Keller on Gender, Science, and McClintock: A Feeling for the Orgasm

This essay appears in Cassandra L. Pinnick, Noretta Koertge, and Robert F. Almeder, eds., Scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology: An Examination of Gender in Science, pp. 65-101 (Rutgers University Press, 2003)

48 Pages Posted: 9 Sep 2013

See all articles by Alan Soble

Alan Soble

University of New Orleans

Date Written: July 1, 2003

Abstract

I begin by presenting Keller's view that science has been destructive because it has been done mostly by men or, more precisely, by men with a certain kind of masculine psychology. Two novel ideas emerge from this observation: that a feminine or women's science would not be humanly or environmentally disastrous and that a feminine or woman's science might even be epistemically superior. I then examine a central theme in Keller's early work, the idea that men (but not women) are socialized to be gendered humans in which masculinity is linked with a certain sort of objectivity. The latter point leads Keller to propose that there are two types of objectivity. One type, an inferior "static" objectivity, is part of masculine psychology. Another type of objectivity, "dynamic" objectivity, is not part of masculine psychology and, according to Keller, is epistemically superior. Barbara McClintock, on Keller's view, achieved success in her scientific investigations because she used a dynamically objective "pursuit." But Keller does not claim that dynamic objectivity is a feminine or woman's form of objectivity. She thinks that in addition to a dynamically objective approach to the study of nature and a men's/masculine static approach, there is a distinct women's/feminine "love" approach. A tension thus arises in Keller's work: she thinks that dynamic objectivity is superior, but she also praises a pluralistic science in which a masculine, a feminine, and a dynamically objective style are employed. She eventually denies that the lesson to be learned from McClintock is that science should be carried out by hers one approach. Rather, the McClintock case shows us that deviant approaches, a pluralism of approaches inconsistent with masculinity, should be welcomed in and by science for the sake of science itself. I argue that McClintock's science does not represent a deviant approach in any interesting sense. In McClintock we find, on Keller's own account, the masculine psychology that Keller had wanted to scrap. McClintock's success thus undermines rather than supports Keller's criticism of masculine science.

Keywords: Keller, McClintock, science, philosophy, masculinity, feminist epistemology, objectivity

Suggested Citation

Soble, Alan, Keller on Gender, Science, and McClintock: A Feeling for the Orgasm (July 1, 2003). This essay appears in Cassandra L. Pinnick, Noretta Koertge, and Robert F. Almeder, eds., Scrutinizing Feminist Epistemology: An Examination of Gender in Science, pp. 65-101 (Rutgers University Press, 2003). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2322469

Alan Soble (Contact Author)

University of New Orleans ( email )

2000 Lakeshore Drive
New Orleans, LA 70148
United States

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