The male and female structure.

The Sexual Revolution Reinevented the Social Limitations of Science


Western theory has been predominantly accepted as the basis of knowledge in the modern world. Beginning with Aristotle and growing from the enlightenment period, scientific knowledge has characterized humans and their relation to their environment. Philosophers, sociologists, and scientists have all contributed to the expansion of our universe and the human understanding within it. Historically, scientific theories and theological principles have provided rationales for asserting the inferiority of women in nature and thus women as free thinkers.

Women in Science, According to Science

The School of Athens.
This is an infamous depiction of famous philosophers such as Plato and Socrates in an open discussion forum. There are no women shown in this image of all the early influential thinkers.

The basis of these assertions are directed at women’s supposed emotional and irrational behaviors. These justifications have universally operated to exclude women from scientific and religious history. Western studies in both science and religion have sought to define women’s nature, explain their conduct, and dictate their roles. In the 19th and 20thcenturies, women scholars began to look at the ways in which political and social influence has determined the relationship between women and scientific and theological knowledge.

The three major aspects of gender and science that have attracted feminist attention are the study of women by science, the role of women in science, and the gendered nature of science itself, which has traditionally excluded women and their experiences in scientific development. A leading feminist thinker, Donna Haraway, suggested in her work Simians, Cyborgs, and Women to contest the naturalization of sexual difference”. She argues that a wide range of supposed differences between the sexes have been used to support different attitudes and thus treatment of the sexes in social and political concepts. This exploitation begins with the consideration of science as a subjective field of thought and the exemption of women as important contributors.

Since ancient times, Western culture has viewed women as inferior to men, offering a justification of this view that has typically been religious, philosophical, or scientific in nature. Aristotle’s work (384-322 B.C.) is an important introduction to the deeply engrained difference between the sexes. His philosophy is an incredibly important basis for modern thought, a catalyst for the future thinkers of our modern world. Aristotle believed that biology was destiny and defined a female as a “mutilated male”. He developed a biological and philosophical theory placing the male traits as being superior to females and that no amount of education could equalize women’s inherent inferiority.

The Implications and effects of Genesis

Adam and Eve in Genesis
Adam and Eve were the first male and female relationship in the Bible. Eve was created by Adam and ate the forbidden fruit of knowledge that brought sin into the world.

The Hebrew understanding of the Bible led to similar attitudes towards women and conclusions of Aristotle. Their justification was based on religious premises rather than philosophical reasoning. Genesis, the beginning, and the foundation of human existence in scripture begins with the infamous story of Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve lived in the garden of Eden, created by God and for all man and creatures. All things were for man except the forbidden fruit of knowledge hanging from a tree. The story goes that Eve was tempted by a snake and ate the fruit, also giving a bite to Adam. When God found out about this treason, he vanished them from the garden and sin came into the world. The interpretation of this story, placed women as being of a weaker mind. Susceptible to deception and not to be fully trusted. Because a woman’s mind and spirit were understood as weak, the religious tradition therefore decided that women require protection and direction from men.

The Scientific Revolution catalysed the sexual revolution

A male and female skeleton model.
This is a link to a 3D depiction of the similarities and differences between the male and female body and bone structure.

The scientific revolution, a period of incredible growth in insight, did nothing to overcome the traditional views of gender and its relationship with science. Feminists studying the period now note the emphasis of sexual male dominance over females. Rather, the scientific revolution actually increased the importance of biology and thus the sociopolitical inferiority of women by placing value on the differences in the physical development of males and females. This authority in the sciences began new theories that women were biologically unsuited for political life. This conclusion comes from the notion that, because women were different physically and mentally, their roles were only intended for childbearing. This view can be seen in political philosophies of the time ranging from the American Constitution to the Napleonic Code. 

Meanwhile, medical writers, through modern physiology, began to insist that women are not just different in respect to their genital organs but also in bone structure. These physical differences concluded that man and woman were additionally different in mind and character development. 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant argued that women rely on emotional senses and lack the moral reasoning that men have. Therefore, if the political sphere was to be rationally and scientifically constructed, women must be excluded.

New biological studies in the 19th century were interpreted to fuel these judgements. Charles Darwin’s evolutionary theory, published in 1859, corresponded with these earlier ideas of female inferiority. Darwin theorized on the descent of man and the evolutionary processes that allowed mankind to develop as it has. The differences between males and females’ physical development were viewed as indicators that the female was not as fully evolved as the male. This theory of the mental and physical inability of women to excel beyond males, is a major reason that women have historically been excluded from science and medical fields of thought.

The Significance of Twentieth Century Sociology

The concept of the self has been subject to significant variation over time. People in various geographical locations will refer to themselves in relation to individual characteristics or who they are in relationships with others; how we understand who we are varies by culture. Sociological theory has been critiqued for decades for its exclusion of women and people of color from the classical canon. Sex was first addressed in social theory during the 19th and 20th centuries because there was a new focus on individuals and self. Theorists began to study how self-effect, individual effects, collective identity, and characteristics will affect a person in a community.  During the latter 19th and early 20th centuries, women started to address their theories of sociological theory relating to their opportunities and access to materials.

