Can Science Rape Nature?

I don’t mean metaphorically. I’m not talking about fracking damaging Mother Earth. Can science literally rape nature in the same way a man can rape a woman?


This may seem obvious, but there was a bit of a kerfuffle at the Skepticism and Humanities panel at TAM 2012. Bob was talking about the Sokal Hoax, which is sometimes used to attack the Humanities in general. Of course, dismissing several disciplines on the basis of one data point is a failure in critical thinking. Bob was pointing out that it is only a small but vocal minority of post-modernist/post-structuralist scholars who have made radical and silly pronouncements that fly in the face of logic and common sense. One example he cited was the idea that masculine science rapes feminine nature. I made an off-the-cuff joke about nature asking for it. That may have been unfortunate, but–hey–it just slipped out of my mouth. More importantly, I was trying to highlight the absurdity of the accusation: abstract concepts don’t have sexual identities, and they can’t rape each other. Personification isn’t real.

To be clear, Bob was discussing a specific type of academic feminism. There is a lot of great feminist literary criticism: some discussing female authors, such as Aphra Behn and Lady Mary Wroth, whose work was under appreciated for many years; some discussing the treatment of women in works by male authors. But there is a type of feminist scholarship that sees masculine oppression in science, logic, reason and in writing and language itself. Specifically, Bob had in mind Sandra Harding who, in her 1986 book The Science Question in Feminism, called Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica a “rape manual.”

A number of leading proponents of post-structuralist feminist theory, such as Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cisoux and Luce Irigaray, also attack the supposed patriarchal, masculine oppression of science and reason. They decry the phallogocentrism of language and call for an écriture féminine in which the female body is inscribed on the text. As far as I can tell, this inscribed female body has been reduced to a womb and lactating breasts. Hey, there’s nothing wrong with nurturing and motherhood, but you know what? Logic’s pretty cool, too. And mothering without critical thinking seems to lead to stupid things, like not vaccinating children. To give an idea of how absurd this variety of feminism can get, Irigaray has characterized E=mc2 as a “sexed equation” because “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us.”

Rape is a vicious, vile, unforgivable crime, but saying that science, an evil masculine entity, rapes nature, a nurturing feminine entity, trivializes rape, demonizes men and makes women look like illogical idiots.


Further reading:

Dawkins, Richard. “Postmodernism Disrobed.” Review of Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont’s Intellectual Imposters. Nov. 1998.

Mandelker, Stephen. “The Radical Feminist Attack on Reason.” Reason Papers, Issue 19. 50-55.

5 Responses to Can Science Rape Nature?

  1. I thought this was an excellent post and I was glad to read it. I also enjoyed The Radical Feminist Attack on Reason and it’s insights. Very timely read for me. Thanks again!

  2. Pacal says:

    Irigaray’s silly comment has been quoted for over a decade now and it is pretty silly. It doesn’t seem to occur to her that her assmptions are questionable.

    1, How is “privliging” something “sexed”? (I.e “male”) I realize that Irigaray goes into convolutions to show this but basically there is no arguement there is simply assertion.

    2, Why is privlliging negative? Why shoudn’t something be prilidged? One must argue not simply assert or imply.

    3. How the hell does is the equation E=mc2 actually priviliged? Please demonstrate, not simply assert, that it is privilged over other equations etc. Again there are convolutions but in the end it is mere assertion.

    4, This sort of arguement ignores that the evidence overwhelming indicates that the equation is demonstratably true; and this arguement further asserts by implication that this is irelevant.

    I’ve read some Radical Feminist theory and I used to know several a decade ago. What they thought of this stuff was that it was reactionary tosh designed to justify patriarchy by reasserting a bogus “essential” femininity that yes reduced women to breasts and wombs; they put it more bluntly. Essentially they felt that it deprived women of their reason and rendered them powerless before patriarchy it also changed them from humans to those essential inferior creatures called “women” whose whole essence was / is breasts and wombs.

    The contempt those women had for this whole line of arguement was boundless. One of them referred to people like Irigaray has a fifth column of traitors against women.

    Frankly I think they were / are right to view such Post Modern Feminism as deeply reactionary.

  3. Bob says:

    I am always amazed how happily people project their own weird “things” onto things. Irigaray’s comment just happens to be the dumbest thing anyone has ever said about anything ever since time began. And part of the problem is that people associate her babbling with actual useful feminist criticism. It’s just not fair to feminists to have Irigaray to deal with.

  4. […] using ideas possible only within certain logical constructs—Latinate, at that!—perpetuating the linguistic rape that defines Western history. It’s maddening, but it’s where we’re […]

  5. […] using ideas possible only within certain logical constructs—Latinate, at that!—perpetuating the linguistic rape that defines Western history. It’s maddening, but it’s where we’re […]

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