February 11th, 2016

     Speaking from the perspective of a young woman myself, the subject matter regarding inferiority to women in the 18th century has provoked feelings of discontent. This inferior view of women has presented itself as a frequent topic in my science-oriented classes that I have experienced as an undergraduate. Very rarely are women even talked about in science in terms of their contributions. This isn’t to say they didn’t make contributions; rather it is to say that their work has been undermined historically. Take Rosalind Franklin for example, she utilized X-Ray crystallography to help determine the structure of DNA, but most of her work has been recognized from the male attributors, Watson and Crick involved with the same study matter. In general, women did not have access to the same educational opportunities as men. With this lack of education present, when evolutionary theories were proposed, it appears that women were nowhere to be seen. Especially when intellectuals like Jean-Jacques Rousseau write that women should be deemed inferior to men and are not entitled to such educational opportunities. The public has the tendency to follow what these so-called “Great minds” say and as a result, this societal belief that women are academically disadvantaged, only useful for reproduction and frail often denied their right to join the academic realm alongside men.  As women had been strained academically, this essentially means that evolutionary theory in the 19th century was still dominated by men. This primary dominance could have inserted a bias within the evolutionary theories proposed by naturalists such as Charles Darwin himself. In some of Darwin’s letters to colleagues, he had written that women exhibit biological inferiority to men evolutionarily and psychologically. As a whole, just think about how many women were acknowledged for evolutionary discovery in the 19th century—I can’t think of any.
            On another note, women were not the only humans subjected to such scrutiny. Carolus Linnaeus, classified people based upon their race and potential contributions and constraints to society. Negroes at the time were highly scorned and deemed inferior people only capable of capricious activities and therefore of no use to the scientific realm. Recognizing Negroe contributions to evolutionary science had also been constrained by renowned evolutionary theorists who were predominately white males, notably people like Darwin, Wallace or Lyell.
            Overall, these biases toward females and Negroes posed to be problematic during the development of evolutionary theories. If women and Negroes would have been provided the same opportunities to propose evolutionary theories during the 18th and 19th century time period, it is possible that their theories might have been accepted and added to the list of contributors we now recognize today. That is to say, not always are intellectuals and philosophers the only people who are right! Chances are, their ideas at some point streamed from a woman’s or negro’s perspective.

Wikimedia. William Blake’s depiction of women and race in the 18th century. Note how women here are sexual objects. Public domain because of age.

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