Embedded scientific claims about the mental and physical inability of women to excel beyond their primary maternal instincts have been a major cause of women being excluded from science, social theory, and medicine. This stigma is therefore the reason that women have not made an equal contribution to the history of science. Women’s traditional absence from the history of science is a defining example of the traditional exclusion of women in all aspects of social life. Until recently, in the past two decades, women have systematically been eliminated from the institutions of science and medicine, and their individual achievements have rarely been taken seriously. The first feminist movement of the late nineteenth century, feminist historians have recovered women’s contributions to science and called to attention the major achievements that have been uncovered by female thinkers.

The First Feminist Movement

The First Feminist Wave.
This image depicts women marching and uniting for their rights.

Before the 19th and 20th centuries, social thought was dominated by white males. Sociological theory has been critiqued for decades for its exclusion of any group other than the white male majority. Women and people of color who were educated usually did not have the opportunity to have access to theory, and in addition, were not usually allowed to be professionals. Women were often critiqued in their writing about sociological theory and that their topics were too narrow. Critics claimed that women talking about women or minorities talking about minorities were too specific. However, white men talking about white people was no less narrow. The difference was that white men would try to generalize to talk about all aspects of the community, but women and minorities gave a new perspective to these parts of society.

Women’s contribution to the Classical Movement

Women made many contributions to the classical project. Their work was often treated as derivative of the work of men or as a reform, rather than theory in its own right. The centrality of gender was also a major issue in their work. The quest to denaturalize gender inequality was treated as radical. A prominent woman writer at this time was Harriett Martineau. Her view was that culture should be studied systematically and have a certain amount of time to actually understand it. Looking at culture, one can understand human diversity and difference. Therefore, circumstances create variety. This was an important idea because it focuses on how individuals are affected depending on who they are and their situations.

Martineau was a materialist, who believed environments influence circumstances and that material matters in the way that cultures develop. People will judge each other less if they understand others’ circumstances. Because of this idea, she argues that the situation women are in should be viewed through circumstances. Jane Addams was another prominent women reformer during the 19th century. She focused on social morality, which society needs to change circumstances. She wrote that as long as people are focused on themselves, they fail to address an important part of morality. Addams wanted to change society so the well-being of others can be addressed, and there should be a greater understanding of diversity, so it is easier to adapt to change in society.

The Evolution of sex-oriented Expectation

A core tenet of the lack of attention to classical theoretical works among women, was that so much of their work dealt with issues of gender. Gilman, writing at this time, focused on the economic dependency of women on men. She used an evolutionary analysis of species and what nature requires between males and females. Her concern was understanding the source of women’s economic dependence on males. She saw the shift to sex as a means of subsistence for women, and that all women end up being tied to sex for material substance. She saw that this varied in different systems because, in other species such as spiders and bees, women are not dependent on men and, therefore, this phenomenon must be social and not biological. Gilman argues that the relationship between men and women is not about work, but what has developed is that males have expectations of sex and women will give that to them for material gain.

The Mother Earth Problem

Mother Earth.
Gaia is a personified description of nature as a mother of the earth.

The 16th and 17th century scientific revolution and enlightenment periods applied the view of sexual politics by combining new theories to mother nature. The labeling of earth as “mother” comes from ancient Greek mythology. The earliest text reference to mother earth is dated to the 13th century BCE, describing Gaia, a physical personification of nature. The term mother earth has been exploited by the male theory of dominant nature. The natural philosopher saw himself as having the ability and thus justification to enslave and exploit her due to the ongoing understanding that the female energy is weaker. This view increased the emphasis on the ability to control, manipulate, and exploit for the benefit of mankind.Just like people of the time thought that the earth was the center of the universe, men theorized a similarly androcentric conclusion to humanity: men were the centrally dominant creation.

The Sexual Attitude

Feminists interpreting this framework believe this sexist attitude is a result of ideological distortion that has historically placed science as a subjective field. In contrast, science should be an objective field of method, relying on knowledge and motivated by understanding. The sexual revolution was promoted in the social sciences, where feminists made clear the cultural biases that have been taken for granted in scientific studies. The conclusion of this awareness is that science is not a privileged position, and all thinking minds have value-free knowledge that can be established and made useful.

These theorists were all important because they highlighted aspects of society that had not been addressed previously. Sociological theory had been written by white men and for white men before these theorists. New ideas on self, highlighted the importance of image and physical appearance. These theorists addressed extrinsic context and how theory relates to it. Sexism is now another part of how social theory looks at society and the effects it has on specific groups. This was important because women’s and minority issues had not been focused on before the 19th and 20thcentury, in sociological theory.


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