There is something wrong with the title, isn’t there? Empirical reality is objectively true regardless of the observer. The nationality, religion, or gender of the observer is irrelevant.
Academic radical feminism won’t produce anything useful in the real world. Literary critics, humanities professors and the like don’t prove their hypotheses; they just offer something provocative. Ideas are praised based on uniqueness, not on logic. They blame culture in the abstract with nonsensical phrases like “power hegemony” even though it’s scientifically invalid. How can this help women if it gives them a false impression of reality and they can’t apply these ideas to the real world?
And it’s these types of feminists who question and attack science too. That’s a little problematic.
This belief in academia is an anti-scientific screed in disguise. There are different forms – standpoint, radical, Neo-Marxist, radical, psychoanalytic, socialist, existentialist and postmodern, deconstructionalist, poststructuralist, postcolonialist or whatever the hell they call it these days. It’s junk science mixed with with an emotional appeal for “social justice.”
Richard Dawkins wrote a great review of Intellectual Impostures
The feminist ‘philosopher’ Luce Irigaray is another who is given whole chapter treatment by Sokal and Bricmont. In a passage reminiscent of a notorious feminist description of Newton’s Principia (a ‘rape manual’) Irigaray argues that E=mc2 is a ‘sexed equation’. Why? Because ‘it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us’ (my emphasis of what I am rapidly coming to learn is an in-word). Just as typical of the school of thought under examination is Irigaray’s thesis on fluid mechanics. Fluids, you see, have been unfairly neglected. ‘Masculine physics’ privileges rigid, solid things. Her American expositor Katherine Hayles made the mistake of re-expressing Irigaray’s thoughts in (comparatively) clear language. For once, we get a reasonably unobstructed look at the emperor and, yes, he has no clothes:
“The privileging of solid over fluid mechanics, and indeed the inability of science to deal with turbulent flow at all, she attributes to the association of fluidity with femininity. Whereas men have sex organs that protrude and become rigid, women have openings that leak menstrual blood and vaginal fluids. . . From this perspective it is no wonder that science has not been able to arrive at a successful model for turbulence. The problem of turbulent flow cannot be solved because the conceptions of fluids (and of women) have been formulated so as necessarily to leave unarticulated remainders.”
I mean really.
Oh my, here’s a full Luce Irigaray quote:
“Is e=mc2 a sexed equation? Perhaps it is. Let us make the hypothesis that it is insofar as it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us. What seems to me to indicate the possible sexed nature of the equation is not directly its uses by nuclear weapons, rather it is having privileged what goes the fastest.”
I really like the word privileges. It implies a causal connection when there is no connection at all. The word seems to pervade a lot of cultural debates.
The Rape Manual that Dawkins pointed out is even more fascinating.
Meet Sandra Harding in The Science Question in Feminism:
One phenomenon feminist historians have focused on is the rape and torture metaphors in the writings of Sir Francis Bacon and others (e.g. Machiavelli) enthusiastic about the new scientific method.
…But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have quite a different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides the interpretations of Newton’s mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to fruitful ways to apply his theory and suggests the appropriate methods of inquiry and the kind of metaphysics the new theory supports. But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton’s laws as “Newton’s rape manual” as it is to call them “Newton’s mechanics”?
Grant her premise.
She’s saying if Newton used a metaphor, why are other metaphors invalid?
Let’s test it. Pick up a pen. Drop it. It fell at 9.8m/s squared. Repeat as often as you wish. Newton is correct and Harding is wrong. Her gender metaphor is not an isomorphic relation to moving objects. It is inconsistent and completely useless.
Therefore, rape is accurate.
The attack on natural sciences is bizarre. Unfortunately, these same type of “scholars” have attacked social sciences with greater daring. Part of the reason why social sciences are considered “soft” is because they allow a higher tolerance for error and probability than the “hard” sciences. Probability is not a problem in the right hands.
Take International Relations. There are different ways of studying it – economics, history, applied mathematics (i.e. game theory). I have no issue with serious scholars who use game theory to test the effects on different genders in IR. I’d be interested in the results actually.
I haven’t seen it though. Feminists and Marxists in the IR field are virtually ignored by serious scholars. J. Ann Tickner wrote this article “You just don’t understand” that I still don’t understand. I’ll link to it in the interest of fairness.
This is her primary complaint:
“to scholars trained in positivist methodologies, feminist approaches may not seem like theory at all – merely criticism, devoid of any potential for fruitful research programs.”
Very well. It is up to her to prove this theory and the useful ways it can be used.
“The task for post-positivists, according to Lapid, is ‘neither the discovery of some ahistorical and universal scientific method nor the attainment of some objectively validated truth about world politics. It is rather a matter of promoting a more reflexive intellectual environment in which debate, criticism, and novelty can freely circulate.”
And this is why they’re not taken seriously. So this feminist viewpoint is not positivist, or sciencey or any of that hard stuff. Its novel and nice. Like in English Departments! So no, it’s not a theory. Words have meaning. She cannot redefine what a theory is.
There are guesses, conjecture, hypothesis and theory, rising in level of proof. A theory collects a body of facts and explains the relationship between them in a way that has been objectively verified and repeated. Even still it is incomplete and may be updated as need be.
What she offers as examples of feminist ‘theory’ does not rise to the level of conjecture since it contradicts and criticizes what we do know without offering an alternative hypothesis.
“While most feminists are committed to the emancipatory goal of achieving a more just society… the Kantian process of achieving this goal through Enlightenment knowledge is problematic because of feminist claims, discussed earlier, that this type of knowledge is gendered. Such assertions are particularly unsettling for scholars trained in positivist methodologies. [The Values] upon which western Enlightenment knowledge has been built and which they see as gendered, separate the mind (rationality) from the body (nature) and, therefore, diminish the legitimacy of women as “knowers”.”
The hell you say?
There’s an emotional appeal. She is fighting for a just society. Since I disagree, I must want an unjust society.
Beyond that, her argument is post-logical. How can knowledge of an empirical reality be gendered? Do White Men and Black Men experience gravity differently? No, empirical reality remains constant. Our understanding of reality is not based on our most superficial phenotypes. Gender, skin color, and eye color are irrelevant to understanding physics or economics.
We’re back to Harding’s idea of science. Drop a pen. It fell at a rate of 9.8m/s squared. Keep dropping, one day, perhaps, it will fall in a gendered way. I can’t take this seriously until it does.