"The Madame Curie Complex" Sample Chapter: Part Three "Women in the Wild: Changing the Culture of Western Science"

This is the third and final part of a multi-part presentation of a sample chapter from a forthcoming book, The Madame Curie Complex. Part One can be found here. Part Two can be found here.

Recently I was approached with an offer to share with my readers a sample chapter from a forthcoming book called The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science. A caveat: I have not read the whole book, and offering the sample chapter here for you to read does not constitute an endorsement by me of the book. But I was sufficiently intrigued by the sample chapter I read to think it was worth sharing with you, to let you read if you want. You can make up your own minds and decide if you want to purchase the book, which is on offer at the Feminist Press site for a reasonable price. About the book:

This March, The Feminist Press will release The Madame Curie Complex: The Hidden History of Women in Science by historian Julie Des Jardins. The book tells the stories of women scientists, from Marie Curie to Maria Mayer, who took enormous chances and made great discoveries in spite of, and at times because of, the resistance they faced in a male-dominated field. Des Jardins compares their stories with prominent male counterparts in an exploration of whether, and how, women research, collaborate, and come to different conclusions about the natural world.

The chapter I have been given to share with you is chapter 7, The Lady Trimates and Feminist Science?: Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas. It came to me in a pdf version and a lot of formatting has been lost in moving it to this blog, but I hope you will still enjoy be able to enjoy reading it. I hope locating the footnotes will not be too hard. I've broken the chapter into sections for a series of posts, and the reference footnotes for each section will be at the end of each post.

On to the last section of the chapter...

Women in the Wild: Changing the Culture of Western Science

Consider popular images of women's close associations with apes--real and fictitious, in the wild and in captivity--from Digit, to Koko, to King Kong. Images of the Trimates and their animals may have had the greatest impact on how Americans imagine this relationship. Donna Haraway called it "the National Geographic effect." Starting in the 1960s, film crews documented the movements of Leakey's protégées, who would have otherwise worked in virtual obscurity. The popularity of NGS publications and films grew out of the lay public's desire for "naked eye science"--the yearning to experience science as adventure rather than classroom fare. The family sagas between Flo and Flint in Goodall's television specials enraptured the young Biruté Galdikas long before Dallas or Dynasty captured public attention. Vicariously, women experienced science as a hands-on practice performed outside the lab or the purview of men. On the heels of the countercultural, feminist, and antiwar movements, the Jane Goodall of film represented peace and love and seemed to be Mother Nature in the flesh. She gracefully evolved from the virginal girl next door, as seen in Miss Goodall and the Wild Chimpanzees (1965), to the matronly advocate for primates in captivity in My Life with the Chimpanzees (1990) and in films that continue to be shown on Animal Planet in the twenty-first century. In documentaries, the Gombe River Reserve appears timeless and serene and Goodall at peace with her life of limited human contact and competition. She speaks in lay terms and evinces maternal compassion for all nature's creatures. Hers appears a humane and accessible science.45

NGS documentaries presented all three Trimates as "one with nature," and primatological work as blissfully maternal. Like depictions of Nobel Prize scientists as loners, these images are manipulations of sorts. Those who held the camera for the Trimates were men--ones who created facades of women's closer connection to primates and the natural world they observed. Haraway suggests that NGS portrayed a convincing reunification of Western culture--the lady Trimates, with nature--the apes and their forests, at a time when it served capitalist ends to eliminate the appearance of schisms of race, class, gender, and colonialism in third-world areas. We know from the writings of the Trimates themselves, however, that such schisms shaped their daily lives and that their maternal mystique was overblown. While such movies as Project X and Gorillas in the Mist romanticized the study of apes and anointed the women who studied them, the reality was hardly the stuff of Hollywood. Fossey scared off many graduate students by putting them on "dung duty," which some might call "diaper duty" if it weren't such a stretch. Linda Fedigan, a practicing primatologist, has dismissed "the big brown eyes hypothesis," the biological explanation for the high percentage of women in her field. Although she doesn't doubt that values defined culturally as maternal made many women the patient observers who could hear the natural world "speak to them," she believes that the media has inaccurately perpetuated the idea that women study apes out of a need to mother living things.46

