Posts Tagged ‘science’

This is part of an essay that I wrote for my Domestic Violence class, that I’m a little proud of… This is a segment of it, I tried to put it in context, but I think it’s still pretty accessible. Let me know if you want to read the rest or need more explanation, I apologize for the dense Irene-is-writing-a-paper mode. I’ve been thinking about the battle between masculinity and femininity a lot lately, and I think this whole conflation of science with truth with masculinity is one of the main reasons femininity is so shit upon. This class has definitely made me appreciate my feminine side a whole lot more. Here goes:

Murray Straus conducted a survey in the early 1980s that was scientifically “objective” (it had a HUGE sample, quantitative research, etc.), measuring the rate of abuse in U.S. American families. It posed questions asking the recipient of the survey the frequency of certain acts of violence, for example “I slapped my partner” or “I forced my partner to have sex when they were unwilling” with the options “never” to “more than 20 times”. The survey was flawed in many ways, however, notably (a) that it did not include any qualitative research, (b) that it assumed that surveyees would answer questions such as the former honestly and with no inner conflict, (c) that it did not take into account whether the partner was acting violent in self-defense and (d) that it did not take into account the severity of violent acts when asking questions like “I punched my partner” (i.e. we do not know if that means the partner then took a step backwards, or the partner then fell backwards through a plate glass table requiring a trip to the emergency room). The survey concluded that “family violence” is as commonly directed from men to women as from women to men. Once the results were published to the news media, with phrases like “we should be worrying about battered husbands!”… thousands of battered women’s shelters lost funding.

The clout of science in our society is immense—in this way it is impossible for even supposedly “apolitical” research to not turn political. We saw how Murray Straus’ “apolitical” and “objective” research was ultimately a political tool to many who dismissed feminist work in domestic violence. I believe it is unreasonable to think that a person can publish any social science research as “fact” when even the “harder” sciences such as biology are being politicized for theories like evolution. Even if we assume that objectivity is possible within the lab, there is no predicting how subjectively and politically the study will be received outside the lab. Yllo points out that “The assumption that observation and data can be divorced from theory (and values), and that the natural and (even more problematic) the social world can be objectively studied, is at the core of the debate”. It is my opinion that the data you collect and how you collect it cannot be divorced from your politics and values. I believe objectivity is not possible; it is merely an ideal that bolsters the findings of men.

The problem is that our society ascribes value only to objectivity and quantitative research. Feminist research is slandered in the male-dominated science world by means of attaching the labels “subjective” and “political”. These subtle attacks on feminist research must be exposed for what they are—that is, misogyny. Only then, I think, will quantitative and qualitative research be able to live in harmony. I do believe that quantitative research has some value and can help to observe patterns. But I do not believe that it can bring infallible truth without reinforcement from qualitative research.

In my life, feminism has revealed much more for me about the nature of humanity than science has ever “objectively” put forth. However, the difference between the two, according to our mainstream society, is that science is “fact”, while feminism is “biased politics”. To me, science lacks the self-consciousness that feminism contends as essential to a good study. I think either (a) you acknowledge your politics and how they shape your research or (b) you pretend you don’t have politics and they shape your research anyway subconsciously. The issue, to me, is transparency. Scientists that moon over objectivity refuse to believe that their experience of the world could have shaped their research even slightly. And this is how domestic violence stays invisible.

The power of science in our society is in that it establishes truth. If science does not acknowledge domestic violence, then domestic violence does not exist. Domestic violence is a phenomenon that is impossible to observe in its entirety without qualitative research. Thus, the two research methodologies of quantitative and qualitative must come together to legitimize domestic violence to our society. The first step to getting rid of a problem is admitting that you have a problem. Our society is in denial, and it is not until a combination of forces brings visibility to domestic violence that our society will admit that domestic violence is a problem. Science can bring that visibility.

p.s. This is also me trying to start a conversation about domestic violence here, but not knowing where to begin.

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It’s no secret that I am, at least, critical of science. The fact that science is culturally constructed, and hence is influenced by cultural norms is never talked about. I’m also downright antagonistic of the ways that science is used by popular media: the health and science sections of the NYT, or CNN and BBC segments. Those places where one study is taken as unquestionable fact. The ways these studies are portrayed is always questionable to me, especially when they deal with gender. Too often, I think, a critical eye is not cast onto these reports (and science in general). Especially since when these reports about gender are published they often support patriarchal, heteronormative structures. Case in point is a recent CNN.com piece about how men objectify women.

It may seem obvious that men perceive women in sexy bathing suits as objects, but now there’s science to back it up.

First line. What? I’m curious as to how science is able to back this up.

Although consistent with conventional wisdom, the way that men may depersonalize sexual images of women is not entirely something they control. In fact, it’s a byproduct of human evolution, experts say. The first male humans had an incentive to seek fertile women as the means of spreading their genes.

This is a little later down the article. Why does science continue to back up the “Boys Will Be Boys” sentiment that is prevalent and continues to be an excuse for misogyny. Who are these experts by the way?

So the evidence is based on a study of 21 male Princeton students. They were given a survey to determine if they harbored “Benevolent” sexism (i.e. women belong in the home) or hostile sexism (women try to dominate men). As if there were only two categories of man who must fall into these.

The article goes on to explain the study and how they showed these 21 male college students images of both bikini-clad and fully clothed women, and how these men were more likely to view the bikini wearing women as objects to be acted upon.

What this entire article, in trying to determine some essential male quality, ignores is that 21 men who go to Princeton who choose to participate in a psych study is not a sample that can be conflated with the entiretiy of all 3-4 billion male human beings that exist on this planet. It ignores that the culture we are raised in has an effect on how our brains function. It ignores that even if certain parts of our brains are going off, it doesn’t mean we are thinking identical things as to when those areas activate over something else.

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