- Feminism in Twentieth-Century Science, Technology, and Medicine
Drawn from a 1998 conference at Princeton University sponsored by the History of Science Society's Women's Caucus, this collection seeks to assess the contributions that feminists as scholars and activists have made to science, medicine, and technology. With a focus on academics and professionals, the authors, both historians and practicing scientists, are careful to point to the many "tools of gender analysis," which they argue must be taken up by men as well as women so that we are not left with a segregated "science with pink ribbons" (p. 64).
Many of these case studies are provocative and thoughtful. In archeology, Alison Wylie argues that the 1970s feminist movement "disrupted settling assumptions" (p. 27) and forced practitioners to reconceive domestic work as productive labor that was a crucial part of the earliest human economies. Ideas like plants that "domesticated themselves" (p. 34) and the widely popularized "Drudge on the Hide" no longer made sense in explaining social structure or decision making. Primatologists, Linda Marie Fedigan shows, appropriated many of the tools of feminist analysis but resisted and continue to resist the appellation. Their current view of female primates as active strategists is an arresting counterpoint to Darwin's 1871 claim that several species of primates lived in "harems." In the history of developmental biology, Scott Gilbert and Karen Rader argue, certain specialties like embryology were "left to women," who may have preferred to do research on a slower seasonal timetable as a way of fitting in a career with family and home [End Page 495] responsibilities. The limited influence of feminism in shaping research priorities in this field, however, is made clear by the fact that a concerted search for ovary-forming genes did not begin until the 1990s. Ruth Schwartz Cowan tells a wonderfully nuanced story of the diffusion of prenatal diagnostic technologies, which became a standard part of medical care only with the open availability of abortion and the demands of pregnant women but have now led to consumerist expectations that their use can ensure a "perfect baby."
As Evelyn Fox Keller, Carroll Pursell, Ruth Oldenziel, and Evelynn Hammonds demonstrate, feminist activists inside and outside academic science have forced practitioners to rethink the values of science and the notion that scientific authority is and has been gender-neutral. Thus, the design of a bridge but not a kitchen device was seen as "real" technology; research into female contraception but not male contraception "real" science; white gay men but not African-American women "real" HIV/AIDS patients. Readers may yearn for more stories and individuals to humanize these theoretical insights. There is little popular culture here and no discussion of high school science teaching or the activists who visit (or try to visit) such schools from Planned Parenthood, gay and lesbian health collectives, and other groups with distinctive messages about the practices and agendas of scientists. The editors have left out the physical sciences arguing that "it has not been shown that feminism has deeply touched the field" (p. 8). I think feminism has touched every part of the professional world, but the stories are often less uplifting than horrific. But we still need to keep telling them.