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The Question of Gender Equality: Scott vs. Terrall Essay (Critical Writing)

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Updated: Aug 18th, 2020

The role of gender differences, and gender, in general, have always been a broad topic of discussion. As time passed, the theme of gender equality has become more and more popular and widespread among the masses. The female desire to be equal to men in a majority of life aspects gave birth to the phenomenon that is called “feminism.” It is not an offensive term in any sense, as it does not impose any harm on the male identity or value, but the word has been extensively abused by the people who would not commonly support the idea that women and men could have equal rights, job opportunities, and freedoms.

Such an ambiguity gave birth to expansive discussions and research papers on whether women should or should not be equal to men, and what the outcome of such a decision might be. In this paper, two such articles will be thoroughly studied, analyzed, and reviewed. The articles were written by Mary Terrall and Joan Scott, respectively. The author is going to explore whether Terrall’s and Scott’s points of view coincide or disagree.

The paper also answers the question of gender equality, in terms of the standing of women in scientific society, and explains why the arguments of both authors are valid and provide a useful insight into the issue. The issues of feminism and gender equality shine bright among the numerous issues that modern society deals with, and it is without a doubt important to pay attention to what goes on in the world, and behave without bias where it is possible.

The article by Terrall tells the readers the story of Émilie du Châtelet, a French female, who became a scientist and published her works under a male name, even though she knew that one day she would eventually be exposed, and everyone would find out she was a woman. The issue explored by Terrall proposes and answers the question of whether women of that period were spectators or participants. She sees scientists as action heroes, which presumes the presence of a reasonable amount of masculinity.

Terrall’s approach concentrates the attention on the fact that gender was one of the ethnic categories used to uphold the philosophy of uniqueness, as academy members responsible for admission believed that “feminine” actually meant “outsider” in many ways (Terrall 7). The authority of science rested on the manly connotations, particularly their complexity and sturdiness, and the challenging reasoning abilities needed to actually comprehend the subject. Though du Châtelet wanted to be noted and respected by a diverse cohort of observers she predominantly wanted to discover a path, as a female, to build a reputation in the mannish sphere of science (Terrall 11). In the end, du Châtelet’s mixed success was looked upon more in amazement than respect for her accomplishments.

It was a known fact that she was friends with most of the males who had a standing in scientific society, and her works were more than partially written with their help. It is worth noting that even though the preceding statement does not dismiss du Châtelet as a scientist in any way, she evidently had a hard time, even as she made an effort to trade places with her male rivals and become a participant rather than a spectator. The case where, due to the limitations of her knowledge in mathematics, she continually turned to the males who were more experienced in the particulars of mathematical scrutiny than herself, may be a vivid example of her so-called failure to break into the man’s world. She found it problematic to obtain the knowledge that would have been compulsory if she was to escape the spectator tag (Terrall 13).

Terrall argues that while gender was not the only constituent of a scientist’s individuality, the reputation of the academy grew as the academy’s members demarcated its activities to separate themselves from the inert absorption of their work by a not-so-knowledgeable audience that involved females. From Terrall’s point of view, science is relatively gendered and mostly affected by the idea of the male scientist and the common perception that the word “scientific” somewhat equals the word “masculine.”

Nevertheless, the impediments caused by the gender-driven antagonism were at no time inflexible. Spectators could indiscriminately find themselves in the middle of the action. Spectators might even momentarily leap forward through some of the limitations established by the academy, though at some danger to themselves. In the same way, the female audience was both accepted for its authenticating consent and rejected for its deficiency of obscure knowledge and valiant asset (Terrall 19). Terrall performed an extensive case study and drew conclusions based on the factual data of past experience with regard to feminism and gender equality.

Joan Scott, in her turn, does research on literature that broadly discussed the issues of feminism and gender equality. She also states that recently the use of the word “gender” became synonymous with the use of the word “women” (Scott 1056). It does not hint at a negative connotation, as it has a more neutral meaning than “women” has, but the usage of this word insists that the world of women was created by men, within the world of men. Nevertheless, Scott says, “We should understand that when studying women, we cannot take away the men because the study of the one implies the study of the other” (1056).