Accurate or not, such appearances are still significant for their impact. Leakey and the Trimates understood that their fate in the field depended on popular attention to them as iconic figures, though not necessarily as scientists. That they appeared in ways that were not only distorted but also nearly contradictory suggests yet again that consumers
of their stories shared no consensus about what women in the field should represent. Often they appeared to be women of fortitude and compassion, but sometimes at the expense of their personae as legitimate scientists. Biographers found it impossible to cast Dian Fossey as both a competent scientist and appealing woman. Farley Mowat's
Woman in the Mist (1987), Alex Shoumatoff's African Madness (1988), and Harold T. P. Hayes's The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey (1990), reveal, as their titles suggest, a woman confused about her appropriate "place," hence falling into proverbial darkness. Indeed she was complex, but in the hands of men the complexity always turned tragic. "Fossey emerges as a social outcast--an irrational eccentric, a street person, an animal," James Krasner laments. "While a certain amount of antisocial eccentricity is expected from male scientists. . . . one of the crueler truths about the way in which Fossey's story has played itself out in popular media is that her status as a scientist has been eclipsed by her role as heroic madwoman confronting the primitive."47

The Trimates were the objects of sexist stereotypes, and yet they also featured in ways that inverted assumptions about women and Western science. One might have expected that in the 1978 National Geographic spread on Galdikas's work, Binti Brindamour, the baby son of Western-educated parents, would have represented the idea of "culture," and Princess, the orphan of a poached ape, the perils of "nature." And yet in this spread both babies stand together, side by side, in a tub in which they are both similarly being cleansed of dirt and conventional meanings. The accompanying text reveals that the process of "cultured man" imposing order on "nature" has been reversed. Princess, who had been acculturated by Galdikas, learned sign language and even taught baby Binti his first sign word. In fact Princess had been acculturated so deeply inside the human camp that her rehabilitation required her to forget human culture entirely before she could return to the wild. So who represented "culture" or "nature"? At Camp Leakey such dualities simply didn't apply.48

Galdikas described her "laboratory" as "the living one that has existed for millennia"; it had no boundaries or procedural rules. There was no commute back to the domicile at the end of the day; entire ecosystems, bodies of water, and rainforests became places and subjects of research. Fossey, too, differentiated little between work and domestic space; her seven- by ten-foot tent was a bedroom, office, bath, and drying area for clothes. She took notes on the apes as well as "everything from weather to bird and plant life," "poacher activities," and anything else that provided context. Nothing in the natural environment lay outside the parameters of observation.49

Without the normalizing rhythms of the laboratory, women in the field worked after hours, sometimes days at a time if that is what nature allowed. Goodall commented in her notes that day felt like night and night like day. After long stints in the trees she would return to her cabin, where assistants, usually women, typed up the observations she recorded on tape. Her mother suggested she take off one night a week to do something unrelated to research. "Even on these nights our conversation was almost entirely 'chimp,'" Jane recalled. "If our work had not also been our pleasure it is doubtful whether we would have been able to keep up the pace." At her wedding to van Lawick, Goodall viewed wildlife photographs and cut a cake with a model of David Greybeard on top of it. She returned after only three days of honeymooning to monitor the development of a newborn baby chimp. Her domestic and observational space became one when she began feeding the chimps at the provisioning station next to her marital tent. The boundaries of Western science had been eroded in almost every sense.50

Like the first women to enter "domestic science" programs at the turn of the century, Goodall applied lessons learned "in the lab"--in this case, the forest--to her "home" life. The transfer of knowledge was not a one-way street in the field: mother chimps were teachers as well as objects of study. Once Jane had Grub, he, too, became an object to be observed, and she documented his development, as Margaret Mead had of her daughter in the 1930s and 1940s. For both scientists home and the field were not inherently oppositional spaces, and objects of study in them might amplify the commonalities between animals, "primitive" peoples, and Westerners. Connectedness characterized their brand of observation.

In the wild Goodall didn't need to hide her pregnancy or make superhuman claims. When her infant demanded attention, she scaled down her field observation: "He still wakes early," she wrote in the summer of 1967. "I mess around with him till about 10 & then he sleeps & I do chimps until he wakes about 1.30."51 She spent the better part of 1968 taking care of her baby, observing the chimps, and revising her dissertation. This fluidity was not achievable for women working in laboratories back in the United States; their pregnancies and children underscored boundaries separating home life and work life, domesticity and science. The decision to take family leave after the birth of a child--the decision to have a child--were gambles that could cost a career.

