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The Syntax of Sexism

Why are women routinely excluded from knowledge domains—especially in the sciences, but also in the arts and humanities?

The raging indignation in the last 12 months across newspapers and television channels over the neglect and undermining of the intellectual position of Donna Strickland in the domain of higher physics that she calls “Laser Jockeying” (simply put, an area of laser technology with large-scale applications in surgical ophthalmology) brings to my mind the thesis of Friedrich Engels proposed in Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State (1884). In this work he argues that the time has come in this era of the knowledge economy (he was writing at the time of the great enlightenment as an aftermath of the industrial revolution and the “final” unshackling of knowledge, as it were) where women would be “liberated” in an intellectual space alongside their male colleagues. But, as it seems now, the eviction of the woman from the domain of the natural sciences and rationalist thinking in general, and numerous other aspects of the social life we are so engaged in, is a subject of unabashed sexism. Austrian-born physicist Lise Meitner, whose contribution to nuclear fission was completely overlooked by the Royal Swedish Academy in awarding the Nobel Prize to Otto Hahn, her collaborator, is perhaps the best example of this eviction and humiliation in the 20th century.

The central question of this article is: What is the reason for this perverse attitude (and a dull callousness) of excluding the woman from most knowledge domains, especially the natural sciences and rationalist thinking, not to mention the creative domain of the arts and humanities? What is the basis of the construction of this narrative that the woman is not good at most mental matters? This is a long-standing question in the cultural history of humankind, and more pertinent now that we are nudged to our bones over the question of “indifference” towards Strickland, the recipient of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Physics (and only the third woman in the entire history of the prize), days away from the announcements for 2019.

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Updated On : 30th Sep, 2019


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