Nature's Body: Sexual Politics and the Making of Modern Science

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9780044409076: Nature's Body: Sexual Politics and the Making of Modern Science

Winner of the Ludwik Fleck Book Prize, Society for Social Studies of Science, 1995

Eighteenth-century natural historians created a peculiar, and peculiarly durable, vision of nature—one that embodied the sexual and racial tensions of that era. When plants were found to reproduce sexually, eighteenth-century botanists ascribed to them passionate relations, polyandrous marriages, and suicidal incest, and accounts of steamy plant sex began to infiltrate the botanical literature of the day. Naturalists also turned their attention to the great apes just becoming known to eighteenth-century Europeans, clothing the females in silk vestments and training them to sip tea with the modest demeanor of English matrons, while imagining the males of the species fully capable of ravishing women.

Written with humor and meticulous detail, Nature’s Body draws on these and other examples to uncover the ways in which assumptions about gender, sex, and race have shaped scientific explanations of nature. Schiebinger offers a rich cultural history of science and a timely and passionate argument that science must be restructured in order to get it right.

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About the Author:

Londa Schiebinger is professor of history of science and the Barbara D. Finberg Director of the Institute for Research on Women and Gender, Stanford University. She is the author of numerous books including, The Mind Has No Sex?, Has Feminism Changed Science?, Feminism and the Body, and Plants and Empire.

From Kirkus Reviews:

Much has been written about discrimination against women in science, including assertions that brain size and temperament precluded their ability to study and succeed. Schiebinger (History/Penn State; The Mind Has No Sex?, 1989) adds considerably more: She concentrates on 17th- and 18th-century European developments in taxonomy and physical anthropology to show how the European male became the prototype of the human race; how women were reduced to a subset noted only for sexual differences; and how people of color were placed at inferior levels of the great chain of being, on a par with apes. By celebrating sexuality in plants, Erasmus, Darwin, and Linneaus did much to set the stage for thinking of females in terms of sexuality alone--leading Linneaus to choose the term ``mammals'' to distinguish the order of warmblooded, hairy animals--but also to underscore women's role as nurturing caretakers. More shocking was the scholars' concern with female genitalia and sexual characteristics. The ideal breast was the pointed hemisphere of the European female, and Circassian women set the standard for beauty- -hence the name ``Caucasian'' for the white race. Pendulous breasts were inferior--and African; so were enlarged labia. It appears that collectors and dissectors had a field day measuring vaginal angles and clitoral lengths, and attributing massive labia to various African females, including the ``Hottentot Venus'' brought to Europe for study. For most readers, it's bad enough to know that Aristotle and other ancient and medieval scholars were dupes to fable and traveler's tales. To learn that the dawn of modern science was equally clouded by politics, prejudice--and prurience- -won't surprise feminist scholars but is disheartening. Schiebinger concludes with fresh insights on who should do science, as well as with further dismal accounts of tales of 20th- century bias. The very fact that she and others have enriched the record by their scholarly expos‚s, however, offers hope for the future. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Book Description 1993. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 2nd. Hardcover. The modern world places a great deal of faith in the objectivity of science. In this collection of essays, historian Londa Schiebinger reveals the sexual and racial preconcept.Shipping may be from our Sydney, NSW warehouse or from our UK or US warehouse, depending on stock availability. 304 pages. 0.592. Bookseller Inventory # 9780044409076

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