The sexual trysts of all three Trimates also suggest that the blurring of personal and professional relationships was inevitable in the permeable space of the field. Hugo van Lawick, whom Goodall divorced in 1974, was one of the few eligible bachelors she was in contact with, since she spent every waking moment logging hours in the forest. Leakey introduced the pair, understanding better than anyone that life in the field, with its intensity and isolation, bred instant intimacy between people already connected by common interest. It was the same intimacy that led to the engagement of several field researchers at Gombe and two of Fossey's best researchers at Karisoke, much to her resentment. In the field the social protocol of the lab went out the window. Native-born trackers and credentialed scientists stood virtually on equal footing with each other and the animals. At Camp Leakey the punishing conditions of the rainforest required the unique skill set of Galdikas's second husband, Pak Bohap. He won her admiration because of his intuitive sense of the animals; his lack of formal education was irrelevant.
Goodall and Fossey maintained loose pecking orders between senior scientists, junior managers, graduate students, trackers, camp and field staff, and assistants, but they often ignored seniority based on academic degrees. Jane believed that her native field assistants knew "more about following the chimpanzees through the forest, and . . . more about their behavior, than most university students."52

Hence the camps of the Trimates were unique meritocracies, in which intuition and intimate knowledge of subject were valued over distanced and impersonal study. Formal education, professional connections, fast-track promotions--all things men achieved more successfully than women in the lab--held no currency in the field. Individualist ambition, the mark of Anne Roe's elite scientist in the 1950s, seemed to dissolve in the trees. One need only look at the acknowledgments in the Trimates' books to understand what they valued most; they didn't thank academic mentors, but domestic workers, nannies, assistants, secretaries, and data collectors, who would have been grunts back in the lab. Gombe was a nearly classless and collaborative space, where one's hard-earned data was shared in another's dissertation research. One woman recalled with fondness the cooperative feeling of research meetings and the dinners that receded them; no one ate until everyone had showered, dressed, and come to the table. The mood was familial, the work interdisciplinary. Zoologists, anthropologists, ethologists, ecologists, psychiatrists, and psychologists broke down disciplinary boundaries to come to an integrated understanding of primate and human.53

Was the Trimates' a feminist science? The question is not necessarily the same as whether or not the Trimates were feminists themselves. Dale Peterson, editor of Goodall's published letters, noted that at any given time since she had first come to Tanzania Goodall had been seen "as the little girl who thought she could; the sweet Ophelia who dreamed of animals; the feisty feminist in a man's world; the ironic traditionalist in a woman's world; the inspired nurturer; Mother Teresa of the apes; Tarzan's better half; and so on." Most of these characterizations were ones that Goodall herself had rejected. She told a reporter in 1972 that if he wanted to find evidence of women's liberation at the Gombe Reserve, he had better keep looking. Her chimps had convinced her that the traditional gender roles of the 1950s were most natural: if women had children, they belonged with them in the home. Why was she the exception, then? She wasn't, she reasoned, since her home and work were both in the forest. She portrayed herself as a sort of stay-at-home mom, who breast-fed her son on demand, since mother chimps had shown that hands-on parenting fostered self-assurance in their young.54

But that's not how American women generally saw her. The timing of her celebrity coincided with their growing desire to see models of female careerism and autonomy. She set off for Tanzania on the eve of President Kennedy's convening of the Commission on the Status of Women; "Jungle Jane" seemed very much the antidote to the misery Betty Friedan had exposed in suburban homes. She looked like the mom next door, but instead of driving children to school she appeared to live alone in the wild without a safety net. Dian Fossey's public image, too, took on a life of its own. A New Yorker staff writer referred to her as "the prototypical gutsy lady doing her thing." By virtue of living and working in the harsh Virunga Mountains, she was presumably acting in defiance of convention.55 It was perhaps no coincidence that filmmakers chose Sigourney Weaver to play Fossey in the 1988 film adaptation of Gorillas in the Mist, for in Alien and Working Girl the actress had played a headstrong, independent woman as competent as any man, if not more so. It was easy to envision Weaver among the gorillas of Africa, after watching her bust proverbial balls in boardrooms and monsters'
heads on other planets.

