When I think of the term science, words such as objective, factual, and unbiased are the first that come to mind. This is no surprise, seeing as how the term “science” comes from the Latin word scientia, denoting knowledge. The establishment and pursuit of scientific knowledge has long been conducted by means of setting up a hypothesis– which is then investigated through an experiment– and ultimately produces data. This is, however, merely a facade: science, like any human activity, is not an objective product of human intelligence, but is rather subject to emotion and bias. The theory that science has been heavily influenced by society is supported by the fact that women throughout history have been mostly excluded from the field itself.
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Women have faced discrimination in the field of science since the foundation of Greece. For example, in Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, women were often times viewed in a negative manner, and were subdued to prevent disaster. This can be further observed in the story of Pandora and her box. Despite this negative outlook on women, Greek Mythology incorporated goddesses such as Artemis, the goddess of hunting, and Athena, the goddess of wisdom and warfare, who symbolized very non traditional female roles at that time. However, they are consistently overshadowed by their male counterparts: for example, Artemis was said be less skilled than her twin brother Apollo.
Greek mythology and literature, being incredibly misogynistic, had extensive influence over the Greek people. The greek philosopher Aristotle was one of the first to argue that women had specific societal roles due to both their innate tendencies to appeal to emotion rather than logic, and their biological makeup representing a “mutilated man.” Today, we know this to be far from the truth. The question that remains, however, is how could such a prominent figure in science such as Aristotle believe something as vacuous as the idea of women being mutilated men? The answer lies in the societal factors that plagued his time and that ultimately shaped his view of women. That is not to say that I am defending Aristotle’s misogynistic opinions, or condoning his beliefs. Rather, I am arguing the fact that the influence of society extends to all people, including those who contributed to the field of science.
The 20th century was still faced with the same problem: an overall exclusion of women in science. Despite the many successful women such as Though there have been many successful female scientists–Marie Curie, Rosaline Franklin, and Rachel Carson, for example– many educated men continued to believe that women were biologically inferior and were therefore unfit. James Mckeen Cattell, a former professor at Columbia University, was one of the major drivers of this continued misconception of women. He stated that women had failed to succeed in departments assigned to them by men, meaning that they were not fit to work in scientific fields. Not only was this false, but it also reflected the fact that women were still limited due to their sex and the preconceived notions that society had placed upon them. Again, society had triumphed over the so-called “unbiased” and “uninfluenced” image commonly attributed to science at the time.
Today, we are still met with problems concerning the integration of women into science. Improvements have been made [passive voice] , but the unequal treatment of women in many of the hard sciences still highlights the extent to which the field has been influenced by opinion. Will science ever reach an equilibrium between men and women? The answer remains unknown, but what is known is that both sides will only reach a balance when society favors neither sex.
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