The ‘Woman Question’ and Higher Education

The ‘Woman Question’ and Higher Education

Perspectives on Gender and Knowledge Production in America

Edited by Ann Mari May

This uniquely interdisciplinary study offers a provocative, contemporary look at the ‘Woman Question’ in relation to higher education at the dawn of the twenty-first century. Leading feminist scholars from a wide variety of perspectives and disciplines — including history, philosophy, education, psychology, sociology, and economics — evaluate the role of biology, discrimination, and choice in rationalizing women’s exclusion from fully participating in the process of knowledge production, as well as examining institutional impediments. Contextualizing arguments against women’s inclusion and including contemporary perspectives on gender, this book offers a rich, multi-layered examination and critical insights into understanding the near universal difficulties that women encounter as they seek to participate fully in the process of knowledge production.

Chapter 6: Are Smart Men Smarter than Smart Women? The Epistemology of Ignorance, Women, and the Production of Knowledge

Carla Fehr

Subjects: economics and finance, economics of education, education, economics of education


1 Carla Fehr One of the most interesting aspects of theories concerning intrinsic differences between the intellectual abilities of men and women is that in principle they are falsifiable, but in practice they don’t seem to be. In other words, even in the face of contrary empirical evidence some theories just don’t seem to go away. For example, when Paul Broca (1824–80) set about studying sex differences in intelligence, he measured differences in the weight of brains of men and women collected in autopsies from four Parisian hospitals. His perhaps unsurprising conclusion was that men’s brains weighed more than women’s and that therefore men were more intelligent than women (Gould 1993). What was surprising was that despite having rescued Frenchmen from a claim of German superiority by adjusting for such factors as size and age, Broca made no such adjustments in measuring women’s brains (Gould 1993). When Edward H. Clarke argued against co-education for women in the nineteenth century, he invoked the principle known as the ‘conservation of energy.’ According to this principle, intensive study would physically harm women by diverting energy from their uterus to their brain. Although prevailing empirical evidence had long refuted this principle (Walsh 1977) and despite flimsy anecdotal evidence supporting it, Clarke’s notions held and in his wake organizations were formed and dissertations written—all refuting Clarke’s claims (Walsh 1977; Shields 1982). These examples, and countless others, demonstrate the importance of understanding epistemology not only in terms of the production...

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