Suggesting science research is too male dominated, this fall the University of Wisconsin-Madison will roll out a post-doctorate “feminist biology” program to counter the alleged sexism and get out from under “male, white, straight” viewpoints, organizers say.
The program will be under the school’s Department of Gender and Women’s Studies, rather than the biology department, as it strives to “uncover and reverse gender bias in biology,” the university states on its website.
Janet Hyde, director of the campus Center for Research on Gender & Women, said feminist biology “is raising new questions and suggesting novel solutions,” and described the new doctorate program as “the first in the nation – and probably the world.”
However, feminism and progressive science research have often crossed paths.
For example, a few years ago a female Duke University professor named a new fern genus she described as bisexual after popstar Lady Gaga, and said the different methods plants reproduce celebrate homosexuality in humans – a concept traced to the book “Evolution’s Rainbow” which detailed animals that show “odd behavior, homosexuality, or … human quirks.”
Feminist biology work also runs in the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s past.
The late Dr. Ruth Bleier, a UW-Madison alumnus, physician and neuroscientist, is described as a founder of feminist biology who in 1984 wrote the book: “Science and Gender: A Critique of Biology and Its Theories on Women.”
“Feminist analysis in science has already revealed and challenged scientific errors resulting from gender bias on the part of scientists, including ways in which observer bias distorted our understanding of primate behavior,” Hyde said on the university’s website.
But this effort to push progressive science and feminist outlooks on research has met with criticism.
In an episode of The Factual Feminist, a weekly vlog by Christina Hoff Sommers through the conservative American Enterprise Institute, Sommers expressed skepticism about the University of Wisconsin-Madison program.
“Women are hardly ignored in biology. In fact, they have far surpassed men in earning biology degrees,” Sommers said.
She described the ways in which feminists have blown so-called sexist scientific discoveries out of proportion in the past, such as feminist scholar Catharine MacKinnon who argued that “the male scientific approach was similar to that of a rapist who would take joy in violating Mother Nature and penetrating her secrets.”
“Make no mistake,” Sommers said, “this new program is not about getting more women into the field. It’s about promoting women with the right worldview.”
She added: “Memo to the women at the University of Wisconsin… we need good biologists, not agenda-driven politicized scientists.”
Nevertheless, the program is set to commence thanks in part to funding by the estate of Gertraude Wittig, who earned her doctorate in zoology and botany and worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture researching insect pathology and electron microscopy.
The program’s first post-doctoral fellow, Caroline VanSickle, begins her fellowship in September, when the program opens. VanSickle intends to continue her research on female human anatomy by exploring evolution in pelvis shapes and childbirth anatomy, according to the campus website.
“We aren’t doing science well if we ignore the ideas and research of people who aren’t male, white, straight, or rich,” VanSickle told Campus Reform,which first reported on the program. “Feminist science seeks to improve our understanding of the world by including people with different viewpoints. A more inclusive science means an opportunity to make new discoveries.”
College Fix contributor Claire E. Healey is a recent Grove City College graduate.
IMAGE: Michael Porter / Flickr