Women's History Prof. Says Bias Shaped Science

Gender bias in the 17th and 18th centuries shaped scientific findings about the apes, a historian said yesterday at the kickoff event of Women's History Week '93.

At yesterday's address, Penn State Professor of History Londa L. Schiebinger '77 spoke to an audience of about 40 in Emerson Hall on "Nature's Body: Gender and the Making of Modern Science."

"Knowledge of the great apes was shaped to a great extent by the expectations and experiences of European males," she said.

The primarily male naturalists of the 18th century focused almost exclusively on sexual traits when classifying female apes and humans, rather than on rational or cultural traits, Scheibinger said.

"The question of rights of apes was tied to the question of rights for women," she said.


Cultural biases still pervade science, according to Scheibinger.

"Science today is not that much less imaginative than it was in the 17th and 18th centuries--it's just harder for us to see," she said.

The scope of the week will extend beyond science's veiled gender biases, and will spotlight some traditionally ignored cultural perspectives.

Peggie J. Ackerberg, a graduate student of romance languages who helped to plan the event, predicted a strong turnout for the week's final event, the Eighth Annual Women's Studies Colloquium on Gender, Culture and Society.

The colloquium will discuss Native American women's identity. "Last year it was a mob scene. It should be packed," Ackerberg said.

"Spiderwoman Theater," skits to be performed on Thursday by three Native American sisters, will "combine light fare with strains of how they grew up," said Ellen M. Dipippo, administrator of the Women's History department.

Friday's final panel will be "Telling Our Stories: Native American Women and Survivance in the Contemporary World." It is "the first time that there's ever been a panel of Native American women at Harvard," Ackerberg said.

The panel will be moderated by Visiting Professor Betty Louise Bell, who currently teaches a Harvard course, "Women of Color."

Panelists include writers Leslie Marmon Silko, Linda Hogan, Beth Brant and M. Annette Jaimes.

"Silko is the grandmother of Native American women writers--she's been the major influence for almost all [of them]," Ackerberg said.

Rest of Week

Other topics to be addressed during the week include "Gender and Discourses of Democracy in Brazil," "Women's Suffrage in Puerto Rico and St. Thomas," and "Politics and Gender in Early Modern France.

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