). With botany being an ‘acceptable’ science for women, Jane Colden Farquahar was able to pursue study over 300 plants and discover the gardenia (ibid). However, without the support of family members, women’s independent participation in the sciences was still limited.
Many women who were not able to pursue independent research began to practice science as their husbands’ research assistants. Antoine Lavoisier (regarded as the “Father of Modern Chemistry”), for example, conducted many of his experiments with the aid of his wife, Marie (ibid). Marie, and many other women in similar positions, served as his illustrator, research assistant, translator, and most likely, partner. Despite their likely research idea contributions, women in Marie’s position were never given any credit for their work; instead, many of their contributions were attributed to their male counterparts (ibid).
More elite women, who had access to science tutors and higher education, practiced physical and chemical sciences independently of a male figure. For example, Queen Christina of Sweden (1626-1689) and Margaret Cavendish, the duchess of Newcastle (1623-1673), who were both trained by Descartes, produced their own scientific work (the latter of the two wrote 14 books on atomic physics, laying a foundation for the field) (WST xxii). [JG4] Emilie du Châtelet (1706-1749) also made profound contributions of her own – Châtelet replicated Newton’s experiments (giving them validity) and interpreted the theories of Leibnitz (WST xxii[JG5] ; Ferreira 2014). Another woman who pursued her own scientific research is Caroline Herschel, who discovered 14 nebulae and 8 comets (ibid). Despite these women’s fantastic achievements, they are often overlooked in mainstream science history texts.
            Not only are these women’s achievements discounted in our current textbooks, influential men of their time ignored and ridiculed these women’s presence in science. Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher of the time wrote, that women like Emilie du Châtelet, “might as well have a beard” (as cited by WST xxiii[JG6] ). Not only does this comment work to discount her contributions, it also strips Châtelet of her femininity, and in effect, causes her to be viewed as an unproductive citizen (women’s only roles were as a wife and mother at the time). Other men scorned educated women - Rousseau, a famous scientist and philosopher, noted: “A female wit is a scourge to her husband, her children, her friends, her servants, to everybody. From the lofty height of her genius, she scorns every womanly duty, and she is always trying to make a man of herself” (as cited by WST xxiii[JG7] ). Along this same lines, others, like Francis Bacon, saw women, in general, “as an impediment to the achievements of men and believed that women should be avoided altogether” (WST xxii).[JG8]  This heavily ingrained thought that women were unfit for science (or really any intellectual endeavor) increased the number of obstacles hopeful women in science faced, and further worked to exclude them from elite science organizations.
            In the 19th century, women gained access to higher education. The first of the women’s colleges (Georgia female College) was established in 1836 (200 years after the first men’s college – Harvard), with others following in suit (Giese 2009). With higher levels of certification, more women were able to enter the field. Women’s colleges also increased the number of women in the field by employing female scientists to teach. Teaching positions enabled those, like astronomer Maria Mitchell, to do independent research of their own (ibid).
While employment at women’s colleges increased the number of women producing their own scientific research, their employment was contingent on their single marital status (ibid). Harriet Brooks, who completed profound research on radioactivity, fell victim to this regulation – when she became engaged she was forced to resign from the physics department at Barnard College as they believed that she, as a married woman, should “dignify her home-making into a profession, and not assume that she can carry on two full professions at a time" (Rossiter 1982: 16 as cited by Giese 2009).  Women were still expected to put their societal role as a mother and housewife above their career ambitions. With these restricting guidelines, and distaste for marital gender roles, women like Rita Levi-Montalcini decided not to marry, and instead to pursue research.
Marie Curie, as discussed in the next chapter of this paper, was one of the few women who managed to pursue research during this period and also have a family. Curie was only able to do so with the aid of her progressive husband and supportive father-in-law, who took on the role of a primary caregiver for their children while Curie spent her time in the laboratory. Curie’s daughter, Irene Joliot-Curie, became interested in science as a result of her mother’s achievements and later, also won a Nobel Prize for scientific research (McGrayne 1993). The Curie women exemplify how while resources to become incredible scientists were available, without support becoming a female scientist was not an easy feat.
Women who had gained access to scientific training and married often joined their husband’s laboratories. Poor women also worked in (underpaid) technicians and assistant positions to help supplement their husband’s income (Wiley 2009). While this was still a great stride toward the inclusion of women in science, women during this period predominantly served as “invisible assistants” rarely receiving any credit for the work they produced, even if the research ideas were theirs (WST xxii). [JG9]   While education proved to be a step toward the inclusion of women in the sciences, it came with “a pattern of segregated employment and underrecognition” (Rossiter 1982: xviii as cited by Wiley 2009).