Biruté Galdikas didn't seem to mind the feminist label: "My personal decisions to get my Ph.D., to go to Southeast Asia, to spend my life studying and rescuing orangutans, and to postpone having children were all part of a wave of the future," she reflected in 1995. She had read Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch before heading to the field, and it was a great disappointment when she discovered that "orangutans were decidedly sexist," as she or Greer would have defined the term. "I had come of age during the 1960s, the decade when women in North America began saying for the first time that they were no different from men," she explained. And yet the more she tried to find similarities between male and female orangutans, the more she came up short.56

Women primatologists have been reluctant to accept essentialist conclusions about alleged distinctions between male and female "nature," but in the past three decades they have been thoughtful about the historical and social factors that have helped to shape their field into a women-centered science. Leakey's promotion of the Trimates attracted women to the field, but older woman scientists also provided inspiration as role models. Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead had paved the way earlier in the twentieth century for women to imagine traveling to exotic places to observe, but a tradition of fieldwork with apes in particular also persisted through the work of Frances Burton, Suzanne Ripley, Alison Richard, Barbara Harrisson, Cheryl Knott, Penny Patterson, and
Jane Lancaster. Adrienne Zihlman recalled reading Mead's Coming of Age in Samoa and Benedict's Patterns of Culture in the 1950s and finding inspiration in graduate mentor Laura Nader, who taught as she nursed a young child. Younger women could envision themselves assuming roles as scientists, wives, and mothers simultaneously, since they had seen it done before. Linda Fedigan believes that women primatologists have consciously chosen a field they perceive as an "equal opportunity science." Here they have found professional camaraderie and opportunities to conduct research with feminist implications, which is often the case in newer and marginalized specialties. Fifty years ago there was not a single woman who held a primatology PhD; in 2000, women received 78 percent of the PhDs in the field.57

As women observed apes in their natural habitats, they amassed evidence to refute essentialist ideas validating men's dominance over women. Jane Lancaster, for example, rejected the stereotype of the passive, dependent female in 1973, and others have supported her claims by studying matrilineal networks in which estrous females, too, show competitiveness in the realm of reproduction. "No single pattern of aggressivity, dominance, troop defense, sexual dimorphism, territoriality, competition, or any other social behaviors exist across or even within primate species," Ruth Bleir concluded in 1978, "--except in the wishful thinking of male investigators." The very use of the term "harem" in describing congregates of female animals she called "androcentric fantasy." Traditionally men studied primates according to categories of "dominant males," "peripheral males," and the reproductive unit "females and young," but women have refigured social categories and documented evidence of matrilineal and female-bonded primate societies.58

The constructs of male breadwinner and female homemaker had been outgrowths of "man the hunter" and "woman the gatherer," but they belied women's primatological findings too. Early hominid studies decentered home and family in explanations of human evolution; domesticity as we know it has never been an organizing principle in the life of an ape. Sally Linton urged her colleagues in the 1970s to challenge the notion that human beings' "first tools" presupposed the primacy of the technology of weapons over baby slings, containers, and other inventions that females developed as nurturers and gatherers of food. Sarah Hrdy offered similar challenges to Irven DeVore's widely accepted interpretations of baboons. His description of a central hierarchy of males competing for power and access to fertile females, she concluded, "was a more accurate portrayal of what goes on in American graduate schools, with the big man bringing up his protégés and sleeping with impressionable undergraduates, than of anything that goes on in baboon society."59

Through the 1960s, the Trimates' unique relationships to their subjects of study continued to raise eyebrows. Robert Hinde, for example, had encouraged his pupils to embrace a detached, empirical approach, although a decade or more later, he accepted and even championed their observational science. The Trimates, it seems clear now, told larger-than-life stories about their beloved animals, thus inspiring idealistic men and women to leave the West for work with the apes. Readers of their books cried at the deaths of Greybeard and Digit; theirs was science made popular both by their social purpose and their ethics. Critics worried that in narrating the lives of apes the Trimates incorrectly assumed that animals and humans could make sense of the world in the same ways. Galdikas, for instance, told a New York Times reporter that female orangs screamed only when being raped. Her characterization seemed to project human sensibility on animal behavior, but she argued that she saw orangs as individually distinctive, if not equal, in the natural order.60

