The ‘Woman Question’ and Higher Education Perspectives on Gender and Knowledge Production in America
Perspectives on Gender and Knowledge Production in America
Edited by Ann Mari May
Chapter 6: Are Smart Men Smarter than Smart Women? The Epistemology of Ignorance, Women, and the Production of Knowledge
6. Are smart men smarter than smart women? The epistemology of ignorance, women, and the production of knowledge1 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...
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