Science & Gender

While I was perusing the Scientific American, I stumbled on an article talking about “How Skulls Speak.”  This article kind of bothered me a little, mostly because it touched on a lot of gendered notions of biological differences between males and females.  I couldn’t help wondering if the adjectives they were using could have been a little more neutral. 

The basic argument was that scientists were creating 3-D software that would help “scientists identify the sex and ancestral origins of human remains with greater speed and precision.”  This I don’t mind.  I suppose we aren’t allowed to question the scientists as to whether or not there are biological/innate differences between different sexes. 

The article posed an image of a male and a female skull side by side.  As I kept reading, I couldn’t help recall an article by Schiebinger about how science has continually tried to ascribe certain features and characteristics to male and female biology that also take on the scientists’ gender biases.  The article in the Scientific American says that concerning the forehead, “Women’s foreheads are more vertical than men’s, which gives them a childlike appearance, Ross says.  Men tend to have sloping foreheads.”  Male’s nuchal crest is also typically “rugged and has a hook”  whereas “this area…is smooth and rounded in women.”  One thing I like (not) is how quickly the author slides between males, men, females, and women.  According to the article, males “typically have a broad, square jaw” whereas “a female jaw is often smaller than a man’s and is either pointed or rounded” [italics added].  There they go again with the interlacing of sex and gender.  And all these descriptions I’ve highlighted here seem to be doused in gendered connotations.

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