By the 1970s scientists and laypeople were more amenable to Galdikas's perspective, with some qualifications. Critical of the masculine bravado of the atomic age and the technical proliferation that had followed, some were ready to accept kinder, gentler scientific models, which connected to nature and which valued culturally female abilities to observe and raise questions about the natural world. Alison Jolly, whose graduate training in primatology coincided with Goodall's, agrees that paradigms changed significantly between the 1960s and the 1990s. Primatology, like science in general, accounts increasingly for individual difference, but it has also become more collaborative, integrated, and environmentally conscious. Some might describe this as a turn toward feminist science, others, a turn toward science that is more humane. Why not view both brands of science as indelibly one and the same?61

References for this section:

45. Linda Marie Fedigan, "Science and the Successful Female: Why There Are So
Many Women Primatologists," American Anthropologist, new series, 96, no. 3 (1994):
536; Donna Haraway, Primate Visions: Gender, Race, and Nature in the World of Modern Science (New York: Routledge, 1989), 156-60; Galdikas, Reflections of Eden, 30.

46. Haraway, Primate Visions, 150, 166, 169; Fedigan, "Science and the Successful
Female," 533, 529-40; Krasner, "Ape Ladies," 237-39; Schiebinger, Has Feminism Changed Science? 6.

47. Krasner, "'Ape Ladies,'" 245.

48. Galdikas, "Living with Orangutans," National Geographic, (June 1980): 853.

49. Galdikas, Reflections of Eden, 20; Fossey, Gorillas in the Mist, 9.

50. Goodall, In the Shadow of Man, 132-33; Africa in My Blood, 271, 282.

51. Goodall, Beyond Innocence, 52, 73.

52. Emelie Bergman and David Riss and Geza Teleki and Ruth Davis were researchers
who got engaged at Gombe. Sandy Harcourt and Kelly Stewart, daughter of actor Jimmy
Stewart, got engaged at Karisoke and later married. Kevles, Watching the Wild Apes, 56; Lindsay, Jane Goodall, 35; Goodall, Beyond Innocence, 2.

53. Goodall, In the Shadow of Man, xv-xvii; Through a Window, 25; Beyond Innocence,

54. Peterson in Goodall, Africa in My Blood, 2; Montgomery, Walking with the Great
Apes, 34, 40.

55. Shoumatoff, African Madness, 9.

56. Galdikas, Reflections of Eden, 330, 205.

57. Haraway, Primate Visions, 333; Fedigan, "Science and the Successful Female," 530-
35; Schiebinger, Has Feminism Changed Science? 91, 127.

58. Ruth Bleier, "Bias in Biological and Human Sciences: Some Comments," Signs 4,
no. 1 (1978): 161-62.

59. Linda Fedigan, Primate Paradigms: Sex Roles and Social Bonds (Montreal: Eden
Press, 1982); Haraway, Primate Visions, 334. Hrdy quoted in Shoumatoff, African Madness, 19; Schiebinger, Has Feminism Changed Science? 127-38.

60. Mowat, Woman in the Mist, 269-70.

61. Montgomery, Walking with the Great Apes, 104.


Interesting. I'll be particularly interested to see if there's any real evidence provided by Des Jardins for her claim that the thanking of domestic workers and nannies represented a move out of hierarchalism, rather than what I have often viewed as a new model hierarchalism - the idea that women who are poorer and often non-white ought to be honored and pleased to take the same shitty jobs for women who are "doing something really important for women."


I'm underwhelmed with the chapter so far for various reasons. I'm holding off on commenting in more depth until I see where the author takes this. Out of curiosity, how many more parts is this?

Well, hold off no more, bsci. That is the end of the chapter. There are no more parts to it. I will edit to make that clear at the top of this post.

It is hard to say, since this chapter is excerpted from the middle of the book, how, if at all, the discussion would continue on from here into subsequent chapters. I don't have the whole book at hand.

Sharon, I think you raise a really important point. Thanking domestic workers and nannies is a nice first step in recognizing that labor which has traditionally been unrecognized and unpaid. But that doesn't mean that it is valued any much more than it was before. How well are they paid? And does anyone think that what they are doing is as important as going off into the jungle to observe apes (or into the lab, or the boardroom, or wherever, to earn a paycheck)? When you see large numbers of men signing up to be domestic workers and nannies, give me a call. Then we'll know that suddenly this work has been assigned value by the culture at large.

I loved wearing and holding my babies in those early months (and to those of you who think this is coddling, do you really think that you can spoil a newborn?) but as my husband and I had more kids, sometimes you needed your hands and had a baby that needed soothing.