In her research, Scott came to a conclusion that activist historians had a choice between three hypothetical positions when they implemented various methods in the analysis of gender equivalence. Consequently, these are a feminist effort that is trying to explicate the background of patriarchy, an attempt to find an accommodation with feminist assessments, and the clarification of creation and imitation of the individual’s gendered distinctiveness. Generally, Scott argues that it is not really clear where the assumptions that fathers should work and mothers should raise the child come from. She also does not approve of the existing issue of inequality, saying that society should not articulate the norms of societal relations based on the gender factor (Scott 1063).

According to Scott, the experiences of the female part of humanity should be fully included in historical accounts. To her, without meaning, there is no understanding. The lack of experience and involvement is the central topic of Scott’s research, as she believes that females are bounded by a common misconception of what gender equality is, and what the role of women in the modern world is. Her major point is that the guidelines of social contact are integrally and unambiguously gendered. Scott believes that the idea of gender inequality is a contradiction in itself, and the notion of a “woman” is too generalized (Scott 1065).

Scientists insist on the reassessment of the “female” class, but they do not scrutinize the twofold antagonism of the phenomenon. Feminists insist on secure differences, and by that, add to the point of view they want to compete against. Scott, in her research, reaches a verdict that the fight for equal rights should not be essentially a “fight” in the literal sense of the word, but rather an act of acceptance performed by men, in order for males and females to coexist peacefully, as well as appreciate the values developed through the years of formation of matriarchal and patriarchal mentalities.

Scott’s admonishment to “historicize” rather than “essentialize in matters of experience” does not flawlessly connect with Terrall’s argument. If one carefully addresses the topic under discussion, it is evident that Terrall believes that, regardless of their status in the society, women are still mired in the role of a spectator. She does not reflect any explicit thoughts on whether she supports a feminist approach or not, and directly states that women are continuously overlooked when it comes to the academy field.

Nevertheless, Terrall is convinced that there is a way to cohabit without imposing feminist views on men, even while trying to reach the state of equality. She embraces an approach where masculinity is an integral part of the world, and women should not underrate the importance of the male population while maintaining their self-esteem. Scott points out the fact that women need a rejection of the motionless and enduring superiority of the twofold antagonism, a sincere historicization, and obliteration of the factors of sexual variance (Scott 1065).

What she means by that is she wants women to become more self-conscious and invent ways to expose females repeatedly to condemnation and self-criticism. Scott does not abandon the study of the past, but on the contrary, she strives to build the new society on the basis of the previous experience of the past. Her feminist strategy suggests that gender must be reevaluated and reorganized in concurrence with an idea of politically aware and societal equality that embraces not only sexual characteristics, but social class and race.

Despite the fact that the two viewpoints reviewed in the paper differ significantly, it should be mentioned that these two opinions still have a touchpoint. It consists in the fact that both these authors believe that women have always been underrated, especially in the academic field, and a reexamination of current values and social standings might be necessary to reinstate the status quo.

The paper is prudently approaching the significant issue of gender equality. It gives profound and reasonable explanations of both Terrall’s and Scott’s points of view. The paper also analyzes the role of gender in the history of science, and provides an answer on whether science is gendered or not. A discussion of the arguments, source materials, and methods of the two historians are also provided for the completeness of the paper.

Gender inequality would not be well thought-out as such a philosophical matter, if it did not produce such an enormous number of complications in females’ well-being. Despite all the complications and the ambiguity of the male and female views on the issue, it should be understood that the word equality is a broad term, and in order to reach it and cherish it, the society will have to work hard and show a collective effort, where both men and women are able to pay homage and respect to the opposing gender.

Works Cited

Scott, Joan. Gender and the Politics of History. New York: Columbia UP, 1986. Print.

Terrall, Mary. Gendered Spaces, Gendered Audiences: Inside and Outside the Paris Academy of Sciences. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1995. Print.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Question of Gender Equality: Scott vs. Terrall." August 18, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-question-of-gender-equality-scott-vs-terrall/.


IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Question of Gender Equality: Scott vs. Terrall'. 18 August.

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