Linguistic Change, Science, Women.

John McCreery (JLM@TWICS.COM)
Sun, 3 Dec 1995 07:41:30 +0900

Ruby Rohrlich writes

>> What I wanted to say was that the changes deriving from the
black political movement as well as from ordinary black speech are much
more readily accepted than those deriving from the women's movement,
I think.<<

Do others agree with this generalization? Here I confess to a near total
ignorance of the relevant evidence. The few examples that spring to mind

(1) The shift to "black" from "African-American" or "Negro" as a category
label. In contrast most feminists I know continue to prefer "women" (see
"women's movement") to alternative labels.

(2) Attempts to promote pronoun shifts, e.g. more widespread use of
"their" as a neutral alternative to "his" or "her," which has, in fact had
some success, as have attempts to promote replacement of "man" with
"humans," "people," etc. in global references to human beings.

>>Also, I ask you now directly, John: why were you unwilling to include
in your discussion of science, the role of gender in the culture of
science? This is very important, and affects hypotheses and
choice of problems to investigate.

Because (a) it wasn't my on my agenda ('practical epistemology' =
judgments between hypotheses given grossly less than perfect data--which
I take to be the usual state of ethnographic research) and (b) I personally
have little to say about the effects of gender on research beyond the

(1) That science has historically been a "boys club" and resisted inclusion
of women is indisputable. Similar situations obtain in a wide variety of
institutions (the military, politics, business) where dominance games are
the characteristic form of social life. In this respect, science is no
from any other institution in what has been labeled the "public" sphere.

(2) In relation to anthropology, I welcome increased emphasis on
women's activities. The old male bias is obvious, and shifting the focus to
women (e.g., in Annette Weiner's restudy of the Trobriands) has enriched
our understanding of humanity in general. Since "understanding of
humanity in general" is what I take anthropology to be about, this trend is
one I am happy to applaud.

(3) Alas, work by feminists is--like, for example, work by communists,
psychoanalysts, structural-functionalists, post-structuralists, Gingrists and
white (yellow, black, lavender) supremacists-- frequently shallow,
predictable, outright offensive or boring. In a world overflowing with
things to read and talk about, silence is often the best policy.

(4) I cheerfully promote work by such women as Dorinne Kondo and
Patricia Churchland--because I admire the work. I have not had the
pleasure of meeting its authors. I will close here by noting a reference to

"the conclusion of the cultural anthropologist Ruby Rohrlich-Leavitt.
Writing of Crete from a feminist perspective, she points out that it is
modern archeologists who have dubbed the young man just described [a
long-haired youth, unarmed, naked to the waist, crowned with peacock
plumes and walking among flowers and butterflies] as the 'young prince'
or the 'priest-king,' when in fact, no single representation of a king or a
dominant male god has yet beeen found. She also observes that the
absence of idealizations of male violence and destructive power in Cretan
art goes hand in hand with the fact that this was a society where 'peace
endured for 1,500 years both at home and abroad in an age of incessant
warfare.'" Riane Eisler, 1988 _The Chalice and the Blade_, p. 32.

That I would call a shrewd observation in which feminist concerns have
made a genuine contribution to science.