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This chapter explores some of the ways in which particular ideologies were used to support, or to challenge, the prevailing view that women are inferior to men, an argument used to justify the exclusion of women from higher education until only about a hundred years ago. Change and improvement do not rest on rational argument alone. People are free to accept, reject, or simply ignore rational arguments, especially if they are already in positions of power and have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. It is also possible for two rational arguments to have contradictory conclusions. In these cases, the deciding factor comes down to whether or not the premises of the arguments are true, and that in its turn is sometimes a very complicated and contentious matter. Examination of the premises of an argument can sometimes be blocked by prejudice and bias, but confusion over them can also be the result of people having different yet equally valuable points of view. Thus, there is more to convincing people to adopt a point of view than simply presenting a rational argument. For Chapte r 3 R The Classic Arguments and Debates 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 35 16/11/09 6:19 PM 36 THE BOLD AND THE BRAVE example, we know that women did not win the right to vote by the sudden discovery and presentation of rational arguments alone. In fact, as we saw in Chapter 1, arguments for women’s higher education and equal participation in society have been around since the 4th century BCE. At times, the women’s movement was tied to social movements, such as the Civil War and the abolition of slavery in the United States, the emancipation of the lower classes in Britain, or the revolutions in Russia. These were times when ideas and social values were changing rapidly, not just as the result of rational arguments but also under the influence of changing sentiment, new experiences, and the undying perseverance of those committed to causes. Proponents of women’s rights in North America and Europe worked tirelessly—lecturing, writing, holding conferences, and staging protests—in order to mobilize and persuade men and women alike that women ought to have equal rights with men. We can say, then, that, while the ability to argue and to counterargue plays a role in mobilizing and persuading people, it is just one tool among many. Coupling this understanding with the fact that women’s advances have been cyclical challenges the idea that misogynist views are simply “old-fashioned,” and that it is a mark of our “progress” that we no longer, or to a lesser degree, treat women as second-class citizens, or as not being citizens at all. It is the belief in this myth that leads many to excuse misogynistic views as simply the products of a past era. Perhaps more importantly, belief in this myth also leads many to assume the converse: namely, that feminism is no longer needed and the gains that women have made are part of a natural continuum of progress that somehow takes care of itself. As Londa Schiebinger (1999, p. 32) has aptly put it, History dispels the myth of inevitable progress in respect to women in science. There is a sense that nature takes its course—that, given time, things right themselves. 0014_Frize_5x8_B_v09_16_11_2009.indd 36 16/11/09 6:19 PM The Classic Arguments and Debates 37 The history of women in science, however, has not been characterized by a march of progress, but by cycles of advancement and retrenchment. Women’s situation has changed along with social conditions and climates of opinion. Belief in this myth is much more powerful and insidious than most people realize. It leads to a tendency to assume that, once gains have been won, they cannot be lost, and also to the assumption that new methods and forms of resistance to women’s full participation in society, whether conscious or unconscious, cannot crop up. In fact, today many young people, men and women alike, believe that gender equality has been achieved, and that there are no more gender issues to be concerned about. Becoming familiar with the kinds of arguments that have been used to support the subjugation of women helps in recognizing and categorizing such arguments when they re-emerge in contemporary guise. As we have seen, there have been recurring arguments, or sometimes just pseudo-arguments, supporting the view that women should not be given equal rights and opportunities...


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