My biggest complaint regarding this chapter is that the author seemed to want to do several different things, but none of them ended up strong. There were the biographies of the "trimates" (that term bothers me), their interaction with formalized science, their interaction with their mentors, how this all fits into feminist theory, and why any of this matters. I finished the chapter not having a good grasp of any of these issues.
From the book's description on it's website is "...to give historical context and unexpected revelations about women's contributions to the sciences... Julie Des Jardins considers their personal and professional stories in relation to their male counterparts...to demonstrate how the gendered culture of science molds the methods, structure, and experience of the work I honestly don't see context, unexpected revelations, or a good explanation of how gendered culture molds the science. I'll grant that some of this might be that I was dropped into a middle chapter of the book and some of the framework was defined earlier.

She tries to apply the term "science" to everything the women do and put it in opposition to "western science." Instead of clearly explaining how they developed new scientific models that became accepted in the field while simultaneously filling non-scientific roles (not non-scientist roles) like conservation advocates and publicizers, she called everything they did science. I couldn't help but feel that the author doesn't understand the science well enough to put it in a full context. As for the relationship to Leakey, there wasn't much really written. I did notice that Leakey was described as not observing boundaries with women while the women were described as charting new types of partnering and sexual relationships while in the field. While there were differences, the implication that one was inappropriate and the other was revolutionary was a bit incongruous.

The gendered culture part was my least favorite. At first it seemed like Des Jardins was reporting on was Leakey believed when he was mentoring the women, but it soon became clear that she was taking all his assumptions about women's strengths for fieldwork as fact. This felt like simply replacing negative sexist stereotypes with positive ones. There still sexist stereotypes (perhaps with some truth, but finding 3 women to fit this stereotype has little to do with reality).

I probably wouldn't be so harsh on this chapter, but in trying to get more context, I found an unreferenced article by Virginia Morell, "Called 'Trimates' Three Bold Women Shaped Their Field" Science v 260, April 1993 in the first page of a google search for "trimates." It seems to put their scientific discoveries and biographies in much better context, explained Leakey's beliefs while clearly noting they aren't supported by evidence, and really did a better job of examining how their genders did or did not relate to their research and findings.

Anyway, I think this is a record for single comment length on my part so I'll stop here for now.

bsci, I really thank you for taking the time to read and analyze the chapter and commenting at length here to share your thoughts. That's a wonderful contribution to the blog readers here.

It's difficult to know how much of the perceived shortcomings of the chapter are due to not having the rest of the book to wrap around it but I do think you pointed out some really important issues.

It would be nice if the book author would stop by and respond to any or all of the comments readers have left on the three posts here.

I have encouraged the book author to participate in the conversation here so if you have read and are just lurking, do leave comments or questions for her to consider. D00dly jackasses can expect to have their whiney irrelevancies deleted.

Thanking domestic workers and nannies is a nice first step in recognizing that labor which has traditionally been unrecognized and unpaid. But that doesn't mean that it is valued any much more than it was before. How well are they paid? And does anyone think that what they are doing is as important as going off into the jungle to observe apes (or into the lab, or the boardroom, or wherever, to earn a paycheck)? When you see large numbers of men signing up to be domestic workers and nannies, give me a call. Then we'll know that suddenly this work has been assigned value by the culture at large.

Very good point that bears repeating.

By David MarjanoviÄ (not verified) on 14 Mar 2010 #permalink

As the author of The Madame Curie Complex, I'm really happy to see that the issues engaged in this excerpt matter to Zuska and her readers. Many of the concerns in the comments above get attention elsewhere in the book, as many of you thought might be the case. I, too, find it problematic that Leakey replaced one set of stereotypes for another, and this very point is engaged in other chapters of the book as well as in this excerpted one. Nonetheless, these ideas were his, so I describe them. The book is historical, so it does engage lots of different ideas that may not necessarily be mine. I really thought it important to provide lots of different vantage points as food for thought. I'm not a fan of the term "Lady Trimates" either, but Leakey used it.

