Stretch, grab a late afternoon cup of caffeine and get caught up on the most important news of the day with our Coffee Break newsletter. These are the stories that will fill you in on the world that's spinning outside of your office window - at the moment that you get a chance to take a breath.
Sign up now to save time and stay informed!

'Feminist' Study: Objective Truth, Scientific Method Are Sexist

Real misogynists used to argue that women couldn't understand things as well as men could. This patronizing view is both insulting and false, but now it has reemerged in a new way — so-called feminist professors arguing that science itself is misogynist because it deals in objective truth.

That's one of the daft arguments in "Are STEM Syllabi Gendered? A Feminist Critical Discourse Analysis" by the University of North Dakota's Laura Parson, published in The Qualitative Report at the beginning of this year. While Parson admits that STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) syllabi do not have "overt references to gender," their language "reflects institutionalized STEM teaching practices and views about knowledge that are inherently discriminatory to women and minorities by promoting a view of knowledge as static and unchanging."

Here's what she means in attacking such a "chilly" view of knowledge:

Syllabi promote the positivist view of knowledge by suggesting that there are correct conclusions that can be drawn with the right tools:

  • "A critical thinker considers all available evidence with an open mind and uses appropriate techniques to analyze that evidence and reach a conclusion (Lower level geology)."
  • "The main goal is to attain knowledge and comprehension of major concepts and techniques of organic chemistry (Upper level chemistry)."

As these examples show, the STEM syllabi explored in this study demonstrated a view of knowledge that was to be acquired by the student, which promotes a view of knowledge as unchanging. This is further reinforced by the use of adverbs to imply certainty such as "actually" and "in fact" which are used in syllabi to identify information as factual and beyond dispute (Biber, 2006a; 2006b). For example, "draw accurate conclusions from scientific data presented in different formats" (Lower level math). Instead of promoting the idea that knowledge is constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view of knowledge, the syllabi reinforce the larger male-dominant view of knowledge as one that students acquire and use make (sic) the correct decision.

Parson seems to be arguing — in an academic paper, no less! — that in STEM fields, knowledge should be seen as "constructed by the student and dynamic, subject to change as it would in a more feminist view." There's one way in which science is constantly changing — it is always adapting to new evidence. But this is not what Parson is arguing. She wants a student to be able to define inconvenient facts out of existence, to be able to interpret the evidence to mean whatever the student wants it to mean.

There's just one major problem with this: If science and technology were defined in this way, they would not work.

Do you really want the engineer who designs your 747 to think that airplane design is up to his or her own interpretation? That there are no scientific laws about how to make the plane fly, except whatever view of truth he or she "constructs"? I would not trust such a person with looking after my iPhone, much less my life at 40,000 feet, and no rational woman I know would either.

This isn't sexism, it's common sense. In science, technology, engineering, and math, results matter — even minute calculations often make the difference between success and failure, poverty and prosperity, life and death. Something either works or it doesn't, and in order to figure out what does and does not work, you need to understand the way things actually are, not the way you'd like them to be.

Next Page: Where this "feminist" relativism comes from, and why it's insulting to women.

Parson's "feminist view" is actually a form of relativism that has damaged students' understanding of various fields of knowledge, mostly in ways that do not have immediate consequences, as it would in the STEM fields. In various "studies" majors across the nation, students are taught to focus on the ideas and struggles of particular groups and to ignore or vilify the civilization to which they owe their unprecedented prosperity.

Western civilization is considered sexist, racist, homophobic, and generally prejudiced, and therefore its history and ideas must be deconstructed on those terms. The STEM fields have allowed this disease to spread among the Humanities, thinking that science and technology would always be immune. How could something so manifestly beneficial to all as engineering be deconstructed as inherently sexist, racist, or homophobic? Well, Parson shows us how, and demonstrates that no field of knowledge is truly safe from the Social Justice Warriors of the mind.

Parson's paper attacks even mundane things like stylistic choices — command words like "will" and "must" — as inherently masculine and anti-woman. She examines syllabi, and voila! — they have these "sexist" words. Yes, that's because a syllabus is by nature a set of instructions about a certain class. As Reason.com's Robby Soave put it, "a syllabus is not a negotiation," it's a roadmap. Does Parson attack Google Maps as sexist because it orders the user to "turn here" or "make a U-turn"? Please.

Nevertheless, this "feminist" attacks such language for creating "a competitive, difficult, chilly climate" which "marginalizes women." Does that mean women aren't able to compete in a difficult climate? Imagine what Hillary Clinton would do to Donald Trump if he made this argument with a straight face.

One of my close friends in college was a plucky 18-year-old girl who graduated High School early. She majored in Math and went on to make an impressive salary at Boeing. She believed in objective truth, and that belief was central to her success in fields often dominated by men. Would Parson consider her a sex traitor?

Parson has the nerve to call herself a "feminist" when her argument boils down to "women can't compete in math and science because the very idea of objective truth is sexist." We live in a truly fascinating and terrifying era where the worst excesses of the old racism and misogyny are being reintroduced in the name of equality and civil rights. Black students fight against integration, against the idea of having white roommates. Colleges host openly racist RA trainings. "Feminists" argue that women can't do science.