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feminist theory and the transcendental phenomenology of women and Nobel Prize winners

October 7, 2009

Alerted as I was by a friend’s posting on the Nobel Prize for Physics winners of 2009, I was heartened that there’s in some way a bit more ‘diversity’ in the list of mostly European men (and one European woman) though unfortunately, the ‘diversity’ is still relegated mostly to East Asian men with first-world access. There aren’t still not many women in physics, the ‘masculine’ science. I studied physics in college and dreamt of being a pioneer. Alas, my gifts lie not in lab work (hated it) and I lacked the self-confidence to being doing abstract theoretical physics (though i majored in theoretical physics in college) due to my checkered grades (though I realized, albeit too late later, that I have in some ways misunderstood myself completely). Today, I stand as a cultural theorist of science in training (some people will call that a science studies specialist) who tries to merge the analytical and continental, as well as unrepresented traditions, in the humanistic analysis of science. This after a long winding path with loads of detours. And I think I excel most at this.

I am heartened on the one hand that there were two women out of the three who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2009. They’re due to give a lecture in Dec 7 and I hope that I would be able to listen to the webcast, since going to Stockholm at the end of the school semester will not be feasible. They won the Nobel Prize on a work that is not all that new anymore (those in biology know about the telomeres and the enzyme telemorase that protect the chromosomes, even me, who has been dismally lacking in keeping up with all that came out in Nature and Science, despite my claims on my speciality) but important in the age that is all crazy about genetics and its bioethical debates. However, the question that has been in the pages of scientific journals : the lack of participation of women in the sciences. Many studies have been done on that, both the sociological and the psychological. Feminist science studies scholars have also tried to interrogate these issues in light of feminist science studies. Perhaps it is now time to go beyond these two areas and think in terms of the phenomenological and affectivity (beyond the glass ceiling, prejudices, tokenism, bigotry, sacrifices made for a family life, and what-not that keep a woman from going up); why is a Marie Curie such a rarity (I think not many knew that Marie Curie once sacrificed the promise of youthful love and possible security, though we all know there’s not such thing as security, to fulfill her ambitions of furthering her university education after having put her sister through medical school (and this sister promptly got married and gave up her medical career, I believe, though correct me if I’m wrong). A study of the biography of Marie Curie (I bought a copy of her biography written by her daughter Eve Curie from a NYC flea market but I have to admit that I have not done much than thumb it through yet) even of the most popular kind seems to recount the life of a girl who is “affected” and “absorbed” in her work, whose dedication and conscious connection to her work supersedes and transcends conscious quest for comfort. Perhaps I am drawn to think of this as I am reading Derrida’s analysis of Husserl’s phenomenological study but perhaps trying to understand the consciousness that forms itself around a woman and her life, her gifts and her mental capabilities, the limitations that others or she herself place on herself, may be a great way to start. Feminist phenomenology. I would be interested in exploring this in relation to the construction of knowledge in the physical-mathematical sciences. And then go back up to the question as to why it is more likely for a woman to win a Nobel Prize in Literature and Medicine than Economics, Chemistry or Physics. And the purpose of looking at such work is not to confirm assumptions but to understand how knowledge is constructed and then transmitted, received, worked, and modified. This of course would boil back to the idea of consciousness and knowledge arising out of consciousness, if there’s such a thing as a consciousness of knowledge that is gendered.

I believe that it is only in understanding this that we can demolish arguments that investment in women in the sciences is a waste of time. And this, I believe, have to go hand in hand with studies in the technology of reproduction and embodiment and how that has marked the woman’s body as the reproductive machine.

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