Photo courtesy of harkavagrant.com; very appropriate depiction of societal views towards women in science, albeit a couple centuries of “progress” later than time period described
Forgive me if this opinion of mine is fairly out there, as I must admit that my knowledge of history definitely isn’t where it should be at this point in my life. However, through reading “Darwin’s Ghosts: a History of Evolution”, an excellently retelling written by Rebecca Stott, and taking high school history courses (undoubtedly censored to a large extent). I must say that I have come to one conclusion. It is not the constraints of any aspect of the natural world that is holding the human race back, it is not anything to do with someone’s religion or the lack there of. It is simply the human nature of close-mindedness that holds us back from a more perfect society, and I see this as a central theme throughout the course of history, and sadly, I see it even more so today in a more personal first hand medium. And undoubtedly, this central theme is paramount when discussing anything regarding the scientific approach and conclusions on race and the extent that it attempted to bring to a halt any societal as well as scientific progress, and continues to do this.
Throughout reading “Darwin’s Ghosts” I absolutely cringed after reading about certain scientists, their absolutely brilliant and elegant approach at resolving laws of the natural world, and their struggle to even be able to practice this science without being labeled a pagan, and enemy of society. And to think, all of these were white men (well excluding Jahiz, who was still of the majority race in the middle east and still male) and seeing the struggles they faced, I could not begin to imagine what it must be like to be female in these societies with any kind of a thirst for knowledge whatsoever. What an absolute shame! I have no doubts that, cutting down this absolute opposition just a small amount, and allowing these brilliant minds, men and women alike to come out from the shadows and collaborate in a very small amount that this world would be unrecognizable to what it is today. Who knows the absolute wealth of knowledge we could have today, this knowledge liberating in every sense of the world. Liberating from our illnesses, both social, and even real physical illness (cancer would just be what today’s common flu is).
Reading the societal views towards women, from people obviously very representative of their respective era just revealed the extent to which this progress has been infringed upon. The excerpt from Imannuel Kant’s “Observations on the Feeling of the Beautiful and Sublime” especially struck me. I originally thought the piece was satire, as I recalled a glowing account of the man in a philosophy class a couple years back as one of the pioneering voices in the subject. I was absolutely shocked to hear that these words were indeed stated without even a hint of sarcasm. This notion, this view is exactly what I alluded to earlier, something that leaves societal, and scientific progress at an absolute standstill. In my only somewhat educated opinion, had these loathsome views been somewhat discarded in the 18th century, allowing women to come from the shadows and an intermixing of ideas between different ethnic groups (racial separation a whole new topic for another day) we would not even be having this discussion about the shaping of 19th century development of evolutionary theory, and Darwin would not be a name at the cornerstone of biological study. This whole concept of evolution, and natural selection would have been settled, and maybe even partially accepted.
With no female at the center of a single chapter of Darwin’s Ghosts, it may be inferred that perhaps not a single woman had been captivated by the kingdom of life and its intricate processes sufficiently to practice empirical thought, and formulate a viable hypothesis. Although it was even difficult for men, known as those with the mental capacity to form thought to conduct scientific investigation, I cannot be convinced that somewhere, some woman hadn’t independently formulated her own view (however not as developed due to obvious restrictions) and hypothesis regarding biological processes to the extent that it would be notable within the book. After hearing the discussion in class regarding racial biases within the study and uncovering of historical facts, I really wonder to what extent this is extended to women. Although it would definitely be infinitely more difficult to uncover, as written letters, documentation simply may not even exist as the profiles that would need to be kept by women would make the hushed profile of someone like Robert Chambers for instance appear as a historical Donald Trump. It would appear that a great amount of effort could uncover something groundbreaking, and alter the entire contemporary view of women in science historical trends.