I do indeed expand definitions of "science" in this book to include popularization, environmentalism, and other marginalized areas of science that women have contributed to over the 20th century and earlier. I think its important to reassess the ways we value this work, and throughout the book I look at how feminized niches within science have come to be seen as "soft," or "busy work" or "supportive" or "lesser" to women's detriment. That said, the first 6 chapters that precede this one look at women being scientists in the conventional Western sense--in physics, chemistry, industrial engineering, genetics, etc. The historical politics of disciplinarity are important to this book because they explain a lot about how women get perceived as 'non-scientists' or incompetent ones. I show women scientists who succeeded in masculine science and didn't, who accepted it and didn't, who redefined this science and didn't. There are a range of experiences and perspectives represented throughout, and I provide historical context for them.

I thank Zuska and her readers for taking interest in this excerpt. If you read the rest of the book, I'd like to hear your thoughts.

I want to thank Julie Des Jardins for allowing her book to be excerpted here on the blog and for coming here to engage commenters.

Des Jardins says

I do indeed expand definitions of "science" in this book to include popularization, environmentalism, and other marginalized areas of science that women have contributed to over the 20th century and earlier. I think its important to reassess the ways we value this work...

Eisenhart and Finkel took a similar approach in their book Women's Science: Learning and Succeeding From the Margins. And I just recently posted on a set of books that propose altering the normative approach to histories of technology that centralize design, thus privileging narratives of white and male subjects.

As noted in that post, it's not just about recovering the biographies of notable women; it is, in the words of Carroll Pursell, about "looking at the social and cultural patterns that shape experiences and the meanings we take from them".

While noting, I'm not fully versed in this literature, I'll question your criteria for expanding science. These primatolgists unquestionably expanded science by showing how qualitative descriptions and even naming and tracking individual animals gave us extremely important scientific insights. As you and Morell note, these methods went from controversial to standard practice.

Still, I question what makes popularizing and environmentalism science. They are roles that have become part of the lives of scientists and they were pioneers in these roles, but not all the roles of a scientist are science. As a pat example, if a practiciing scientist and a journalist each write a lay article about a discovery, are they both or neither doing science?

Once one tries to get beyond a definition of "scientist" as someone with that job title and the pay scale to match, I think it gets a bit complicated. I do not feel any less a chemist when applying my knowledge and skills to a volunteer environmental issue than I do when working in an industrial laboratory. Neither activity tends to involve much "cutting edge" research. But if direct involvement in novel research is required to be a scientist, then some of the most recognized "Scientists" out there might not qualify. Many PI's are no longer hands on. They are facilitators of science not active participants.

Still, I question what makes popularizing and environmentalism science. They are roles that have become part of the lives of scientists and they were pioneers in these roles, but not all the roles of a scientist are science. As a pat example, if a practiciing scientist and a journalist each write a lay article about a discovery, are they both or neither doing science?

A good question which applies beyond women in the field; though the geek community tends to lionize Carl Sagan, he attracted significant criticism from within the astronomy community because what he was famous for was not pure science but rather the popularization of science (with some going so far as to use the derisive term "pop science"). Today, the significance of his work is more obvious, as a lot of astronomers today had their first exposure to the subject via "Cosmos". But at the time, people asked why he was wasting time blathering to the public about things which are already known -- and getting decidedly sentimental in the process.

Likewise, the "Trimates" are now recognized for their contribution; every primatologist knows their name, and a great many will tell you that they first became interested in the subject because of these three women. Perhaps people who communicate with the general public will tend to be sneered at by their academic colleagues, regardless of gender, with that only reversing once their young fans in the general public grow up and get degrees of their own.

By Calli Arcale (not verified) on 16 Mar 2010 #permalink


I tried hard not to say that the "not science" roles are inappropriate for scientists. In fact, I think they are vital roles for scientists to do.

As another example, the PhD chemist, Isaac Asimov probably still holds the record for sheer volume of science writing to lay audiences. Thousands of researchers from robotics to economics consider reading his work part of their inspiration. Does that mean he was doing science? If he completely left the work of trying to study and answer questions about the world him, despite having a PhD, would he even be called a scientist?

For Gaythia's comment, I think someone who is actively working with others to answer scientific questions is doing science whether they are at the bench (or in the field) or directly mentoring others in how to do science. Industry is a bit more complex, because some jobs for scientists are really engineering jobs (i.e. figure out how to mass produce X), but good luck to the person who can define a clean boundary between science and engineering.

It's taken me a while to catch up on my reading.

