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Not Just Religion, Science Needs To Take Its Fair Share Of The Blame For Gender Discrimination Too!

Posted: October 20, 2016
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Those who put all blame for gender discrimination on religion forget to take into account the many ways science can be anti-women too. A balanced view. 

A recent encounter in a group of progressive minded people has got me thinking. A few members there keep highlighting religion’s treatment of women, particularly in Islam (‘the book‘), as an example of how religion is anti-science, anti-women and, ergo, that only science is pro-women.

I am usually suspicious when men speak on behalf of women, because almost always they use women as tools for framing their own agenda which is often self-serving and is rarely genuinely born out of concern for women. Don’t get me wrong, many men can be sincere. But you can almost immediately spot the difference.

I argued that the field of science, in practice, is anti-women and sexist too and illustrated my point by sharing relevant links of women’s testimonials of their experiences as scientists, as well as the overall effects of sexism on the field of science. I also argued that the field of evolutionary biology has privileged male physiology. Emily Martin’s brilliant essay on how scientific language in textbooks has created a romance between the sperm and the egg that reflects traditional gender roles is illuminating in this regard.

Of course these nuances didn’t matter to the gentlemen arguing on behalf of science, who plodded on to repeat that science is objective and pro-women because science only documents the natural world and it has benefited women. As if religion has not, by the same token, given women a sense of group identity and belonging, and in many instances the only opportunity for social interactions outside the family unit.

Clearly the point about sexism in research objectives, the allocation of resources etc, all mentioned in those links, didn’t make any difference. The simplistic view that because religion has a book that stipulates how women are treated, and science does not (“does science talk about stoning?” Not religion either in most parts of the postmodern world), it somehow absolves science and scientists from being anti-women.

I further said, to posit science as an opposition to religion is a logical fallacy because both are located in society and cannot be independent of it. Science, which is the study of the physical and natural world and not in itself the objective physical and natural world, is not gender-neutral, culture-neutral, caste-neutral, class-neutral or race-neutral. Religion is the product of patriarchy and not the other way around. Science has often provided the basis for discrimination, such as how the idea of natural selection and ‘male dominance’ has been interpreted and translated to show women to be the ‘weaker sex‘. The application of science to promote racism is all too well known. Eugenics is the most unfortunate example.

Having introduced the gender angle into the discussion, it didn’t take long for the tenor to go further south. A post linking the story about India’s alleged third rank in battering of husbands soon went up, as an example of gender equality. My response to it, which proves that the information cannot be verified because the source is untraceable, was what I have also posted here on my wall. But when the thread started taking on a tone of trolling behaviour, I decided to call it for what it was and opt out of further discussion.

Predictably, I was labelled ‘feminazi’, which sadly goes to expose the hollow concern for women among some people extolling scientific objectivity. Obviously it is OK to use women as metaphors, but when women speak for themselves and pose a coherent counter argument, it does not take long to slip into gendered labelling. One is accustomed to this by now, so it is not surprising, but it catches me off guard in such situations, I admit.

While I have no love for religions that refuse to reform, and they must be challenged for their faults, I find the arrogance in the name of scientific temper quite baffling. It also strongly points to the fact that there is marked ignorance about humanities and social sciences among those who use science to attack religions.

And, feminism is still a dirty word to some scientists.

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Published here first.

Image source: pixabay

Vinutha Mallya is a book editor and journalist based in Bangalore.

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3 Comments


  1. I completely agree with your view. Religion, scientific research and all other socially structured parts of social life are equally subject to culture, norms and values both in content and context. None can excuse themselves from bias. While religion is recently receiving flak for being patriarchal and causing gender inequalities, scientific research cannot be viewed as being free from it. Beginning with the gendered choice of research topics over the centuries we can clearly see how the field, scope and limitation of scientific disciplines have been constructed to be gendered (more so patriarchal) at every step of the way. Outcomes of research too are gendered in their interpretations and reach. For eg the role of hormone oxytocin in mother-child bonding has received far more focus, attention and hype than its role as a fidelity or “bond” inducing hormone in males as well. This is just a convenient patriarchal interpretation of the outcome of hormone research, clearly gendered to be restricting and limiting the role of women as primary nurturers, nourishment providers and care givers while steering away from the role the hormone plays in keeping bonded male partners faithful and committed to partners and family!! Thus gender stereotypes “like boys will be boys” can slip by without being sufficiently challenged by science if it chooses to turn a blind eye to even scientific findings. Clearly science is not as objective as it pretends to be.

  2. Thanks Vinutha for bringing a pertinent topic and well done Sonia for the add on points.
    It is very true that no one talks about men’s bonding with children, and the harmones related to it. There are some mention here and there about pollution, smoking and drinking, and their relationship with the sperm count. But come on let’s not blame those habits as cultural deviances (these are deviances only in the case of women, as they have the womb and they need to remain pure through their life and even after menopause).
    Science and society tells us whether we like it or not we have to carry forward the honourable duty of increasing human population whether we are supported or not in this endeavour. After all women should not think for herself, right?!

    • Ha! Ha! Chintu, Thanx for reading my comments and I read yours and appreciate them too. I can clearly see how annoyed you are with the patriarchy and its bull shi*!! I am too. People often misinterpret our feminist anger as hatred for men in general but that is not so!! Quite the contrary I believe that there are lots of good men (and women) who have begun questioning systemic inequalities and righting the wrongs. We need to increase the population of that particular “species” of human beings who want equality and respect for all so the world will be a better place. We need quality not quantity in the human population and we must start by voicing our thoughts and reducing inequalities based on bullshi* wherever we see it and as often as we see it. Even a tiny drop of water falling persistently on the same spot can cause a rock to crack over time… this is what we need for the old to fall apart and a new social order to come about.

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