In the 18th and 19th century, men began to use science itself to justify women’s exclusion (and circumvent the public fear that women would “become masculinized and expect to be included in men’s activities” as result of their entrance in a masculine domain) from science (WST p 1). [JG10] In the late 1800s, scientists tried to claim that the increase in women’s intellect was related to the decrease in the health of upper-middle-class white women (ibid). Education was viewed as a strain on their personal wellbeing, especially as women were still seen as having limited intellectual capacities (ibid). They even went as far to claim that education was requiring women to increase blood flow to the brain and thus away from their reproductive organs – threatening women’s primary role in society to reproduce (ibid). Pierre Paul Broca, also conducted ‘objective’ research that claimed women were unfit for the sciences because their intellect was less than that of men’s (a study I will pull apart in my fourth chapter) (Gould)[JG11] .  In this way, men “used their theories of women’s innate frailty to disqualify the girls and women of their own race and class who would have been competing with them for education and professional status” (Hubbard in WST p 155) [JG12] 
            While ‘science’ began to exclude women from science, during the industrial revolution, and especially during war periods, demand for labor increased women’s participation in the sciences. During the industrial revolution, poor white and black women began working in laboratories to help provide for their families. Laboratories hired women in favor of men for these positions as they were a cheaper source of labor. During periods of war, when all the men were abroad, women began working in more male-typical positions. These women, to much avail of the previously mentioned ‘scientists,’ demonstrated that they were just as capable as the men who jobs they filled. Women were then able to establish themselves in high-wage earning jobs in the chemical and automotive industry (Hubbard in WST)[JG13] . When the men returned from the war, and chemicals were shown to have reproductively damaging effects, women in these positions were forced to either continue working and prove they were sterile, or leave their position (ibid). Although the chemical effect was also damaging to men’s sperm, they were not forced to prove infertility to keep their jobs (ibid). In addition the women in nursing and other feminine coded fields were not forced with the same decision even though they were still exposed to chemicals and radiation that could potentially harm a fetus (ibid). As Ruth Hubbard notes: “The ideology of woman’s nature that is invoked at these times would have us believe that a woman’s capacity to become pregnant leaves her always physically disabled by comparison to men” (Hubbard in WST p 155[JG14] ). As such, potential pregnancy now worked to exclude women from the sciences.  
In the 1950s, women’s participation in the sciences declined as the ideal social role of women in society changed (Wiley 2009). These were the years of the Betty Friedan’s “Feminine Mystique” and housewife depression, where ‘good’ women married and worked to satisfy their husbands’ and children’s (and not their own) needs. These societal images of the housewife (and the lack of representation of women in the sciences) also affected how private funding was allocated – spoiler alert, it was not used towards women’s research (Giese 2009).
The few women who managed to enter professional science realm however, were making gigantic strides. Chien-Shiung Wu was one of these women, and was the first woman elected president of the American Physical Society. In addition, Wu became the 7th women to enter the National academy of sciences in 1958  (Giese 2009). While women like Wu (and Rosalind Franklin, Jocelyn Bell Burnell – just to mention a few more) were becoming recognized in the field, they were often overlooked when awards were decided, or not granted membership to elite scientific communities (McGrayne 1999).
Legislation, including the Title IX education amendments of 1972 and equal pay act of 1963, were instrumental in increasing the number of women in the sciences (Rossiter 1995 as cited by Wiley 2009).  Since, women have graduated with more than 50% of the awarded undergraduate science degrees and in 2006, 30% of Ph.D.’s were granted to women (Wiley 2009). And now, many more women have pursued careers in the sciences (although requires quite a bit of leaning in to do so). 
The women highlighted in this history show how overt and covert forms sexism have excluded women from the sciences. The biggest advancement for women in the sciences, as well as other professions, has been access to education. When women began to be trained in the sciences, many began practicing science while teaching. Positions for women however, were very limited at the time (either worked as an assistant or at a woman’s college) and when a woman became married, she was forced to resign. Many women did not have the support needed from their families to pursue professional scientific careers or were able to gain access to funding. When the industrial revolution came about, women filled entry-level science positions to supplement their family income, however were not promoted. During the war period, women filled more male-typical jobs, however when the men returned, were expected to return to their natural roles. While few women were escalated to the level of their male peers in the sciences, their work was more often than not misattributed to male colleagues. While it is easy to believe these forms of sex-based discrimination, all lay in the past, it is unfortunately not our present reality.