I'm an evolutionary biologist, and I agree with David Marjanovi´c that evolutionary theory is misrepresented in part one. Jane Goodall's discoveries were revolutionary to the understanding of human evolution, but that is a completely different matter than overthrowing evolutionary theory itself. I'd feel more comfortable if the author understood the difference.

While I am generally in favour of more publicity for women in science, I was also rather uncomfortable with the overall air of this chapter, and I agree with most of bsci's points. Julie Des Jardin assures us she is simply describing Leakey's attitudes, but I don't seem to have been the only person left confused, and I think an author should pay attention when several readers have the same issue.

Another thing that bothers me that I don't think I've seen explicitly in comments so far, is something I've also seen in other feminist writing: this air of "women bring in awesome qualities science (or whatever) was previously deprived of!". Unfortunately, these nurturing or observational qualities are usually presented, as I read them presented in this chapter, as innate womanly goodness, inaccessible to the menz. In my experience, it's a very short step from there to the patriarchy re-telling these stories as "those wimmins and their instincts they have no control over". Oursin explains it better than I can here.

I'm not convinced women are innately more nurturing than men are. I know for sure that in our culture, girls are indoctrinated in being nurturing, and boys against it, from a very young age. And as Luna_the_Cat points out, being lower in social status is enforced training in observational skills.

I would far rather read a chapter about how some women took their gendered cultural conditioning and demonstrated how, despite the social devaluing of those nurturing and observational skills, they could use them intelligently to discover things that were previously unknown, because male cultural conditioning deprived male scientists of skills they didn't realise they'd need. And it seems to me just as likely to be a true account as what I just read.

To me the most interesting section by far was the section on women in astronomy. I have a passing interesting the history of astronomy and had heard of Henrietta Leavitt or Annie Cannon only despite the fact that they were responsible for major discoveries. The fact that Leavitt was responsible for discovering the behavior of Cepheid variables was shocking. This is a major aspect of modern astronomy and her name isn't almost ever mentioned in textbooks. Quite appalling.

There were some aspects of the book I was not so happy with. Very often, Des Jardin discussed people but paid very little attention to what the people had actually done. Des Jardin also completely ignored some branches of learning. For example Des Jardin doesn't discuss Noether in any detail except to mention in passing who was clearly one of the great mathematicians of the 20th century. Her work was essential to a lot of 20th century math and physics.

I also thought she oversimplified classical Greek attitudes towards women and conflated them a bit with later Christian attitudes. I'm not sure how one can write a book on this topic and not mention Hypatia at all even in passing.

Overall though it was a very interesting book. The thesis wasn't always coherent but the overall narrative was fascinating.

One point left out regarding the shift towards women becoming the majority of PhD recipients in the field since 2000 is that this was a way that universities could have the proper faculty balance in the sciences to remain accreditied (primatology - whether trained as psychologists, biologists or anthropologists was considered as a science). As a male PhD recipient in the 90s I was told several times (off the record of course) that I could apply for faculty positions but it was a waste of my time as they would go to women for the reason mentioned above. These days, as a minority in my field, am I now eligible to apply for positions that formerly stated that "women and minorities were strongly encouraged to apply?" Of course this is not to deny the reasons stated in the chapter: that the role models of the "Trimates" brought women to the field -- or that primatology was seen as a field where they could be accepted as equals. But at the same time, men could see that they would be discriminated against when it was time to look for jobs and that they often suffer from the same discriminatory practices that plagued women 40 years ago.

17@"the same discriminatory practices that plagued women 40 years ago."
CBSMN, funny how 40 years ago looks alot like discrimination I see all around me today. Men aren't parting with their power positions. Men are still making decisions based on how comfortable they are having people unlike them around the workplace.

"am I now eligible to apply for positions"
Hey, go ahead. I apply for positions all the time, get interviewed by panels of men, I get to be token female, and if I am given the job (not earned, of course, but to fill some mystical quota), I'm isolated as the only woman in my section/bldg/research area. I get the women's bathroom all to myself, BONUS! There's a silver lining, you might have to look in the bathroom for it!

"men could see that they would be discriminated against"
Who, pray tell, is doing the discriminating? Last I checked, administrations are chock full of d00dz running the show based on their insecurities and biases.

Oh, Let's sing it together: PATRIARCHY HURTS MEN TOO!!!11!!11! Zuska, you KNOW we had to run that chorus before the lights went out!